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Positive Reinforcement vs Negative Reinforcement

When there is an autism diagnosis and ABA therapy is recommended, you might often hear the terms positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement during therapy. Reinforcement is a tactic we can use in any part of someone’s life to motivate someone to do something or not do something. The positive or negative part is either adding something or taking something away.

We can define reinforcement as how we shaped behavior. It is used in ABA in all behavior programs and when teaching new skills. Simply put, reinforcement is the result of a person’s action.

When we think of positive and negative reinforcement, it’s important to note that those two words do not mean good or bad as we might think. The words positive and negative only mean whether something was added (positive) or removed (negative) following the behavior. Reinforcement occurs if either of the following happens:

  1. Something is added due to the occurrence of a behavior.

  2. Something is removed following a behavior.

This is why it’s important to remember that positive and negative do not mean good and bad as we would think. It means added or subtracted – think of this as you would think of a math problem that uses these words.

Positive vs Negative

Positive reinforcement – when something is added contingent on behavior and results in an increase in certain behavior.

Negative reinforcement – when something is removed contingent on behavior and results in an increase of that behavior.

Here are some examples:

  • Mom is holding a toy that a child asks for. Mom gives the toy to the child = positive reinforcement (something is added)

  • Mom asks the child to do homework. The child states he does not feel well. Mom tells the child he/she can do homework later (something is removed).

When you understand the difference between positive and negative reinforcement and how they can work to help curve a behavior, you will start looking at the world differently and how people behave! Reinforcement is one of the bases of Applied Behavior Analysis that we use at Leap Autism Therapy. If you are looking for ABA services, visit our website to schedule a consultation.

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