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Positive and Negative Reinforcement


The question of how to make people behave correctly has always been significant for numerous scientists. Some of them believe that this result can be achieved with the help of punishment, while others consider the effectiveness of reinforcement. This term stands for those conditions, either internal or external, that a person witnesses or experiences to change their behavior. In other words, reinforcement denotes that an individual does something because they understand the consequences of this action. Now, there exist positive and negative reinforcement strategies that imply some differences, but that can be used to achieve significant behavioral changes.

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To begin with, one should present the definitions of positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. The first term denotes a situation when a behavior is followed by adding a stimulus that is also known as a reinforcer to strengthen this particular behavior (Miltenberger, 2015). This phenomenon is used to make people behave adequately in the future. At the same time, negative reinforcement refers to those cases when a stimulus or reinforcer is eliminated because of an individual’s behavior (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019).

The purpose of this strategy is to prevent people from acting aversively. Here, one should stipulate that negative reinforcement and punishment are not the same. The main difference refers to the fact that this type of reinforcement strengthens a behavior, while various kinds of penalties result in decreased responses (Miltenberger, 2015).

The similarities and differences

Now, it is possible to comment on the similarities and differences between the two phenomena under consideration. Magoon, Critchfield, Merrill, Newland, and Schneider (2017) stipulate that they differ, but research literature has little information on it. However, it is possible to mention that the two types of reinforcement are similar in the way that they stimulate a behavior to happen in the future (Miltenberger, 2015). The only difference relates to the method of how the result above is achieved. While positive reinforcement adds a stimulus to reward for proper behavior, negative reinforcement stipulates that it is possible to achieve this stimulus if an adequate response is shown.

If one wants to understand how these phenomena work, it is reasonable to consider specific examples. Positive reinforcement is present in the case when a boy obtains $3 from his parents for every A that he earns at school. In addition to that, it occurs when a girl is allowed to play on the computer for an extra hour if she cleans the house. Both the boy and the girl will witness their increased behaviors because they currently see their benefits.

Even if the stimuli disappear, the boy and the girl will follow the behaviors because of the previous positive experience. As for negative reinforcement, it manifests itself in the situation when a woman is not allowed to leave the dinner table until she eats two vegetables. Furthermore, it is found when a mother allows her children to stay relatively late in the street when they prove that they can avoid danger. In these cases, the woman and the children have the stimuli to behave adequately in the future to avoid unpleasant outcomes.


In conclusion, both positive and negative reinforcement strategies are useful approaches to achieve behavioral changes. One can say that there is a difference between the two phenomena, which refers to the way of how they meet the required behavior. However, the two are similar in the context that their goal is to increase a particular behavior among people. The specific examples above have demonstrated that both positive and negative reinforcement can become a useful tool for individuals to either increase their behavior or make others act appropriately in some cases. Finally, this information stipulates that the proper use of these reinforcement strategies is an irreplaceable part of effective parenting.

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Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied behavior analysis (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Magoon, M. A., Critchfield, T. S., Merrill, D., Newland, M. C., & Schneider, W. J. (2017). Are positive and negative reinforcement “different”? Insights from a free-operant differential outcomes effect. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 107(1), 39-64.

Miltenberger, R. G. (2015). Behavior modification: Principles and procedures (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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