Negative Reinforcement is one of the procedures of B.F. Skinner‘s operant conditioning. It’s a technique that helps in learning or maintaining certain behaviors. In this, certain behaviors result in negative or aversive stimulus events. And the removal of such aversive events is reinforcing for individuals.
Let’s consider a negative reinforcement example. Say you complain whenever your child does not dress well. Or point out your employees on the floor for being late to work. Accordingly, your child dresses well to avoid or escape from complaining. Similarly, your employees come on time not to be pointed out in front of their colleagues.
Further, negative reinforcement is different from positive reinforcement as a behavior modification technique. Although both lead to the strengthening of behaviors. But, where positive reinforcement adds something to the situation. The negative reinforcement removes the aversive stimuli.
In this article, we will discuss what is negative reinforcement and how negative reinforcement works.
What is Negative Reinforcement?
Negative reinforcement involves aversive stimuli events that follow specific behaviors. In this, you reinforce the desired behavior by taking away or removing these negative or aversive stimuli events. In other words, you make the removal of aversive stimuli dependent on the strengthening of specific behaviors. That is, you remove negative outcomes only when the person in question strengthens a response.
Thus, the term ‘negative’ in negative reinforcement denotes the removal of the aversive stimuli. And the removal of these negative consequences is what is reinforcing. Therefore, you remove the negative consequences only on the display of desired behaviors.
How it Works?
Let’s consider some negative reinforcement examples here to understand what is negative reinforcement and how it works. Say you want your child to finish his home assignments. Or want him or her to do the chores. In such a case, you tell your child that if he does not finish his home assignment, he would not be allowed to play. Thus, to avoid such a consequence, the child finishes his work or undertakes the chores.
In the above example, the aversive consequence of not doing the hoe assignment is ‘no playtime’. Thus, your child knows that by completing his home assignment, he can avoid or remove this negative consequence. However, the removal of the negative outcome is dependent on the display of desired behavior. In this case, the desired behavior of doing the home assignment helps in removing or avoiding the negative consequence of ‘ no playtime’.
Similarly, the police continue to use third degree or brutal methods until the culprit makes a confession. Thus, removal of the third-degree torture is reinforcing which makes the culprit confess the crime.
However, you need to clearly understand what is negative reinforcement as a behavior modification technique. At times, you may be unknowingly reinforcing unwanted behaviors in your child using the negative reinforcement technique.
This is called the Negative Reinforcement Trap. Let’s have a look at some of the examples to understand this concept.
Negative Reinforcement Trap
Say you make an undesirable command of going to bed to your child. Listening to this, your child may cry, protest or refuse to agree to your command. Now, you may give up on your command to stop your child from crying, or protesting.
This removal of your command to stop your child’s protest may unknowingly reinforce behaviors that you do not want your child to display. In other words, your child may learn defiance, protesting, and non-compliance as a result. He/she knows that each time they protest, their mother removes unwanted commands like going to bed. Thus, negative reinforcement may increase non-compliance in your child.
Now, you may get irritated with your child not complying with your commands. This may make you tougher. You may end up shouting or even go physically aggressive with your child. Now, your child may stop crying or protesting out of fear. Accordingly, the removal of the aversive consequence of your child protesting is reinforcing for you. As a result, you may maintain aggressive or tough behavior.
Thus, negative reinforcement encourages an increase in the negative behavior both in the child and the parent over time. This may result in a coercive and destructive cycle within the parent-child relationship.
Likewise, both positive and negative reinforcement has also been linked to substance abuse like alcohol and drugs. Positive reinforcement is at play when people drink alcohol for pleasure or social enhancement. However, negative reinforcement is at play when alcohol or drugs are consumed to avoid stress or anxiety. Such reinforcement may eventually lead to addiction as withdrawal symptoms reinforce you to consume more.
Negative Reinforcement Examples
Let’s have a look at some of the negative reinforcement examples to get a clear understanding of what is negative reinforcement.
- The bully keeps twisting the arm (negative stimulus) of the boy until the boy shouts his name. Thus, to stop the bully from twisting his arm (removal of aversive stimulus is contingent upon calling out the bully’s name), the boy shouts out his name (the desired behavior).
- The police continue to employ third degree or brutal methods (negative stimulus) until the culprit makes a confession (desired behavior). Thus, the removal of the third-degree methods is reinforcing for the culprits.
- A country continues to be at war (negative stimulus) until the enemy surrenders (desired behavior or response). Thus, the war coming to an end is contingent upon the strengthening of a specific response of the enemy surrendering.
- Stopping drug consumption would lead to stress in the case of chronic drug addicts. So, to avoid withdrawal stress, the drug addict continues to consume drugs. That is, termination of withdrawal stress is contingent upon drug use.
