Reinforcement and punishment are often used as parenting tools to modify children’s behavior. Let’s review the difference between positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, and the difference in outcomes between reinforcement and punishment.
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The Difference Between Positive And Negative Reinforcement
In behavioral psychology, a reinforcement is the introduction of a favorable condition that will make a desired behavior more likely to happen, continue or strengthen in the future.
Because the favorable condition acts as a reward, reinforcement is a reward-based conditioning.
There are positive and negative reinforcement. They can be confusing because the technical terms used in psychology is often misrepresented in pop culture.
As technical parlance, positive refers to adding a factor while negative refers to removing a factor. But positive and negative do not represent the quality of the factor being added or removed. That factor can be pleasant or unpleasant.
For instance, positive can be adding something unpleasant resulting in unpleasant feelings, while negative can be removing something unpleasant resulting in pleasant feelings.
So, remember that positive and negative refer to adding and removing something, not to the quality of the added/removed factor or the resulted feelings.
Positive reinforcement is adding a pleasant stimulus to enhance a behavior.
|Positive Reinforcement Examples||Pleasant Stimulus||Desired Behavior|
|A mother gives her daughter a toy for doing homework.||toy||do homework|
|A father praises his son for practicing soccer.||praise||practice soccer|
Negative reinforcement is removing an aversive stimulus to enhance a behavior.
|Negative Reinforcement Examples||Aversive Stimulus||Desired Behavior|
|To stop his mother’s nagging, Alex does his chores.||nagging||do chores|
|To remove the bad smell from her body, Erin takes a shower.||bad smell||take a shower|
Positive Punishment vs Negative Punishment
While the goal of reinforcement is to reinforce a desired behavior, the goal of punishment is to make an undesired behavior less likely to happen, continue or strengthen in the future.
As with reinforcement, the technical meanings of positive and negative punishment refer to adding or removing a factor to obtain the results. They do not refer to the quality or impact of the punishment.
Positive punishment is adding an aversive stimulus to deter a behavior.
|Positive Punishment Examples||Aversive Stimulus||Undesired Behavior|
|Mom gives Mag a time-out for lying.||time-out||lying|
|Jon was assigned extra homework because he was late to school.||extra homework||be late for school|
Negative punishment is removing a pleasant stimulus to deter a behavior.
|Negative Punishment Examples||Pleasant Stimulus||Undesired Behavior|
|Mary’s tv time was cut by 20 minutes because she did not listen to her Mom.||tv time||did not listen|
|Jack was grounded for talking back.||go out||talk back|
Reinforcement vs Punishment
|Add / Remove||Stimulus||Behavior|
|Positive Reinforcement||add||pleasant||enhance desired|
|Negative Reinforcement||remove||aversive||enhance desired|
|Positive Punishment||add||aversive||deter undesired|
|Negative Punishment||remove||pleasant||deter undesired|
Reinforcement aims to increase a behavior while punishment to decrease a behavior.
Often times, decreasing an undesired behavior can be achieved by increasing another desired behavior.
For example, both punishing for being late for school and rewarding for being on time can incentivize a child to be on time.
Because of the negative side effects of punishment, parents should try to discipline by using reinforcement instead if possible.
However, parents should also be careful not to overuse reinforcements because too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
- Mowrer, O. (1960). Learning theory and behavior.