google-site-verification: google4283fb30fde0af74.html
top of page

Negative reinforcement

Part I:  Description

Negative Reinforcement: Increasing Behavior by Removing Undesirables

Negative reinforcement is a concept in behavioral psychology that describes a process where the removal of an unpleasant stimulus (or aversive) increases the likelihood of a specific behavior being repeated. It's important to distinguish this from punishment, which aims to decrease a behavior.

How Negative Reinforcement Works

  1. Aversive Stimulus: The individual is experiencing something unpleasant (a loud noise, a nagging feeling, etc.).

  2. Behavior: The individual performs a behavior.

  3. Aversive Stimulus Removed: The behavior leads to the unpleasant stimulus being stopped or avoided.

  4. Behavior Reinforced: The next time the individual encounters the aversive stimulus, they're more likely to repeat the behavior that led to its removal.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement

  • Hitting snooze: The annoying alarm sound stops, reinforcing snooze-button pushing in the future.

  • Procrastinating on a task: Temporarily removes anxiety about the task, making procrastination more likely to recur.

  • Giving in to a child's tantrum: The tantrum stops, and the child learns this behavior gets them what they want.

Key Points About Negative Reinforcement

  • It strengthens behavior: The target behavior becomes more frequent.

  • Easily confused with punishment: Focus on whether the outcome removes something unpleasant (reinforcement) or adds something unpleasant (punishment).

Part II:  Common Questions

1. Is negative reinforcement a good thing or a bad thing?

  • Answer: It's neither inherently good nor bad, but a tool that can have both positive and negative consequences.

    • Positive: It can be useful for encouraging desirable behaviors (e.g., buckling a seatbelt to stop the beeping sound).

    • Negative: It can unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviors (e.g., giving in to a child's tantrums) or lead to avoidance of important tasks.

2. How is negative reinforcement different from positive reinforcement?

  • Answer: They work in opposite ways:

    • Negative Reinforcement: Removes something unpleasant to increase a behavior.

    • Positive Reinforcement: Adds something desirable to increase a behavior.

3. What are some real-life examples of negative reinforcement?

  • Answer: Everyday examples include:

    • Taking a painkiller for a headache: Headache pain is removed, reinforcing pill-taking.

    • Putting on warmer clothes: Feeling cold stops, making you more likely to bundle up again.

    • Nagging someone until they do a task: The nagging stops, reinforcing letting nagging work on you.

4. Can negative reinforcement be used to train animals?

  • Answer: Yes, it's a common principle in animal training. For example:

    • A slight squeeze on a horse's reins stops when it takes a desired step, reinforcing that step.

    • A dog learns to sit because it removes the slight tug of the leash.

5. Are there any drawbacks to using negative reinforcement?

  • Answer: Yes, potential drawbacks include:

    • It doesn't teach new skills: Only strengthens existing behaviors that get rid of discomfort.

    • Can lead to avoidance or escape behaviors rather than addressing the problem's root.

    • If overused, can create anxiety or a negative association with the task itself.

Part III:  Additional Resources

Books about Negative Reinforcement

"Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor:  

  1. An accessible classic on operant conditioning, providing clear examples and principles of positive and negative reinforcement.

"Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis" by John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward:  

  • Provides a comprehensive overview of behavioral analysis principles, including a detailed exploration of negative reinforcement.

Online Resources about Negative Reinforcement

  • Verywell Mind: Offers clear explanations and examples of negative reinforcement along with other learning concepts

  • Positive  Features articles on operant conditioning with explanations of negative reinforcement (

  • The Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI): The professional organization for behavior analysts, offering resources and publications about negative reinforcement (

  • B.F Skinner Foundation:  Dedicated to the work of the pioneer of operant conditioning, featuring resources explaining negative reinforcement (

  • Khan Academy (Psychology section):  Offers free videos and lessons covering learning theories, including negative reinforcement (

Other Resources about Negative Reinforcement

  • University Psychology Courses:  Check open courseware platforms (like Coursera or EdX) for introductory psychology classes covering negative reinforcement.

  • Animal Training Websites and Videos:  Demonstrations of animal training often illustrate the practical application of negative reinforcement.

  • Parenting Resources:  Websites or books on child development and parenting often explain negative reinforcement in the context of managing child behavior.

Part IV:  Disclaimer

These results were highly selected, curated, and edited by The Nexus Inititiative. To make this amount of complimentary content available at a cost-effective level for our site visitors and clients, we have to rely on, and use, resources like Google Gemini and other similar services.

bottom of page