American psychologist, Burrhus Frederic Skinner or B. F. Skinner, developed the concept of Operant Conditioning. This theory is a form of learning in which the consequences of behavior change the probability of the behavior’s occurrence. As an example in operant conditioning, passing a complete assignment of a student is likely to cause the teacher to praise the student’s performance, which in turn encourages the student to pass again a complete assignment in the future. One of the contexts of operant conditioning is the principle of reinforcement. Reinforcement is the process by which a stimulus or an event strengthens or increases the probability of a behavior or an event that it follows. Behavioral psychologists have developed a number of principles of reinforcement, including a distinction between positive and negative reinforcement. To understand the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, one must remember that they are processes in which something is given (positive reinforcement) or something is removed (negative reinforcement). In positive reinforcement, the frequency of a behavior increases because it is followed by a rewarding stimulus. An example of positive reinforcement is when someone teaches a dog to “shake hands” and gives it a piece of food when it lifts it paw. Conversely, in negative reinforcement, the frequency of a behavior increases because it is followed by the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. Taking an aspirin is an example of negative reinforcement. A reduction of pain reinforces the act of taking an aspirin.
From the discussion of positive and negative reinforcement, one learns that both types of reinforcement strengthen a behavior. In contrast, the effect of punishment is usually to weaken or extinguish a behavior. A punishment is a consequence the decreases the likelihood of a behavior’s occurrence. For example, a child does not clean up his room when his parent asks him to. Eventually, his parent yelled up to him for not cleaning his room. This stops the child on his behavior and cleans up his room to avoid being nagged about it. Punishment differs form reinforcement in that case. In punishment, a behavior is weakened. In reinforcement, a behavior is strengthened. Therefore, punishment is not the same as negative reinforcement. In punishment, a response decreases because of its consequences while in negative reinforcement; a response increases because of its consequences. Another example to distinguish negative reinforcement from punishment is when an alcoholic consumes liquor to lessen uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The probability that the person will use alcohol in the future increases. The reduction of the withdrawal symptoms is a negative reinforcer for drinking. But if an alcoholic was seriously injured in a car accident and consequently drinks less, the incident served as punishment because a behavior (drinking) is decreased.
The positive negative distinction can be applied also to punishment. In positive punishment, the behavior’s occurrence decreases when it is followed by an unpleasant stimulus. Am example of positive punishment is when a student is caught by his teacher cheating on his examinations (behavior). The teacher gives him a failing grade (punishment) and the student stops cheating again. On the other hand, negative punishment decreases the behavior’s occurrence when a positive stimulus is removed from it. For example, a child wastes his allowance on buying unnecessary things (behavior) that gives him pleasure. His parent delay his allowance (punishment) and subsequently, this lessen the wrong spending of money of the child.
The response cost has also something to do in operant conditioning. In response cost, the positive reinforcer is removed which results in the weakening of the frequency of the behavior. The removal of the positive reinforcer results to extinction, which is a decreased tendency to perform the behavior.