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Negative reinforcement is a form of reinforcement and is an increase in the future frequency of a behavior when the consequence is the removal of an aversive stimulus. Turning off (or removing) an annoying song when a child asks their parent is an example of negative reinforcement (if this results in an increase in asking behavior of the child in the future). Another example is if a mouse presses a button to avoid shock. Do not confuse this concept with punishment. There are two variations of negative reinforcement:

The following table shows the relationships between positive/negative reinforcements and increasing/decreasing required behaviour.

  decreases likelihood of behavior increases likelihood of behavior
presented positive punishment positive reinforcement
taken away negative punishment negative reinforcement

Distinguishing "positive" from "negative" can be difficult, and the necessity of the distinction is often debated[1]. For example, in a very warm room, a current of external air serves as positive reinforcement because it is pleasantly cool or negative reinforcement because it removes uncomfortably hot air[2]. Some reinforcement can be simultaneously positive and negative, such as a drug addict taking drugs for the added euphoria and eliminating withdrawal symptoms. Many behavioral psychologists simply refer to reinforcement or punishment—without polarity—to cover all consequent environmental changes.


  1. Michael, J. (1975, 2005). Positive and negative reinforcement, a distinction that is no longer necessary; or a better way to talk about bad things. Journal of Orgnizational Behavior Management, 24, 207-222.
  2. Iwata, B. A. (1987). Negative reinforcement in applied behavior analysis: an emerging technology. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 361-378.