Positive Vs. Negative Reinforcement: 12 Differences [Explained]

Positive Vs. Negative Reinforcement

Positive and negative reinforcement are the two reinforcements in operant conditioning by B.F. Skinner. Positive reinforcement is the process that strengthens the behavior by adding and increasing the chance of that behavior in the future.

On the other hand, negative reinforcement is the process that reduces the chance of recurring behavior in the future.

In the article, we will understand the positive and negative reinforcement and differentiate between them.

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement involves presenting or adding a desirable stimulus or reward immediately after a desired behavior. This method aims to increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again.

It focuses on providing positive consequences, such as praise, rewards, or privileges, to strengthen and encourage desired behaviors effectively.

What is Negative Reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement involves removing or avoiding an aversive or unpleasant stimulus following a desired behavior. It aims to increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again by alleviating or preventing an unpleasant situation.

This method focuses on reinforcing desired behaviors by removing or escaping from aversive consequences, promoting the repetition of behaviors that help avoid or reduce discomfort or unpleasant experiences.

Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Now, let’s differentiate between negative and positive reinforcement with their bases of differences:

Nature of Consequence

Positive Reinforcement involves the addition of favorable or rewarding consequences immediately following a desired behavior. This includes offering praise, rewards, or privileges to strengthen the likelihood of future occurrence of the behavior.

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Conversely, Negative Reinforcement entails the removal or avoidance of aversive consequences, encouraging the repetition of behavior to escape or prevent unpleasant outcomes.


Positive Reinforcement operates by adding positive stimuli to reinforce desired behavior. This could involve providing tokens, privileges, or accolades. On the other hand, Negative Reinforcement works by eliminating or avoiding aversive stimuli to strengthen behavior, such as stopping an irritating noise or alleviating discomfort.


Positive Reinforcement emphasizes positive rewards or recognition to encourage desired behavior. It focuses on highlighting and rewarding behaviors, accentuating their positive aspects.

In contrast, Negative Reinforcement concentrates on escaping or avoiding undesirable situations, shifting the emphasis toward the removal of aversive stimuli.

Effect on Emotional State

Positive Reinforcement fosters positive emotional associations through rewards, creating a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. Conversely, Negative Reinforcement brings relief by reducing stress or anxiety associated with aversive stimuli.

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Association with Punishment

Positive Reinforcement stands apart from punishment, focusing solely on rewarding desired behaviors to reinforce them positively. Conversely, Negative Reinforcement diverges from punishment strategies, aiming to reinforce desired behaviors without penalizing undesired ones.

Desired Outcome

Positive Reinforcement strengthens behavior by adding positive consequences, thereby increasing the likelihood of future repetitions. On the other hand, Negative Reinforcement strengthens behavior by removing aversive consequences, motivating individuals to repeat actions to avoid discomfort.

Behavior Encouragement

Positive Reinforcement operates by encouraging behavior through pleasurable outcomes. It emphasizes the acquisition of desired behaviors by associating them with rewards, recognition, or incentives. This reinforcement technique essentially highlights and strengthens behaviors by rewarding them positively, creating positive associations with the desired actions.

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Conversely, Negative Reinforcement encourages behavior by allowing individuals to escape or avoid unpleasant situations. It emphasizes the importance of engaging in specific behaviors to alleviate or prevent aversive stimuli. This method motivates individuals to repeat actions that lead to relief or the avoidance of discomfort or negative experiences.

Timing of Consequence

Positive Reinforcement necessitates the immediate presentation of rewards or positive consequences following the desired behavior. This immediate association helps individuals comprehend the relationship between their actions and the favorable outcomes, reinforcing the behavior effectively.

In contrast, Negative Reinforcement requires the timely removal or avoidance of aversive stimuli following the desired behavior. The promptness in removing the aversive stimulus enables individuals to link their actions with the relief or avoidance of unpleasant situations, reinforcing the behavior by escaping or preventing the discomfort promptly.

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Use of Punishment

Positive Reinforcement is distinctly separate from punishment strategies. It solely concentrates on encouraging desired behavior through positive consequences like rewards or recognition, avoiding any punitive measures for undesired behaviors.

Similarly, Negative Reinforcement does not inherently involve punishment. It focuses on encouraging desired behavior by removing or avoiding aversive stimuli, emphasizing escape or avoidance rather than penalizing undesired behaviors.

Association with Consequences

Positive Reinforcement associates desired behaviors with positive consequences, reinforcing the connection between the behavior and the pleasurable outcome. This linkage reinforces the behavior by highlighting the benefits or rewards associated with it.

In contrast, Negative Reinforcement associates desired behaviors with the removal or avoidance of aversive consequences, strengthening the behavior by linking it to the relief or avoidance of unpleasant situations. The reinforcement lies in the escape from or avoidance of discomfort or unpleasant experiences.

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Focus on Desired Behavior

Positive Reinforcement distinctly highlights and rewards desired behaviors, placing emphasis on reinforcing and encouraging actions that align with desired outcomes or expectations.

On the contrary, Negative Reinforcement places more emphasis on avoiding or removing aversive stimuli rather than explicitly highlighting desired behaviors. It encourages actions that help individuals escape or prevent unpleasant situations.


Positive Reinforcement finds application in various settings such as parenting, education, workplace management, and behavior modification programs. It serves as a versatile tool for encouraging and reinforcing desired behaviors across diverse contexts.

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Similarly, Negative Reinforcement is also applied in parenting, education, and behavior modification programs to encourage and reinforce desired behaviors by facilitating the removal or avoidance of aversive stimuli. It functions across various domains, contributing to behavior modification strategies.

Similarities Between Negative and Positive Reinforcement

Negative and Positive Reinforcement share key similarities in behavioral modification. Both aim to increase the likelihood of repeated behavior by strengthening associations. They encourage desired actions, shaping behavior through consequences. Both techniques operate within operant conditioning, influencing behavior through stimuli.

They involve reinforcing specific actions, one by adding favorable stimuli, and the other by removing aversive ones. Moreover, both are employed in various contexts, including education, parenting, and workplace management, to encourage and reinforce desired behaviors effectively. Despite differing approaches, their common goal is to shape behavior through consequences, promoting the repetition of desired actions.

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