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Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment

Reinforcement vs Punishment

Human behavior can be influenced by several factors such as culture, emotion, values, ethics, persuasion, coercion, attitude, and genetics. While some behaviors are acceptable and common, others are unusual and are considered unacceptable in society.

It is being studied in such fields as psychiatry, psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work, and economics. Each has its own methods of studying human behavior. They may conduct case studies, surveys, research, experiments, or observations. One common way of studying it is through operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is a learning method that takes place as rewards or punishments for behavior. It was developed by behaviorist B. F. Skinner who believed that behavior cannot be explained by thoughts and motivation but by observing it.

In almost every aspect of an individual’s life, he is exposed to operant conditioning. Schoolchildren strive to do well in school in order to get the reward of becoming an honor student. They may also try not to disrupt the class by being too noisy lest they get demerits.

Two key concepts of operant conditioning are “reinforcement” and “punishment.” These two are the basic means by which operant conditioning is applied. Reinforcement encourages a certain behavior and makes it happen frequently while punishment discourages a certain behavior and causes it to happen less frequently.

Reinforcement can be:

  • Positive reinforcement, wherein after the behavior is manifested, an individual receives something favorable. An example is giving your dog a cookie after he performs a trick. The cookie stimulates the dog’s behavior and makes him do more tricks.
  • Negative reinforcement, wherein a stimulus is removed as a response to behavior. An example is taking away your son’s video game because he skipped classes. Another example is decreasing his allowance if he gets bad grades.

Punishment can be:

  • Positive punishment, wherein an unfavorable event happens in response to an unfavorable behavior. An example is getting a ticket for speeding. Another example is grounding your daughter because she came home very late.
  • Negative punishment, wherein a favorable object, event, or any stimulus is removed as a consequence of an unfavorable behavior. Examples are: taking your child away from play because she did not do her homework and not allowing your son to watch TV because he was caught lying.


1. Reinforcement is a concept of operant conditioning which is meant to encourage good behavior while punishment is a concept of operant conditioning which is meant to discourage bad behavior.
2. Reinforcement causes behavior to happen more frequently while punishment causes behavior to happen less frequently.
3. Both reinforcement and punishment have positive and negative forms; reinforcement motivates behavior while punishment represses behavior.
4. Positive reinforcement is when an individual receives something favorable in response to a favorable behavior while positive punishment is when an individual gets an unfavorable response for his behavior.
5. Negative reinforcement is when an individual temporarily loses a favorable stimulus due to an unfavorable behavior while negative punishment is when a stimulus is removed or taken away because of unfavorable behavior.

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