Posted: December 4th, 2022
Contingencies Program Transcript
STEVEN LITTLE: I’m Dr. Steven Little, and this week we’re going to be talking about
contingencies. We’ve talked about contingencies. Nothing I go through this week is
going to be new. There’ll be more detail on contingencies, and you’ll be having these
over and over and over again in many, many classes.
I’m going to go into positive reinforcement, a couple of type of reinforcements. I’m going
to talk about some cautions in selecting positive reinforcement, and I’m also going to try
to answer the question, is reinforcement bribery?
I can tell you right now, the answer is no– a big N-O. Reinforcement is not bribery, but
I’ll tell you why I think that way. And then we’re going to talk about negative
reinforcement, and we’re going to do some examples in both positive and negative
behaviors Contingencies Program Transcript. And I’m going to, again, emphasize that, again, positive means presentation.
Negative means removal. It is not a qualitative judgment on whether it’s a good
reinforcer or a bad reinforcer. Always remember that.
Same goes with punishment. So, we’re going to talk about positive punishment. We’ll
talk about some ethical concerns about positive punishment– something we’ll go
through in much, much greater detail in your ethics class. I’ll give some examples, and
I’ll talk about negative punishment.
So let me review things on contingencies. First of all, when we talk about contingencies,
we define them based on their effect on behavior. We use the words positive versus
negative. It basically just means whether the contingency is presented or removed.
Positive simply means that it’s presented. Negative simply means that it’s removed. So,
we have positive reinforcement. It means that something is presented to a reinforcer.
Negative reinforcement– something is removed, and it’s reinforcing.
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Same thing with punishment. We use reinforcement and punishment, and they’re
defined by their outcomes. I know I’m going fast, but you’ve had all this. What we have
are reinforcement, and reinforcement strengthens behavior. It makes it more likely to
occur again. It increases the probability. All those things are the same thing Contingencies Program Transcript. It
strengthens the behavior.
Punishment, on the other hand, weakens the behavior. It makes it less likely to occur
again. So, we’re defining reinforcement and punishment based on the outcome, not
whether you think something is reinforcing or you think something is punishing, but
rather by its outcome. If it increases the rate of the behavior, increases the probability
the behavior will become again, it is reinforcement.
If it decreases the probability of a behavior occurring again, it is punishment. There are
people out there who like to get spanked, yes. Spanking, with some people, will lead to
an increase in behavior that led to the spanking.
So, you can’t always do that. There are some people out there who don’t like chocolate,
don’t like candy, don’t like food. I don’t understand that, but there are people out there
like that. And therefore, they’re not going to increase the likelihood of behavior to get
that. So, it is specific to the individual, and it’s defined by the outcome. Always
I’m going to start– I want to talk about each one– positive reinforcement, negative
reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, and I’m going to talk about
each one in detail now. We did talk about these in two separate lectures already this
quarter. So, this is now going into much greater detail on them.
So positive reinforcement– we know positive means present, presentation, given.
Reinforcement means it strengthens the behavior or increases the probability. So, the
definition of positive reinforcement is the presentation of a stimulus after a behavior that
increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. Presentation of a stimulus
after a behavior that increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. It’s as
simple as that. Positive reinforcement.
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Now, when we talk about positive reinforcement, there’s some things I want you to
remember. And again, other classes will go through all of these things. First is, what is
primary reinforcement? Primary reinforcement is unconditioned. And remember, when
we’re talking about classical conditioning, conditioned is just another word for learned.
So, it’s an unlearned reinforcer.
So, primary reinforcement is unlearned. It’s unconditioned. So, it’s a stimulus that does
not require the organism to learn its reinforcing qualities. Examples are food, water, sex,
I will say even praise. That’s not totally agreed upon, but I think it is. Things food– and
food is more powerful a reinforcer if you’re deprived of food, if you’re hungry. Water– if
you’ve been deprived of drinking, water is more reinforcing. Sex– well, it’s sex. It’s
something that is reinforcing to most everybody. But these are called primary. You do
not have to learn the reinforcing value of them Contingencies Program Transcript.
