An example of vicarious reinforcement is when a toddler learns to use the bathroom on his own because he saw his older siblings do the same and get rewarded for it. Another example is when a child eats all of her dinner in order to receive dessert because she has watched her older sister eat the entire meal and earn dessert.
The concept of vicarious reinforcement is learning through observation. People typically mimic the behaviors of others that are positively rewarded and avoid behaviors that are negatively reinforced. A person learns a specific behavior by watching someone else perform the same behavior and receive a positive or negative reinforcement.
If a child decides to cheat on a test, but witnesses another child get punished for cheating, he may then see the negative reinforcement as a bad thing, decide that cheating is bad and no longer participate in this type of behavior. A college student who observes peers receiving high grades because they are in a study group may join a study group in hopes of receiving high grades. Reinforcements are anything that motivates a person in some way. They can come in the form of praise, materialistic items, monetary rewards or an emotion.