Positive Vs Negative Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a fundamental concept of Operant Conditioning, whose major objective is to increase the rate of certain undesired behavior from occurring again.

Reinforcement can be further classified into two major parts

  1. Positive reinforcement

  2. Negative reinforcement

The major purpose of both these reinforcement types is to increase the rate of certain behavior although they have many similarities and differences.

By introducing the concept of reinforcement to an individual, the individual gets encouraged to perform the behavior in a repeated manner

  • whether to avoid any undesirable stimulus

  • receive the desirable reinforcer or reward again

the simpsons, bart, homer, positive and negative reinforcement

Differences Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

S.N. Positive Reinforcement Negative Reinforcement


Positive Reinforcement is a concept of Operant conditioning that presents favorable reinforcer, so that the subject repeats its behavior.

Negative Reinforcement is the concept of Operant conditioning that presents certain reincorcers, which increases the behavior of the subject in order to avoid those reinforcers.


Positive reinforcers are favorable stimulus, which is preferred by subjects involved in the procedure.

Contrary to positive reinforcers, negative reinforcers aren’t desired, and subjects are motivated to avoid them.


It’s termed as “Positive Reinforcement” to give completely contradictory to “Negative Reinforcement”.

Similarly, “Negative Reinforcement” gives opposite meaning to “Positive Reinforcement”.


Scenario: Workplace

Stimulus: Employees who exceed quota receive bonus

Behavior: An employee works hard on the job

Result: Employee exceeds his monthly quota, is rewarded by company


Stimulus: Employee is made to come to work even on Sundays due to failed deadline.

Behavior: Employee works harder from next month

Result: Avoid to go to work on Sundays


Scenario: Classroom

Stimulus: Good students get praised

Behavior:: Student works hard in class

Result: Receives A+ grading, praised in front of the whole class.


Stimulus: Weak students have to attend Summer School

Behavior: Student works hard in class 

Result: Avoids Summer School


It can be less effective than the negative reinforcement procedure, depending upon the subject and situation.

e.g. the promise of increasing allowance might not be a good enough incentive for a rebellious teenager, a negative reinforcement such as taking away their XBox priviledges might be more effective.

It can be less effective than the positive reinforcement technique, depending upon the subject and situation.

e.g. if a student doesn't mind spending time in detention, then a positive reinforcement such as a promise of going on a vacation might encourage the child to behave better in class.

These examples are taken from the same scenarios; however, different reinforcers are made to interact with the individual.

In the examples that fall under positive reinforcement, the subjects in question have been motivated to work hard by providing certain favorable stimulus

  • bonus for the employee
  • praise for the student 

On the other hand, in examples that fall under negative reinforcement, subjects have been motivated to work hard by adding a negative consequence upon their failure to maintain certain expectations

  • no weekend for the employee
  • summer school for the student

Similarities Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Despite their differences, there are plenty of similarities between the two. The major similarity lies with its main objective, which is to increase the rate of any behavior (operant). Both of these fall under the concept of Operant Conditioning, Reinforcement.

Not only do these share a same goal, but the factors affecting their success rate are also quite similar. Both of these forms of reinforcements are largely influenced by the consistency, frequency and immediate response to the behavior.

Like in the concept of punishment, another similarity between the two is its ineffectiveness. It’s a remarkable learning process, and it’s practiced everywhere in the world, in their own terms based on their norms and values. However, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see some odd balls defying logic, and remaining unmoved by either of these reinforcement techniques.