We, on the other hand, deal, in large respect, with secondary reinforcers. So secondary
reinforcer means it’s learned. It’s a neutral stimulus. By itself, it is neutral, and through
constant association with primary reinforcers, it acquires its own reinforcing qualities.
The best example of this is money. What happens with money if you give it to an infant?
The infant will try to eat it. The infant will stick it in his or her mouth. That money has
absolutely no value to an infant. You have to learn that money can buy you other things
that you may want, such as food and drink and other– eventually getting back to
So, secondary reinforcer– grades. You are all students. Grades are a secondary
reinforcer. Having an A or a B, or whatever on your transcript, is, by itself, meaningless.
It’s only based on what the reinforcing value of what that can bring to you.
So, it’s a secondary reinforcer. It’s learned. Again, you can give an infant as many A’s
as you want and is not going to have any effect on their behavior, because they haven’t
learned all the reinforcing qualities of what it can lead to as far as reinforcement. So,
secondary reinforcement’s a learned reinforcement.
Extinction– we talked about extinction in classical conditioning. And that is continuing to
present the conditioned stimulus in the absence of pairing it with the unconditioned
stimulus, and it will lose its ability to elicit a response. Extinction with regard to
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reinforcement– positive reinforcement– is that if we withhold that positive
reinforcement, you will get extinction of the behavior. It was reinforcing. In other words,
someone is engaging in the behavior for a particular reinforcer. You stop providing them
with the reinforcer, and that behavior will decrease in frequency.
Now, it’s not always the case. Using extinction to get rid of a behavior in behavior
analysis can be tricky, because what happens is when a behavior’s established by a
reinforcement, other things may have taken over for it besides the specific reinforcer.
There may be other reinforcing contingencies in the environment.
In a classroom– in, say, the elementary school classroom– a child– say, the class
clown– may be doing things first for reaction from the teacher, but the teacher tries to
her own extinction by ignoring the behavior. You have the rest of the class laughing at
the jokes, or responding to the individual, which is now taking over the reinforcement.
Now, if you are trying to establish a behavior– and we’re going to talk a whole lot on
establishing behaviors and reducing behaviors in other classes, but if you’re trying to
establish a behavior and you reinforce it to get it there, you don’t want it to extinguish.
You want naturally occurring reinforcers to take over from the reinforcer that you used to
initiate the behavior and get its initial maintenance.
So, extinction is good when you want to get rid of a behavior. And we usually think
about that in terms of behaviors that are being perpetuated by attention– that if you take
the attention away, the behavior will go away. Again, easy to say, hard to do Contingencies Program Transcript. But when
we use our skills to reinforce a behavior, we want to see them engage in, we don’t want
to extinguish. We want to do different things– which we will talk about later on– to keep
it from extinguishing when you remove– preferably gradually– positive reinforcement.
Now, there are problems with extinction as an intervention. And as I said just recently–
just a minute ago– we’re usually talking about ignoring. As I said, ignoring and putting
someone on an extinction and removing the attention they’re getting is easier said than
done. So first of all, identification and removal of the reinforcement can be difficult. So
how do you get rid of reinforcement for self-stimulatory behavior? You can’t. So
obviously, extinction is not a good procedure to use in that situation.
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But also, there are other things in the environment– as I gave you the example of in a
classroom, it’s much more difficult to control the behavior of all the other students in the
classroom. Even if the teacher can ignore the behavior, other students may not. So it’s
hard to always remove it completely. You need to have a lot of environmental control for
Another thing that happens, especially when you want to reduce the behavior, is that
you have the behavior. It’s being reinforced. They’re getting something from it. You take
it away. You get what is called an extinction burst.
In other words, the behavior increases in frequency. It’s basically the person going, hey,
why am I not getting my reinforcer? And hey, hey, here I am. Look at me. I’m doing it.
I’m doing it. I’m doing it. And they increase the frequency of the behavior.
If the person who put them on extinction, then all of a sudden pays attention to them,
the behavior is now at a higher baseline. They’re worse off than they were to begin with.
So, you have to prepare people for this extinction burst. And there will be a whole
lecture on extinction, by the way, in another classroom. But extinction can make things
worse if the– extinction bursts can make things worse if the person then starts
reinforcing it at a higher level. You got to make people aware of it, and make sure that
they are prepared to live through it.
