advertisement
Home » Pro » Reflections on Applied Behavior Analysis » What is Negative Reinforcement? Definition, 3 Types, and Examples


with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

What is Negative Reinforcement? Definition, 3 Types, and Examples

What is negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement has to do with how a behavior is followed by the “removal, termination, reduction, or postponement of a stimulus” and then that behavior happens more often in the future (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014).

So, negative reinforcement like positive reinforcement, involves a behavior happening more often as a result of what happens after the behavior.

However, negative reinforcement includes one of the following as the event following the behavior:

  • Something is removed
  • Something is terminated or ended
  • Something is reduced
  • Something is postponed

Four-Term Contingency of Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement involves a four-term contingency. The four parts of this contingency include the establishing operation, an SD (discriminative stimulus), the response or behavior, and the SR- or the abolishment or reduction of the EO.

An Example of Negative Reinforcement

Let’s look at an example of negative reinforcement with all four parts of the contingency in mind.

Establishing Operation

A young child is crying.

SD

The child puts his hands up toward his mother while crying.

Response/Behavior

The mother picks up her child.

SR-

The child stops crying.

*Impact as a Result of Negative Reinforcement acting on the Mother’s Behavior

The mother picks up her child more often in the future when her child cries and, especially when the child reaches his hands toward the mother.

Let’s review how the example above fits with the definition and characteristics of negative reinforcement.

  1. A behavior occurs – in this case, the mother picks up her child
  2. The behavior is followed by the termination of a stimulus – in this case, the child stops crying
  3. The behavior occurs more often in the future – The mom picks up her child more often in the future when her child cries.

A Side Note

Just a quick note about the example above when thinking about child development and parenting strategies…

The intention of this example is not to say whether a parent should or should not pick up their child when the child cries.

For younger kids, especially infants, picking them up when they cry can be beneficial to their development.

Three Types of Negative Reinforcement Contingencies

 

There are three types of negative reinforcement contingencies.

Escape Contingency

One form of negative reinforcement is seen in situations that result in the termination of a stimulus.

This type of negative reinforcement allows someone to escape an experience.

Some examples of an escape contingency that results from negative reinforcement include:

  • Reducing or terminating a loud noise
  • Covering your eyes with sunglasses to reduce sunlight in your eyes
  • Walking away from an argument with another person
  • Moving away from a fire to escape the heat
  • Spitting out some food to get rid of a bad taste

Avoidance Contingency

The type of negative reinforcement that involves an avoidance contingency is a common experience that we all experience in many everyday activities. This is also known as discriminated avoidance.

This type of negative reinforcement allows a person to behave in a way that prevents or delays an experience.

Some examples of an avoidance contingency resulting from negative reinforcement include:

  • Not going to class to avoid or postpone taking a test that you know is happening that day
  • Washing your hair to prevent your hair from becoming dirtier
  • Not going into unfamiliar places alone (staying in familiar places or staying with someone you know in public) to avoid unsafe encounters with strangers
  • Walking away when you see a dog or wild animal to prevent being hurt
  • Checking the date on milk to avoid drinking rotten milk
  • Holding the handle side of a knife to avoid getting cut

Free-Operant Avoidance

Free-operant avoidance involves the avoidance behavior happening at any time. It is “free to occur.” The behavior will delay an unpleasant experience.

Free-operant avoidance differs from the typical avoidance contingency in that a signal for the unpleasant experience does not have to be present.

Some examples of a free-operant avoidance contingency resulting from negative reinforcement include:

  • Doing your homework right after school because you know that your mom will send you to your room later if you don’t have it done when she asks (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014)
  • The stay-at-home parent doing the dishes at some point during the day because they know the parent who works outside the home will complain later in the day if they see dirty dishes in the sink
  • Putting lotion on your hands because you know that you will eventually get dry, itchy skin if you don’t

Breaking Apart the Three Types of Negative Reinforcement

As a review, the three types of negative reinforcement contingencies include: escape, avoidance, and free-operant avoidance.

Let’s look back at the definition of negative reinforcement and briefly explore how the three types of negative reinforcement fit with the characteristics of negative reinforcement.

We will take one scenario identified above and pinpoint the characteristics of negative reinforcement in each of them.

ScenarioType of Negative ReinforcementBehaviorConsequenceFuture Impact
Covering your eyes with sunglasses to reduce sunlight in your eyesEscape contingencyPutting sunglasses onReduces sunlight to the eyesPuts sunglasses on more often when there is bright sunlight
Holding the handle side of a knife to avoid getting cutAvoidance ContingencyHolding the handle of the knifeReduction of chances of getting cutHolds the knife by the handle more often
Doing your homework right after school because you know that your mom will send you to your room later if you don’t have it done when she asksFree-Operant Avoidance ContingencyDoing homeworkAvoid getting sent to your bedroomDoes homework after school more often

 

 

Reference:

Cooper, Heron, & Heward. (2014). Applied Behavior Analysis. 2nd Edition. Pearson Education Limited.

What is Negative Reinforcement? Definition, 3 Types, and Examples


Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services.You can view more articles and resources from Heather at www.abaparenttraining.com and email her at [email protected] can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: www.LocalAutismServices.com.Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."

 


No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). What is Negative Reinforcement? Definition, 3 Types, and Examples. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 9, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/child-therapist/2019/12/what-is-negative-reinforcement-definition-3-types-and-examples/