Reinforcement and Punishment

There are two ways to provide reinforcement (rewards) or punishment. First, the experimenter (or more likely, a parent or teacher) can give the participant (or child) something. Whenever something is given, or added, this is called positive. When something is taken, or subtracted, we use the term negative. Thus, if a teacher gives a child candy for behaving nicely in class, this is positive reinforcement. But if the teacher makes the child clean the blackboards during recess for speaking out in class, this is positive punishment. Note that "positive" and "negative" do not mean "good" and "bad;" they merely indicate whether something was added (positive) or taken away (negative). These terms can be tricky, so take a minute to study the table below.

Study Chart


Pleasing Stimulus

Annoying Stimulus
Stimulus is Introduced Positive Reinforcement
increases response.
Example: completion of homework increases when followed by praise.
Positive Punishment
decreases response.
Example: because you talked, you must do extra work.
Stimulus is Removed Negative Punishment
decreases response.
Example: because you got an F, you cannot play on the football team.
Negative Reinforcement
increases response.
Example: your speed at turning off an annoying alarm clock increases.

Exploring Operant Conditioning