Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is a response or behavior that is strengthened by

  • Stopping
  • Removing
  • Reducing
  • Or Postponing a negative outcome or punishment.

This procedure often involves the removal of “something” that the person does not like and is defined by its anticipated strengthening effect on the behavior. For example, when Johnny is given a task, he starts whining and more instructions for him to start working on his task will lead to tantrums. Once tantrums are present, his teacher gives him a time-out in the corner of the classroom. In this scenario, the negative reinforcer is the removal of required work (in the form of a time-out) while the behavior being strengthened is the tantrum. Negative reinforcements will turn into learned behaviors that can constitute good or bad behavior based on creating a favorable outcome.

Three types of Negative Reinforcement Contingencies

  • Escape Contingency: allows the person to escape an experience.
  • Avoidance Contingency: allows a person to behave in a way that prevents or delays an experience.
  • Free-operant Avoidance: the avoidance behavior happening at any time.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement:

Drying Wet Hands (Escape Contingency)

  • Before: hands are wet.
  • Behavior: rub them on the towel.
  • After: water is gone from hands.
  • Future Behavior: To rub hands on the towel when hands are wet.

Screaming! (Avoidance Contingency)

  • Before: broccoli on the plate.
  • Behavior: screaming.
  • After: broccoli is no longer on the plate.
  • Future Behavior: Will scream until broccoli is removed from the plate.

Lotion hands (Free-operant avoidance)

  • Before: hands are dry and itchy.
  • Behavior: lotion hands.
  • After: hands are moist and soft.
  • Future Behavior: keeps lotion on hands from being dry.

What Negative Reinforcement is not

Negative reinforcement is not to be confused with positive reinforcement and negative punishment. It does not reinforce negative behavior.

Negative and positive reinforcement are both geared toward the same result – the desired behavior. However, negative reinforcement does it by removing a factor and positive reinforcement does it by adding a factor.

The counterpart is Positive Reinforcement.

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