What Is Negative Reinforcement: Definition, 3 Types, And Examples

What Is Negative Reinforcement: Definition, 3 Types, and Examples

When people hear about reinforcement, they often think of positive reinforcement. It’s the concept of rewarding desirable behavior to increase the frequency of that behavior. However, there’s another type of reinforcement known as negative reinforcement. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the concept of negative reinforcement, the three types, and some examples of how it works.

Definition of Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is a process that involves removing an unwanted or unpleasant stimulus to increase the frequency of a behavior. It’s important to note that negative reinforcement does not involve punishment, meaning it’s not about adding a negative stimulus to decrease behavior. Instead, it’s about removing a negative stimulus to increase behavior.

Three Types of Negative Reinforcement

There are three types of negative reinforcement:

  • Escape – This type of negative reinforcement happens when an individual performs a behavior to escape an undesirable situation. For instance, imagine a student who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up in class. The teacher calls on them to answer a question, and they get it wrong. The student then raises their hand and asks to use the restroom, which is a behavior done to escape the unwanted situation of being called out in class. The teacher may grant permission because they don’t want to have a student who’s uncomfortable.
  • Avoidance – This type of negative reinforcement is when a behavior’s frequency increases because it prevents an aversive stimulus from occurring. For example, imagine a person with a fear of dogs who walks on the other side of the road when they see a dog. This behavior is done to avoid the aversive stimulus of being too close to a dog. By performing the behavior of walking on the other side of the road, the individual continuously avoids experiencing the aversive stimulus.
  • Operant Conditioning – This type of negative reinforcement involves altering behavior through a process of rewards and punishments. In this case, the removal of an aversive stimulus is the reward. An example of operant conditioning could be a business manager who eliminates an unfavorable work policy due to a dip in employee morale. This action results in the removal of the aversive policy, with the reward being the increase in employee morale.

Examples of Negative Reinforcement

Here are some examples of negative reinforcement:

  • A mother tells her child to clean their room, and they throw a tantrum because they don’t want to. The mother offers to remove the punishment of no television time for the evening if the child cleans their room quickly. The negative stimulus of losing television time is removed, and the child is likely to clean their room faster to avoid the aversive stimuli of losing television time.
  • A manager at a call center has a rule that if an employee fails to pick up calls for three consecutive days, their work hours will be decreased. One employee is having a difficult time dealing with the stress of the job, but instead of not picking up calls, they power through it. The manager notices this and decides to remove the aversive stimulus of having their work hours decreased to reward the employee’s persistence.
  • A high school teacher has a rule that if a student doesn’t turn in homework on time, they’ll receive a failing grade. A student forgets their homework, so the teacher offers to remove that punishment if they have the homework in by the end of the day. By removing the negative stimulus of getting a failing grade, the student is incentivized to turn in their homework on time in the future.


Negative reinforcement is a vital concept that can help individuals increase desirable behavior without the use of punishment. It’s important to remember that negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment, as it involves removing aversive stimuli instead of adding them. By understanding the three types of negative reinforcement and their examples, individuals can have a better grasp of how to apply this concept to different scenarios to achieve desirable results.


What is Negative Reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement is a type of operant conditioning where a behaviour is strengthened by removing or avoiding a negative stimulus. In other words, the behaviour that leads to the removal of the aversive stimulus is likely to be repeated in the future.

What are the 3 Types of Negative Reinforcement?

The 3 types of negative reinforcement include escape conditioning, avoidance conditioning, and punishment by removal. Escape conditioning is when behaviour stops an ongoing negative stimulus, such as turning off a loud alarm. Avoidance conditioning is when behaviour prevents an anticipated negative outcome, such as wearing a seatbelt to avoid a ticket. Punishment by removal is when behaviour results in the removal of an undesirable stimulus, such as taking pain medication to relieve a headache.

What are Examples of Negative Reinforcement?

Examples of negative reinforcement include taking pain medication to alleviate a headache, putting on sunscreen to avoid sunburn, or finishing a task to avoid a nagging reminder from a superior. Negative reinforcement can also be seen in parenting, such as a child cleaning their room to avoid being grounded. However, it is important to note that negative reinforcement should not be confused with punishment, which aims to decrease or eliminate behaviour through the use of an aversive stimulus.


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