And there are other things that extinction just can’t be worked on, like self-destructive
behaviors. Someone’s going to hurt themselves. Even if they’re doing it to get attention
from adults in the environment, you just can’t. You can’t ignore it. You just can’t do it. So
certain behaviors can’t be ignored.
OK, I threw that in there. We’ll talk about that in much greater detail in another class.
Types of reinforcers– reinforcers can be material– in other words, something that is
tangible, something like my pen. This is a material reinforcer. And actually, this was
given to me by one of my dissertation students after she finished, so it was a good
I worked very hard on my other dissertation students. I probably would have anyway,
but it was very nice of her. So, with a child, it could be food. Could be toys– any desired
object, anything that they want, but it’s tangible. And material reinforces are most
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effective with children– although they can be effective with adults also, but we think
mainly with children and working with individuals with disabilities.
Social reinforcers– you’ve been doing a great job listening to this lecture. I really
appreciate how really attentive you have been, how you have really tried so hard. I’m so
impressed with your behavior.
Social reinforcers– praise, facial expressions, smiling, physical contact. Now, you’ve got
to be careful on that nowadays, but physical contact– I still think it’s really nice. Just the
old pat on the shoulder– that type of thing. Watch physical contact when you’re in
school or a clinic. If they’re your own children, that is great, but they tend to be good
All of these can be present in the natural environment, and they’re very powerful Contingencies Program Transcript. Social
reinforcers are very powerful. Even people who don’t like reinforcement, for the most
part, don’t complain too much about social reinforcers.
Activity reinforcers is the third one. Activity reinforcers– and this the Premack principle.
You may have heard that. If you haven’t, don’t worry too much about it yet. We’ll talk
about that in great detail later on, too.
But the Premack principal, sometimes called grandma’s rule, and that is, simply, you
reinforce one activity with another activity with a greater baseline frequency, or in plain
English, one they’d rather do. Everybody has a hierarchy of things that they’d like to do.
From lowest thing, that may be cleaning your toilet, to something really high, which is,
let’s say, going to a movie.
So, all of those things, they’re all activities that go along from the lowest thing to the
highest thing. So basically, what this is saying, is that you can reinforce them engaging
in one of these lower valenced activities, something that’s lower on that hierarchy, with
one of them higher on the hierarchy. For example, and this is why it’s called grandma’s
rule, if you eat your vegetables, you can eat dessert.
So, what is– children don’t always like to eat their vegetables. So, you eat the
vegetables, you can have dessert. One activity is reinforcing the other.
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If you do your homework, you can watch TV, homework, TV. And it doesn’t have to be
so dramatic as those type of things either. I remember back when I was in graduate
school, and to get a PhD at that time at Tulane University, we had to take what was
called prelims. We had to take these exams.
And we had to take four exams in the course of a week, one on a Friday, which
everybody took it, and it was on statistics. It was a five-hour exam. And then the next
week, you did two minor exams. In my case, I did social psychology and developmental
And then we had to do our– those are five-hour exams each. We had those on Monday
and Wednesday. And then the last Friday, we had a 10-hour exam in our major area. In
my case, it was school and pediatric psychology.
So, I studied for three months full time. And in taking breaks, things like cleaning the
toilet became reinforcing to me, because it was a preferred activity over studying.
Studying became so aversive, studying 10 to 12 hours a day for three months to take
these exams. I really found anything. I’d clean the grates of my air conditioning system.
I actually got up on top of the counters in the kitchen and cleaned the top of the
cabinets Contingencies Program Transcript. I did everything like that because it gave me something to do that wasn’t
studying. So i.e., the Premack principle played a big role in my life at that time, so
Token reinforcers. We’re going to talk about token economies in another class. But
poker chips in a token economy, or anything. The advantages are, well, it’s a
generalized reinforcer. So, it’s unlikely to produce satiation.
If you give somebody candy every single time, they may get sick of the candy. But if you
give them tokens, which they can then cash in for multiple different things, they never
get satiated with it. Same as money, people generally don’t get– money is a token. All
money is is a token. It allows you to purchase something else.
