Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement occurs when a response is strengthened or increased.  We are going to discuss both positive and negative reinforcement and give examples of each type below.

Positive reinforcement, which seems to be the most effective, is when something is added in order to increase a response.  The word positive refers to adding something and the word reinforcement refers to the increased response.  Positive reinforcement is used every day without even thinking about it.  When you tell your child “good job” after putting away their toys or when you tell your best friend her hair looks nice after she has been to the salon.  Both of these comments will increase the probability of them cleaning up their toys and getting their hair done.  Positive reinforcement is also used through sticker charts and token boards.  Sally may earn a token after answering math questions correctly.  This is something added in order to increase a response or positive reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement is occasionally misunderstood.  Negative reinforcement is NOT a decrease in response but instead the word negative refers to something being taken away in order to still increase or strengthen the behavior.  Let’s take an alarm clock for example. Jimmy sets his annoying alarm for 5:30 am.  When his alarm starts buzzing in the morning, Jimmy gets out of bed and turns his alarm off.  Removing  the sound of the alarm clock will increase Jimmy’s behavior of getting out of bed and turning off his alarm in the morning.  Another example could be seen in a wife who is constantly nagged by her husband to do the dishes day after day.  One evening, Johnny does not say a word about the dirty dishes and Clara loads the dishwasher.  Nagging was eliminated or taken away and Clara now does the dishes every evening.

There is no limit to how reinforcement can be delivered.  Often times teachers and parents use sticker charts or token boards but something as simple as praise can be effective as well.  Money, candy, and high fives are also among the many forms of positive reinforcement.  Always remember: if you want an increase in response, the most powerful way to get it is through reinforcement!



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