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Positive and Negative

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    Positive and Negative Reinforcement

    We have spoken about reinforcement, but what exactly is reinforcement? Reinforcement can be positive or negative and as you have read, it is the most important ingredient in operant conditioning. So far, you have read only about positive reinforcement The other type of reinforcement is negative reinforcement.

    Positive Reinforcement Strengthening the possibility to repeat a response by following it with something that is pleasant..

    Negative Reinforcement Strengthening a response by following it with taking away or avoiding something unpleasant.


    Positive Reinforcement: Studying for a test and earning an "A" will most likely send the message that studying is the best way to earn an "A" on a test.

    John, a high school junior, has the chore of taking out the recycling. Each and every night when his mom nags on and on about the recycling, John finally gets the chore complete. His mom’s nagging is the negative reinforcer as it strengthens a response (taking out the recycling).

    Try to remember the reinforcer strengthens the connection between the behavior and the reward. Try not to think of negative reinforcement as punishment

    Punishment The process of weakening a response by imposing unpleasant consequences..

    Many students confuse negative reinforcement with punishment.

    The key factor with punishment is that the purpose is to weaken the response, not to reinforce it.

    Here are some additional examples of negative reinforcement:


    Elijah has received several parking tickets. Now, he is extra careful to read the signs before parking and depositing enough money into his meter to avoid the tickets. The parking tickets (reinforcer) strengthens the response of reading signs and depositing money into the meter.

    Billy, a high school senior, is planning his senior trip. His parents have been clear that he will not be able to go on the trip if he earns any detentions for not making it to school on time. When Billy’s mom finds out Billy got a detention, Billy is no longer allowed on the senior trip. Something that Billy desired was taken away.

    It can also be taken a step further and something unwanted can be added in. Jasmine, a high school sophmore, takes the bus to school. She was warned by the bus driver not to talk on her cell phone while she is on the bus. After the second time the bus driver told her to put her phone away, the driver took her phone away (punishment) and required her to write a two page essay on why it is not safe to talk on the phone while on a school bus (adding in something unwanted.)