What is Negative reinforcement Characteristics and Examples

Negative reinforcement

Among its various assumptions, behavioral psychology states that behavior is regulated through the addition or elimination of stimuli. In this way, the individual is able to assimilate and show desirable behaviors little by little. For this reason, within pedagogy, sociology and other currents of behavioral orientation, negative reinforcement is spoken of as an effective strategy to guide people to improve their behavior and attitudes.

The theory of negative reinforcement was proposed by the American psychologist and researcher Burrhus Frederic Skinner, within his premises on operant conditioning . Certainly, it consists of eliminating or removing a stimulus that is irritating or uncomfortable for the person with the aim of enhancing a conduct or behavior.

In other wordsthe unwanted stimulus is removed from the scene so that the person makes an effort so that it does not appear again. Among these negative stimuli, we can talk about psychological or physical ones, since they are those that seek to avoid irritation or discomfort in individuals.

An example of it would be if you decided to eat a lot at dinner, but first took an antacid to avoid discomfort. In the same way, we would also talk about negative reinforcement if you prepare yourself to face a difficult day and adopt behaviors to avoid annoying moments.


As we mentioned, it is part of the operant conditioning proposed by Skinner . Therefore, it has to do with the fact of withdrawing a stimulus and whose removal involves a positive consequence for the person. Likewise, this behavioral technique has the following characteristics:

  • Seeks to achieve a desired behavior.
  • It does not consider mental processes , but the person’s need to obtain a reward.
  • It encourages behavior change.
  • It generates quick results that last over time.
  • It is based on prevention to prevent the behavior from appearing.
  • It is ideal for reinforcing learning.

It is essential to take into account that negative reinforcement must be applied in moderation and with great tact in order to achieve the desired objective. Otherwise, it can be converted into an element of personal repression and can even cause some personal imbalance that limits social interaction.

Examples of negative reinforcement

One of the most obvious examples of negative reinforcement is the mother who scolds her children when they don’t clean their room. In this case, the direct consequence will be that the sons or daughters will clean up the room only because of the need to avoid the mother’s scolding. Below, we will show other examples of negative reinforcement in children and adults so that you can better understand the concept.

Examples of negative reinforcement in school

Discover different examples of negative reinforcement in class:

  • When the teacher is correcting the students because they talk a lot in class and the students stop talking so that the teacher stops his warning.
  • A teacher decides to eliminate an assignment for struggling students who have better grades.
  • The teacher who threatens students with detention if they don’t follow the rules. Therefore, students try to do what is asked to avoid it , which in this case is detention.
  • When students prepare for a test with the intention of not getting low grades.

Examples of negative reinforcement at home

Some of the examples of negative reinforcement for adults given at home are:

  • Clean everything before leaving for work so that when you return everything is clean and organized.
  • Wearing earplugs while you sleep with a person who snores a lot so that the noise doesn’t disturb your rest.
  • Take the garbage out of the house to avoid the bad smell.

Examples at work

In the professional field there are also cases of it such as the following:

  • A supervisor who decides to eliminate hours from the workday for those who demonstrate that they have greater productivity in sales or in their activities.
  • People who decide to leave an hour earlier to arrive at work earlier and thus avoid heavy traffic.

There is another behavioral psychological strategy that follows an opposite methodology to this one. If you want to get to know her, be sure to read this article about what positive reinforcement is in psychology and its examples .

Difference between negative reinforcement and punishment

Even though people tend to confuse negative reinforcement with punishment, the truth is that they are two different concepts. To begin with, negative reinforcement seeks to reduce bad behavior , while punishment seeks to eliminate it completely.

On the one hand, negative reinforcement eliminates the unpleasant stimulus only when it manifests a good behavior, which increases the possibility that this good behavior will be maintained and repeated in the future.

On the other hand, punishment implies an unpleasant consequence when the person has already committed the error. Therefore, what punishment seeks is that the behavior is not repeated in the future, which is exactly the opposite objective of negative reinforcement.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Back to top button