Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Main Difference – Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a component of behavioral psychology which used to increase the probability of the occurrence of a specific behavior as a result of the delivery of a stimulus, immediately following a corresponding response or behavior. This concept is used for a broad range of developmental procedures including both typical and atypical development of children, teenagers, elderly persons, animals and in the therapeutic management of several psychological disorders.

There are two types of reinforcement known as positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. In positive reinforcement, something positive will be added following a certain behavior whereas in negative reinforcement, something negative will be removed in order to increase a certain behavior. This is the main difference between positive and negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is often used interchangeably with the term ‘punishment. In this article, we are going to discuss,

1. What is Positive Reinforcement – Definition, Characteristic Features

2. What is Negative Reinforcement – Definition, Characteristic Features

3. What is the difference between Positive and Negative Reinforcement – The line of demarcation between their characteristic features.

What is Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is defined as the motivation given in the form of a stimulus to a certain individual, after the desired behavior is exhibited, thus making that behavior more likely to take place in the future. In simpler words, this explains how an individual can be motivated to increase the likelihood of engaging in a certain behavior again following a reward or encouragement.


  • A mother buying the kid a toy (reward) every time she scores over 90 marks for mathematics (behavior)
  • Employer awarding a bonus to the employer every time he reaches the desired target in marketing.

Positive reinforcement used in the right way is a very powerful and effective in changing the behavior of people.

Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

What is Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is defined as the avoidance of a certain behavior when a stimulus (aversive stimulus) or an item is removed following a particular behavior. The incidence of the particular behavior taking place again in future is increased due to the removal of the negative stimuli.

This term should not be confused with ‘punishment’ where negative reinforcement will act in a way which increases a certain behavior whereas punishment will tend to decrease it.

Eg: A kid can get up from the dinner table (negative stimulus) after finishing two bites of the dessert. (behavior).

Main Difference - Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

In Positive Reinforcement, something positive will be added following a certain behavior.

In Negative Reinforcement, something negative will be removed in order to increase a certain behavior.

The most important factor to keep in mind is that the ultimate goal of both positive and negative reinforcement concepts is to increase a certain behavior.


However, there is a bit of a controversial point where some psychologists argue that it is not necessary to define the differences between negative and positive reinforcement since they both can be interpreted in a similar way. For example, if a dog is hungry and you give it some food, you can think that this is an example of negative reinforcement because he was initially in a negative state of hunger and receiving food will put him back in a neutral state. On the other hand, you can think this as a positive reinforcement since he got a treat that he preferred which probably made him happy.

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About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music

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