In Applied Behavior Analysis, behavior can be modified through several techniques that have been empirically proven to be successful in producing desired behavioral changes. This article will focus on positive and negative reinforcement and understanding what punishment and extinction involve.


“Reinforce” in layman’s terms is typically used to describe the act of strengthening or bolstering something. But In psychology, reinforcement involves amplifying the chance of desirable behaviors from occurring again. In other words, you are increasing its chances of happening again.

There are two types of reinforcement typically confused with one another: positive and negative reinforcement.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement involves providing a rewarding stimulus after the desired behavior is performed. This rewarding stimulus could be anything from praise to tangible items like money or food. The goal is to increase the likelihood of desirable behavior by offering something that will make it more appealing for a person to perform in the future. It’s called positive because something is being added or reinforced.

The following are positive reinforcement:

  • A mother expresses appreciation (reinforcing stimulus) for her son doing his homework (behavior).
  • A grade six boy is rewarded $5.00 (reinforcing stimulus) for every A grade achieved on his report card (behavior).
  • A mother gives her daughter a sweet treat (reinforcing stimulus) for tidying up her toys (behavior).

Negative Reinforcement

On the other hand, negative reinforcement involves removing an unpleasant consequence (a stimulus, e.g., a noisy environment) to make a specific behavior more likely to happen. It’s called negative because something is being taken away. For example, if you want to study and pass an exam, you might turn off your phone to reduce distractions and focus better. You just removed undesired stimuli to increase the chances of good things happening.

The following are negative reinforcement:

  • A dad turns off the television so his daughter can have a quiet place to study (behavior).
  • An employer allows employees to work from home to reduce stress-related absences (behavior).
  • A student turns off her phone to focus better on her studies (behavior).


The next aspect of behavior modification is punishment. Punishment is an aversive response or consequence that decreases the chances of a behavior being repeated. Aversive in that the reaction used is unpleasant for the individual and can range from verbal responses to physical punishment.

You can’t solely rely on punishment as a primary means of influencing behavior; it should only be used in the direst circumstances when all other approaches have failed, following a thorough evaluation of all pertinent factors and the individual involved. It is essential to guarantee that any punitive methods employed are appropriate for the person’s age and do not cause enduring damage.

Positive Punishment

Positive punishment involves introducing an unpleasant consequence after an undesired behavior has occurred, making it less likely to occur in the future. For instance, scolding someone for being rude can serve as examples of positive punishment.

Negative Punishment

Negative punishment occurs when a reinforcing stimulus is taken away following an undesired behavior, leading to a decrease in the behavior happening again in the future. Removing something desirable after a particular behavior can create an understanding that the action was not desirable and should thus be avoided. An example of this could include taking away a toy after a child has thrown it at the television.


Extinction is a behavior modification in which an undesired behavior is diminished or discontinued by withholding reinforcement. In simpler terms, when a particular behavior no longer produces any reward, it will eventually cease being performed. An example of extinction would be when a parent stops giving their child candy every time they cry; after some time, the child will understand that yelling does not result in receiving candy and thus will stop crying when wanting something.

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