Examples of Negative Reinforcement in Daily Life
- The parent removes the privilege of extra TV time if the child doesn’t finish his homework. Thus, no homework means no extra watch time. Thus, to avoid that, the child does the homework. Therefore, termination of withdrawal of the privilege is reinforcing.
- The child brushes the teeth at night to avoid social embarrassment. Thus, escaping from social embarrassment here is contingent upon the child brushing his teeth.
- Using mosquito repellent cream(desired response) to escape from being bitten by the mosquitoes (negative stimulus). Thus, mosquitoes not biting you is dependent on using the mosquito repellent cream.
- Drying your hands (desired response) before using electrical appliances to avoid getting the electric shock (negative stimulus). Thus, drying hands lets you avoid electric shock.
- Closing your eyes (desired response) to avoid the bright light causing irritation in your eyes (negative stimulus). Thus, avoiding the bright light to enter your eyes is reinforcing.
- Showing fake leads (response) in your lead sheet at the workplace to avoid the manager’s complaining (negative stimulus). Thus, stopping the manager from complaining is contingent upon recording leads in the sheet.
Examples of Negative Reinforcement in the Classroom
Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment are the commonly used principles for managing the classroom. While you use positive reinforcement to help learn, maintain or encourage desired behavior in children. Negative reinforcement is used to terminate or reduce undesired behaviors. In this, the removal of negative consequences is contingent upon the increase in the desired behavior.
There are various disruptive behaviors that children display in the classroom. Thus, teachers can use the negative reinforcement technique to deal with and manage such disruptive behaviors.
Further, negative reinforcement as a behavior modification technique has its pros and cons. Its appropriateness would depend on the issue at hand, your students’ needs, and your way of teaching.
There are various disruptive behaviors that children display in the classroom. Thus, teachers should know when to use punishment or negative reinforcement. This is to avoid punishing children when not required.
Let’s have a look at some examples of negative reinforcement in the classroom.
Disruptive Behaviors and Negative Reinforcement Approaches Used To Deal With Them
- Warning students for not being properly dressed. Thus, to avoid future warnings, students will come properly dressed to school. Accordingly, the removal of warnings is reinforcing for children.
- Threatening children who use abusive language in the classroom. Thus, children stop using abusive language to avoid future threats or punishment. That is, they repeat the desired behavior to escape negative consequences of threat or punishment.
- Pointing out and asking the child to apologize for eating candies in the classroom. The child does not repeat such behavior to avoid apologizing in front of the entire class.
- Not allowing the child to play during lunchtime for misbehaving and fighting with fellow classmates. That is, he would not fight in the future to escape from not being able to play during lunchtime.
- Giving the child extra work or asking him/her to help you (the teacher) for coming late to the classroom. Thus, the removal of such extra work would be reinforcing for the child.
Examples of Negative Reinforcement in Excercise
Negative Reinforcement in Exercise
Trainers use both positive and negative reinforcement to modify the behaviors of people with regards to fitness. Bringing health behavior change in people is not easy. This is because it takes a good amount of time for any healthy behavior to become a habit. Accordingly, a healthy behavior must be repeated in a given setting over a period of time to become automatic and to be undertaken with less conscious thought.
According to a study, it takes 18-254 days for a behavior to become a habit. Such a wide variation explains that the time taken for various behaviors to turn into habits may vary. Some behaviors like exercising may take longer than others like drinking water after breakfast to become habits.
Typically, fitness trainers prefer positive reinforcement to strengthen specific behaviors. This is because it concentrates on how much exercisers have accomplished over how much they are yet to achieve.
For instance, fitness trainers appreciate the exercisers on their small achievements. These could include pulling extra weights, not skipping the gym session sessions, etc.
Further, they also use negative reinforcement. But at times, negative reinforcement may result in stress or self-esteem issues for the exercisers. Here are some of the examples of negative reinforcement in exercise. These will help you understand what is negative reinforcement in exercise.
- The trainer humiliates you for not pulling off a particular exercise properly. Thus, to avoid such a humiliation that lowers your self-esteem, you make more effort to pull it off correctly. Thus, the removal of the negative consequence is reinforcing in this case.
- Your trainer questions you for not hitting the new target instead of seeing a positive improvement that you made. So, you make all the effort to hit the target to avoid complaining or questioning from your coach.
- You are reminded of the fitness level you were supposed to accomplish instead of the current fitness level you have reached. Thus, you exercise more to avoid such a reminder coming from your coach again.
- You put a good amount of money at stake to achieve your goal. Thus, you work hard to achieve your goal to avoid losing higher stakes. Accordingly, losing the money at stake is reinforcing. That is, not losing money is dependent on your achieving the fitness goal.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement
Positive and negative reinforcement are the commonly used techniques for behavior modification. These are the types of operant conditioning given by the renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner.
