Home » Rotter’s Expectancy Reinforcement Value

Rotter’s Expectancy Reinforcement Value

Concepts and Principles:

Rotter’s basic assumptions: most of our behavior is learned and is acquired through our experiences with other people

  • Emphasis on unity or interdependence of personality


  • Much of our behavior is goal-directed
  • People strive to maximize rewards and to minimize or avoid punishment

Social-Learning Concepts:

Four major concepts:

Behavior potential: probability that a particular behavior will occur, as a function of the person’s expectancies and the perceived value of the reinforcer secured by the behavior in a given situation

Expectancy: cognition or belief about the property of some object or event

Reinforcement value: importance of a given reinforcer to an individual in relation to other reinforcers, if the probabilities of attaining all of them are equal

Psychological situation: meaning of the situation as it is defined by the person

  • Freedom of movement: individuals expectancy that his or her behaviors will generally lead to success (high freedom of movement) or failure (low freedom of movement) in a given life area
  • Minimal goal: dividing point between those outcomes that produce feelings of satisfaction and those that produce dissatisfaction

Personality Development:

  • Personality development hinges largely on the range, diversity, and quality of the individual’s experiences with other people
  • Assumption is that stimulus generalization occurs, so that other people who resemble the parents are perceived and evaluated in the same or similar ways

Stimulus generalization: responses made in the presence of an original stimulus come to be made in the presence of other, similar stimuli

Assessment Techniques:

Five major techniques for the clinical measurement of personality:

  • Interview
  • Projective tests
  • Controlled behavioral tests
  • Behavioral observation methods
  • Questionnaire

Internal vs. external control of reinforcement: individuals belief that his or her behavior is self-determined (internal control) or determined by outside factors (external control)

Internal/external control of reinforcement: individual’s belief that his or her behavior is self-determined (internal control) or determined by outside factors (external control)

Locus of control of reinforcement: people’s beliefs about the location (internal/external) of controlling forces in their lives

  • I/E scale: measures the individual’s belief that forces are or are not beyond his or her control

Theory’s Implications for Therapy:

Psychotherapy is a learning process itself:

Maladjusted people: characterized by low freedom of movement and high need value; they learn how to avoid or defend themselves against actual or anticipated failure

  • The therapist’s function is to help these people change expectancies and reinforcement values that do not work
  • Must learn a set of realistic expectancies
  • Must learn a set of realistic reinforcers
  • Must learn to discriminate between those situations that are likely to lead to behaviors that are appropriate and those likely to lead to behaviors that are inappropriate
  • Must learn to eliminate behaviors that are undesirable and to learn those that are desirable

Evaluative Comments:

  • Comprehensiveness: broad in scope
  • Precision and testability: precise and testable
  • Parsimony: quite parsimonious
  • Empirical validity: strong empirical support for the I-E concept; rest of the theory remains untested
  • Heuristic value: theory is stimulating to scholars in many areas, including learning theory, psychopathology, psychotherapy, personality development, and social psychology
  • Applied value: strong applied value


After reading Rotter’s expectancy-reinforcement model and Bandura’s theory, consider the concept of locus of control. What are the most significant factors or situations that can shape one’s sense of self efficacy and locus of control? Why?

Bandura is a firm believer in the power of observation.  Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment concluded that the behavior of children introduced to new environments will absolutely mimic those within the environment (aggressive or passive with the Bobo doll).  Locus of control is one’s ability to interpret his or her relationships within the environment.  Zimbardo (1985) stated that locus of control is a belief regarding the outcomes of one’s actions; what we do is contingent upon what we believe the outcome or consequence will be.  These researchers all indicated that the most significant factor shaping one’s sense of self- efficacy and locus of control is the environment.  The consequences of one’s action within that environment will be contingent upon the social interpretation of the response.

Rotter (1966) like Skinner and other behaviorists suggested that behavior is controlled by reward and punishment.  Rotter also suggested that one’s actions are contingent upon the personal belief system and this belief system is what will determine the actual cause for the action.  The belief system is what will inevitably influence the behaviors and attitudes.  Rotter also suggested internal versus external locus of control will determine if a person will take responsibility for his or her actions or if the person will blame external situational factors.  Rotter concluded that people with an internal locus of control have a stronger sense of self-efficacy.

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80, (1,609).
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.
Zimbardo, P. G. (1985). Psychology and life. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.

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