Home Education & Learning What Is Vicarious Reinforcement: Definition, Examples, and Real-World Applications

What Is Vicarious Reinforcement: Definition, Examples, and Real-World Applications

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As background, in psychology, reinforcement is a means to recognise and reward desirable behaviour in hopes that such behaviour will be repeated. Meanwhile, vicarious reinforcement is people’s tendency to imitate behaviours for which they have seen on others being rewarded.


  • A toddler learns to say the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ on his own because he saw his older sibling do the same and get praised for it.
  • A child eats all of his lunch in order to get dessert because he saw his older brother eat the entire meal and was given a dessert.
  • A student answers the teacher’s question because he saw one student praised by the teacher for doing it.

Here’s a video to help you further understand what vicarious reinforcement is: 

Vicarious reinforcement is related to vicarious learning. It is also known as observational learning or learning through modeling and occurs when an individual learns something simply through observation without direct reinforcement or punishment of the behaviour


Social learning theory incorporated behavioural and cognitive theories of learning in order to provide a comprehensive model that could account for the wide range of learning experiences that occur in the real world.

Reinforcement learning theory states that learning is driven by discrepancies between the predicted and actual outcomes of actions. Since this theory was put forward by Albert Bandura, it has been widely studied and has now several applications: in the work setting, in the classroom, and even in neurorehabilitation.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He tweets @dennisr_howell.


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