Operant conditioning, also known as instrumental conditioning, is a technique of learning that makes use of rewards and punishments for changes in behavior. That is, the probability that an individual repeats a specific behavior in the future depends on the consequences that follow such behaviors.
What is Positive Reinforcement?
Positive reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning that strengthens a specific behavior by presenting positive stimuli events immediately after such behaviors are performed. Accordingly, positive reinforcement involves outcomes that increase the probability of behaviors preceding such outcomes.
Thus, the likelihood that a specific behavior would be repeated is dependent on the positive outcomes that follow such behavior. So, positive reinforcement involves adding something to the situation to strengthen or increase desired behaviors.
Say, you want your child to practice good manners. Or desire your employees to be creative at the workplace. So, you give your child a pat on his back each time he displays good manners. Similarly, you appreciate your employees each time they make a creative effort. Thus, it is highly probable that your child will practice good manners in the future. Or your employees would adopt a creative approach towards work
Therefore, you add or present positive stimuli as a consequence of behaviors that you want to encourage. And these positive outcomes increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated in the future.
What is Negative Reinforcement?
Negative reinforcement involves aversive stimulus events as a consequence of specific behaviors. Now, you negatively reinforce certain behaviors when you remove these aversive stimuli. Thus, removing the negative consequences is encouraging in itself. Thus, you make the removal of aversive stimuli contingent on the performance of the desired behavior.
As discussed in the above examples, a teacher scolds the child for eating candies in the class. Or a parent removes the privilege to make the child do the home assignment. Thus, the child stops eating candies in the classroom to avoid getting scolded in the future. Similarly, he /she does the home assignment to avoid the parent from taking away the privilege.
Now, you must note here that both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement result in a strengthening of the desired behaviors. However, where positive reinforcement adds something positive to the situation like an appreciation as a consequence. Negative reinforcement removes aversive stimuli from the situation. And this removal of aversive stimuli is reinforcing.
Negative Reinforcement and Punishment
Many of us often are unable to distinguish between negative reinforcement vs punishment. So let’s understand the difference between the two.
What is Negative Reinforcement?
As stated earlier, negative reinforcement involves negative or aversive consequences that increase behaviors that allow you to avoid, escape from, or stop these aversive consequences.
In other words, the removal of such negative outcomes is reinforcing. Thus, negative reinforcement results in the strengthening of behaviors that allow you to avoid or escape from the negative outcomes.
For instance, you wear gloves to avoid the hot plate burn your hands. Thus, the desired behavior of wearing the gloves is dependent on the removal of aversive consequences. In this case, it is the burning of your hands.
Thus, negative reinforcement results in strengthening the rate of desired behaviors. In other words, you typically use negative reinforcement to increase the probability of specific behaviors being repeated in the future.
What is Punishment?
Punishment, however, is different from negative reinforcement.
It involves aversive stimuli events that follow the undesired behaviors. And these aversive consequences lead to a decrease in the behaviors preceding such consequences.
Thus, punishment is a type of operant conditioning that results in a decrease in specific unwanted behaviors. Here, you use aversive consequences to reduce undesirable behaviors. That is, you use punishment as a consequence of behaviors you do not want the subject to repeat in the future.
For example, you penalize your employees for coming late to work. Thus, your employees would not come late in the future for they know they may have to take a pay cut. Likewise, you scold your child for showing aversive behavior or using abusive language. Accordingly, your child would not behave aversively or use abusive language in the future for the aversive consequences he would have to face.
Thus, negative reinforcement results in an increase in the rate of desired behavior based on the consequences that follow them.
However, punishment results in a decrease in the unwanted behaviors based on the aversive consequences that follow them.
Types of Punishment
Now, punishment is of the following two types.
Positive punishment involves unpleasant or aversive consequences to unwanted behaviors. And these negative or aversive consequences result in a decrease in the undesired behaviors.
For example, you ask the child to stay back for extra hours after school for misbehaving in the classroom. Thus, the student would stop misbehaving as a result of the aversive consequences of such behavior.
Negative punishment involves removing positive reinforcers that results in a decrease in unwanted behaviors. The best way to remember the concept of negative punishment is the word ‘negative’. Here, negative denotes the removal of something from the situation to reduce undesired behaviors.
For example, you take away your child’s favorite toy for not sharing the same with his sibling.
When is Effective?
Negative reinforcement is a powerful technique to modify behaviors. That is, you may strengthen desired behaviors by removing negative consequences. But, there are certain factors you must keep in mind to make negative reinforcement effective.
