Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Modified: 2014-01-01


Positive reinforcement is when a response is followed by the addition of a stimulus, and then that response is more likely to recur. For example, let's pretend we are in a classroom in the near future. You raise your hand to ask a question, and a $20 bill appears from a slot in the desk top. You ask another question, and $20 more appears. Pretty soon, you find yourself asking more and more questions. Here, the $20 has become a reinforcer because it increased your level of question asking.

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, is when a response is followed by the removal of a stimulus and then that response is more likely to recur. Notice that negative reinforcement also makes the response more likely to recur. Let's revisit that hypothetical classroom in the near future. Now, when you sit in your desk, you are subjected to electric shock. Whenever you are in your desk you are being shocked. One day you ask a question, and the shock disappears, briefly. You ask another question, and it disappears briefly again. Soon, you are asking a lot of questions. Your question asking is also being reinforced, but now by the removal of a stimulus, or by negative reinforcement.

In everyday life, nagging is one of the more common examples of negative reinforcement. If someone nags at you, and then you perform some behavior, then the nagging stops, you may perform that behavior again when the nagging starts another time.


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