Question: What Is Positive Reinforcement?
In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement involves anything that follows a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.
One of the easiest ways to remember positive reinforcement is to think of it as something being added. By thinking of it in these terms, you may find it easier to identify real-world examples of positive reinforcement.
Examples of Positive Reinforcement
Consider the following examples:
After you execute a turn during a skiing lesson, your instructor shouts out, "Great job!"
At work, you exceed this month's sales quota so your boss gives you a bonus.
For your psychology class, you watch a video about the human brain and write a paper about what you learned. Your instructor gives you 20 extra credit points for your work.
Can you identify the positive reinforcement in each of these examples? The ski instructor offering praise, the employer giving a bonus and the teacher providing bonus points are all examples of positive reinforcers. In each of these situations, the reinforcement is an additional stimulus occurring after the behavior that increases the likelihood that the behavior will occur again in the future.
An important thing to note is that positive reinforcement is not always a good thing. For example, when a child misbehaves in a store, some parents might give them extra attention or even buy the child a toy. Children quickly learn that by acting out, they can gain attention from the parent or even acquire objects that they want. Essentially, parents are actually reinforcing the misbehavior. In this case, the better solution would be to use positive reinforcement when the child is actually displaying good behavior.
Different Types of Positive Reinforcers
There are many different types of reinforcers that can be used to increase behaviors, but it is important to note that the type of reinforcer used depends upon the individual and the situation. While gold stars and tokens might be very effective reinforcement for a second-grader, they are not going to have the same effect with a high school or college student.
Natural reinforcers are those that occur directly as a result of the behavior. For example, a girl studies hard, pays attention in class and does her homework. As a result, she gets excellent grades.
Token reinforcers are points or tokens that are awarded for performing certain actions. These tokens can then be exchanged for something of value.
Social reinforcers involve expressing approval of a behavior, such as a teacher, parent or employer saying or writing "Good job" or "Excellent work."
Tangible reinforcers involve the presentation of an actual, physical reward such as candy, treats, toys, money and other desired objects. While these types of rewards can be powerfully motivating, they should be used sparingly and with caution.
When Is Positive Reinforcement Most Effective?
When used correctly, positive reinforcement can be very effective. According to a behavioral guidelines checklist published by Utah State University, positive reinforcement is most effective when it occurs immediately after the behavior. The guidelines also recommend the reinforcement should be presented enthusiastically and should occur frequently.
The shorter the amount of time between a behavior and the presentation of positive reinforcement, the stronger the connection will be. If a long period of time elapses between the behavior and the reinforcement, the weaker the connection will be. It also becomes more likely that an intervening behavior might accidentally be reinforced.
Question: What Is Negative Reinforcement?
Negative reinforcement is a term described by B. F. Skinner in his theory of operant conditioning. In negative reinforcement, a response or behavior is strengthened by stopping, removing or avoiding a negative outcome or aversive stimulus.
Aversive stimuli tend to involve some type of discomfort, either physical or psychological. Behaviors are negatively reinforced when they allow you to escape from aversive stimuli that are already present or allow you to completely avoid the aversive stimuli before they happen.
One of the best ways to remember negative reinforcement is to think of it as something beingsubtracted from the situation. When you look at it in this way, it may be easier to identify examples of negative reinforcement in the real-world.
Examples of Negative Reinforcement
Learn more by looking at the following examples:
Before heading out for a day at the beach, you slather on sunscreen in order to avoid getting sunburned.
You decide to clean up your mess in the kitchen in order to avoid getting in a fight with your roommate.
On Monday morning, you leave the house early in order to avoid getting stuck in traffic and being late for class.
Can you identify the negative reinforcer in each of these examples? Sunburn, a fight with your roommate and being late for work are all negative outcomes that were avoided by performing a specific behavior. By eliminating these undesirable outcomes, the preventative behaviors become more likely to occur again in the future.
Negative Reinforcement versus Punishment
One mistake that people often make is confusing negative reinforcement with punishment. Remember, however, that negative reinforcement involves the removal of a negative condition in order to strengthen a behavior. Punishment, on the other hand, involves either presenting or taking away a stimulus in order to weaken a behavior.
Consider the following example and determine whether you think it is an example of negative reinforcement or punishment:
Timmy is supposed to clean his room every Saturday morning. Last weekend, he went out to play with his friend without cleaning his room. As a result, his father made him spend the rest of the weekend doing other chores like cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden, in addition to cleaning his room.
If you said that this was an example of punishment, then you are correct. Because Timmy didn't clean his room, his father assigned a punishment of having to do extra chores.
When Is Negative Reinforcement Most Effective?
Negative reinforcement can be an effective way to strengthen a desired behavior. However, it is most effective when reinforcers are presented immediately following a behavior. When a long period of time elapses between the behavior and the reinforcer, the response is likely to be weaker. In some cases, behaviors that occur in the intervening time between the initial action and the reinforcer are may also be inadvertently strengthened as well.
According to Wolfgang (2001), negative reinforcement should be used sparingly in classroom settings, while positive reinforcement should be emphasized. While negative reinforcement can produce immediate results, he suggests that they are best suited for short-term use.