For instance, you must negatively reinforce the subject immediately after the desired behavior is displayed. Say there is a long time gap between the display of desired behavior and removal of the negative consequence. In such a case, the negative reinforcer may not prove to be effective.
In addition to the time interval, the schedule at which you use negative reinforcers also decides the effectiveness of this technique. That is, do you involve negative reinforcers each time the desired behavior is displayed. Or are they involved at fixed intervals or intermittently?
Define negative reinforcement in psychology?
According to Skinnerian operant conditioning theory, negative reinforcement refers to negative stimulus events that encourage behaviors that allow an individual to escape or avoid such events. In negative reinforcement, negative refers to the removal of the negative or aversive consequences to strengthen desired behaviors. Accordingly, the removal of negative consequences is contingent on the display of desired behaviors.
Example of negative reinforcement in psychology?
An example of negative reinforcement in psychology could be using an umbrella to avoid getting drenched in rain. The aversive consequence of getting drenched is avoided or removed by using an umbrella.
How do teachers use negative reinforcement?
Teachers use negative reinforcement in the classroom as a technique to modify student behaviors. For instance, they give warnings and threats, point out, or take away privileges to reinforce desired behaviors in students.
For instance, they give warnings to children on not finishing their home assignments, point out or embarrass students for displaying aversive behaviors. Accordingly, the removal of negative consequences is reinforcing for students. Thus, repeat desired behaviors to avoid or escape negative outcomes. This way, teachers strengthen desired behaviors using negative reinforcement.
Why is negative reinforcement bad?
Negative reinforcement is a powerful behavior modification technique. It is effective if you provide it immediately after the display of the desired behavior in the short run. However, when given over a long period of time, it may not result in the strengthening of the desired behaviors.
For instance, say you only concentrate on the fitness target that your client should have achieved instead of appreciating the things achieved by him to date. This may work in the short-term, where your client gets reinforced to achieve the fitness target to avoid your reminder of non-achievement. But, the client may get resentful in the long run and may skip coming to the gym altogether.
Is time out a negative reinforcement?
No, time out is not negative reinforcement. Rather, it is a negative punishment procedure. Time out means withdrawing the opportunity to gain positive reinforcement or loss of access to positive reinforcers for a specified time.
For instance, say your child picks up a fight with his sibling while playing with his favorite toy. Thus, you remove the toy and make your child time out for say a minute or two. Accordingly, your child will learn not to fight with his sibling. This is because he knows that doing so would deny him of his favorite toy or activity. But make sure that you take away an activity or a thing that he/she prefers.
Is negative reinforcement a type of punishment?
No, negative reinforcement is not a type of punishment. Instead, it is one of the two types of reinforcement including positive and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is a behavior modification technique that results in the strengthening of desired behaviors. In this, aversive consequences to unwanted behaviors are removed. And this removal of negative outcomes is contingent upon the display of desired behaviors. That is, negative outcomes are removed only when the individuals display behaviors that you want them to repeat in the future.
This is unlike punishment in which unpleasant consequences follow unwanted behaviors which leads to a decrease in the unwanted behaviors. For instance, a teacher may detain a student as a punishment for fighting with his fellow classmates.
Does negative reinforcement weaken behavior?
No, rather negative reinforcement results in the strengthening of the desired behaviors. That is an increase in the probability of behaviors that you want the individuals to repeat in the future. The word ‘negative’ in negative reinforcement does not denote the weakening of a behavior. It rather refers to the removal of negative stimulus consequences to specific behaviors. And such removal is what is reinforcing for the individuals. That is, they display desired behaviors due to the removal of such negative or aversive consequences.
How do I stop negative reinforcing behavior?
As a parent, you need to tell your child desired behaviors that you want him or her to repeat in the future. Likewise, you also need to be careful not to reinforce negative behavior in your child. For instance, don’t pay attention to your child’s misbehavior. Misbehaving to seek parent attention is typical with children. And if the parent pays attention in place of ignoring, the child gets positively reinforced. That is, he becomes aware that his misbehavior would earn him parental attention.
Similarly, you may reinforce protesting and defiance behaviors in your child by surrendering to them to stop their whining or protesting behaviors. For instance, you may give in to the demands of your child to stop him from crying. In addition to this, make sure you positively reinforce desired behaviors immediately after they are displayed. Finally, reinforce the desired behaviors consistently to stop negative reinforcing behavior.
Who created positive and negative reinforcement?
Positive and negative reinforcement are part of the B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory. As per this theory, the probability that an individual would repeat a specific behavior depends on the consequences that follow such behavior. Accordingly, consequences can be positive and negative. And these consequences result in either strengthening of desired behaviors or weakening of the unwanted behaviors.
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