Reward Theory refers to a psychological framework that explains how individuals are motivated by the anticipation of receiving rewards. It posits that human behavior is influenced by the expectation of positive reinforcement, which can be tangible (such as money, gifts, or recognition) or intangible (such as praise, social approval, or personal satisfaction).

Key Concepts:

  1. Rewards: In the context of Reward Theory, rewards refer to any stimuli or outcomes that increase the likelihood of a particular behavior being repeated. They serve as positive reinforcements, reinforcing and strengthening the association between a behavior and its subsequent outcome.
  2. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Reward Theory distinguishes between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to engaging in a behavior for the inherent satisfaction or enjoyment it brings, while extrinsic motivation stems from external factors, such as rewards or punishments.
  3. Expectancy: This concept emphasizes that individuals form expectations about the likelihood of receiving a reward based on their previous experiences or observations of others. The anticipation of a positive outcome plays a crucial role in motivating and shaping behavior.
  4. Valence: Refers to the subjective value or desirability associated with a reward. Different rewards possess varying degrees of valence for individuals, meaning that some rewards may be more motivating than others depending on an individual’s preferences, needs, or goals.
  5. Response-outcome Relations: Reward Theory suggests that individuals form associations between a particular behavior (response) and the outcome (reward) it produces. The strength of this association influences the likelihood of the behavior recurring in the future.


Reward Theory has been extensively applied in various fields, including psychology, education, business, and economics. It underlies many incentive-based systems and strategies aimed at motivating individuals, shaping behavior, and increasing performance.