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People and dogs

Negative Reinforcement versus Positive Reinforcement

Negative and positive reinforcement strengthens the probability of a behaviour. Negative reinforcement does this by removing something (confiscating an item), whereas positive reinforcement involves adding something (a prize). People’s opinion on the most suitable type of reinforcement is subjective, so I aim to present the differences, effects and results for you to decide. 


Negative Reinforcement


Without realising it, we experience negative reinforcement daily in seatbelt systems. A repeated “beep” sound played until you put on your seatbelt. By performing the desired task (putting on the seatbelt) and stopping the irritating noise, the likelihood that you will fasten your seatbelt in the future has increased. 


Unlike other forms of animal training, contemporary horse training commonly uses negative reinforcement; horse riders and trainers apply pressure (pulling the reins or squeezing their legs together) to force the horse to exhibit the desired behaviour (turning around a point or speeding up). When the horse successfully does so, the rider or trainer will release the pressure (also known as a negative stimulus). In the future, the horse will try to prevent the rider from applying pressure.












Positive Reinforcement


Like negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement is heavily involved in everyday life: being praised, given a paycheck and receiving a high grade. 


In learning, this type of reinforcement is incredibly effective. An example of this would be when a school in Dallas paid second-grade (year 3) children with below-average reading scores to read. Each time the pupils read a book and passed a related short quiz, they gained 2 US Dollars. As a result, there was a remarkable increase in reading comprehension. Additionally, when they answered a question wrong, they did not get any reinforcement; therefore, they worked harder to increase their likelihood of receiving positive reinforcement.



Both types of reinforcement apply to different occasions due to their effectiveness in that area. However, some question whether there should even be a distinction between negative as they are ambiguous. Adding a stimulus requires it to have been absent at first; removing one means that it must have been previously present. Perhaps considering which type

of reinforcement is better is the wrong question; we should be asking if this distinction is truly necessary or not.   

Article by Jynna Wongswan, Grad 26 Student.

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McLean, A. N. (April 2015), The positive aspects of correct negative reinforcement. [online] Available at: 


Baron, A. and Galizio, M. (June 2017), Positive and negative reinforcement: Should the distinction be preserved? [online] Available at: 


OpenStax and Lumen Learning, General Psychology. [online] Available at: 


The Movement System. (2020, August 12). Examples of Positive and Negative Reinforcement and Punishment: Operant Conditioning Explained. [Video]. Youtube. 


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