When to reward and When to punish?

Behavior Reinforcement the basics of behavior help you to understand why you choose certain behaviors and how you can change ineffective ones.

Reinforcement means rewarding a behavior so that it happens more often. There are two types of reinforcement, positive and negative. Related to reinforcement, positive does not mean “good” and negative “bad.” Instead, positive means that something desirable is added following a behavior, and negative means that something aversive is removed following a behavior. Another way to think about it is that there are reinforcements that reward (positive) and reinforcements that relieve (negative). Here are some examples.

Positive reinforcement:

• A child is praised and taken to the park after cleaning his room (the praise and park are both rewards).

• You feel accomplishment after doing your workout (the sense of accomplishment rewards your workout efforts).

• You are paid for completing work (money is a powerful reinforcer because it can be used for a variety of rewards).


Negative reinforcement:

• A person completes a task to stop another person from nagging him or her (the removal of the nagging is a relief and reinforces completing the task).

• You buckle your seatbelt to stop the car from beeping at you (removing the annoying beep is a relief and promotes seatbelt buckling).

• You practice your skills instead of acting on a problem behavior so you do not have to complete a behavior and solution analysis (the removal of behavior and solution analysis is a relief and reinforces working on your skills). Of course, behaviors can receive both positive and negative reinforcement at the same time:

• A person abuses drugs because taking a drug feels good (positive reinforcement-reward), and it removes painful feelings (negative reinforcement relief) and withdrawal symptoms (negative reinforcement-relief). Alternatively, a person avoids drug use and (in time) feels clear-headed (positive reinforcement-reward) and does not suffer hangovers (negative reinforcementrelief).

• You practice your skills and receive recognition from the peers in your program (positive reinforcement-reward) and notice that painful emotions are becoming less intense (negative reinforcement-relief).

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