An application of cognitive inference to the study of leader reward and punishment behaviors: The process and the effects



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Texas Tech University


Rewards and punishments can be classified into two categories: (i) Performance-Contingent and (ii) Performance- Noncontingent. Noncontingent reinforcements can be further subdivided into two categories (i) Discretionary (those administered at the volition of the leader) and (ii) Required (those invoked by the setting).

Using this system of classification, this study examined the effects of six different types of leader reward and punishment behaviors: (1) Contingent Reward (2) Contingent Punishment (3) Noncontingent Required Reward (4) Noncontingent Required Punishment (5) Noncontingent Discretionary Reward, and (6) Noncontingent Discretionary Punishment.

A model of Leader Categorization was proposed based on an integrated operant conditioning-attribution framework. It was postulated that different leader reward/punishment behaviors produce varying degrees of (1) Cue Validity (2) Satisfaction with the leader, and (3) performance. These effects were hypothesized to be free from the moderating effects of intrinsic task interest.

Eighty four business administration students participated in a laboratory experiment designed to test specific hypotheses derived from the model. Potential moderating effects of intrinsic task interest were examined by simulating high and low task interest conditions.

It was found that the results were much stronger for the satisfaction and cue validity components of the model than for the performance component. Also, the overall predictive validity of the model was confirmed for the satisfaction component. Effects of leader reward and punishment behaviors were found to be task-invariant.

Explanations and implications of the results are discussed and directions for future research are presented.



Punishment (Psychology), Cognitive styles, Leadership, Reward (Psychology)