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And if you’re working in some sort of environment, in a school or a clinic, where you
may have some sort of token system, they use those tokens as money. They cash them
in for something that they desire. They’re secondary reinforcers. Tokens are, in
essence, the same as money, secondary reinforcer.
So, you may have to teach the individual the reinforcing value of it. But they can be very
effective if implemented correctly. And the last type of reinforcer I want to mention are
covert reinforcers, C-O-V-E-R-T. We don’t use them as much in behavior analysis
because we’re usually working with people lower in functioning that don’t have the
capability of doing this. And this is positive self-evaluations.
They’re used a lot in self-control programs, in which basically reinforce yourself. Now,
you use covert reinforcers in your life. And I recommend you all use them. Find covert
reinforces to basically give yourself a pat on the back. It doesn’t have to involve
It gives you, hey, I did all that. I feel good about myself. I listened to Dr. Little for another
hour today. I feel good that I listened to that. So, reinforce yourself. You also should
reinforce yourself with material reinforcers, social reinforcers, and activity reinforcers.
And maybe have somebody else give you some money for a token reinforcer. But
covert reinforcers really can help you in your positive self-evaluation.
Now, I also want to talk about some cautions in selecting and using positive
reinforcement. Some cautions in using and selecting and using positive reinforcement.
One is to select reinforcement which is age-appropriate. And when I say ageappropriate, sometimes just because someone is maybe lower in functioning, that
you’re working with somebody who’s intellectually disabled, their interests may not
follow along with their level of functioning. They may have interests that are more
closely tied to their chronological age.
So that’s one case where it’s age-appropriate. But also, don’t– recognize that if you’re
dealing with a younger child, you need to have different types of reinforces them with an
older child Contingencies Program Transcript. So, use age-appropriate reinforcers.
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Second, use natural reinforcers whenever possible, natural reinforcers, things that are
available in the environment. Don’t– that’s where praise comes in. Praise is more
natural. It happens to all of us, especially for children in schools or in a clinic
So, you use those type of things as opposed to the more contrived type of reinforcers,
especially food. Food is not always the best. Although, when you’re dealing with certain
individuals, especially those lower on the spectrum, you’re using discrete trials, food is
frequently used, although very small parcels of food. Going along with the ageappropriate is using reinforcement that’s appropriate to the child’s level of functioning.
And I say here, when I tell you level of functioning, I’m not just talking about their IQ and
are they ID, are they average intelligence, are they above average intelligence? But no,
I’m talking about their general behavioral function. You don’t always– I’ll give you an
example that I actually experienced in the school where I was a consultant when I was
living in Illinois.
And that is that they were sending children for a reinforcer for unsupervised free time in
the library. And they just, they said, hey, you did grade in this class. And you can go to
the library. And they just let the kid go to the library. And the kid walked by himself,
unsupervised, to the library.
And this is one particular case. And he’d get into trouble all the time. He never made it
to the library. He started wandering around the school and sticking his head into other
classes and disrupting other people. And it caused more problems than– whatever.
Yeah, he enjoyed doing that. But it created more problems with the entire school. And it
had to be changed.
So, don’t send somebody to an environment where they’re likely to get in trouble. And I
put that on there because of that. I remember exactly where it was. It was a high school
in DeKalb, Illinois. And I can still visualize that individual. Although, that individual is
probably around 50 years old now. No, maybe only in their 40s.
But the– recognize the limitations of the person you’re reinforcing. And select your
reinforcer that best fits with that individual’s needs. Make certain you have parental and
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administrative support for any reinforcement plan you’re using. If you are, even if you’re
working in the home, make sure you clear everything with the parents first, especially
with dietary restrictions and food and all that type of stuff. Make sure you talk about
what type of reinforces you’re going to use.
If it’s in school, make sure it fits with the school and what they’re doing and that the
parents know what you’re doing. So, it’s better to do that ahead of time. And here’s
another thing you see a lot of time from parents and from teachers, is that avoid partial
praise statements, such as, I’m glad you finished your work, finally.
Basically, you’re giving them praise– I’m glad you finished your work. And then when
you put finally at the end of it, you’re basically taking it away. So, it reduces the
magnitude of the reinforcement. And this is primarily on verbal praise statements, where
you praise somebody. And then you follow it up with a statement that indicates that, no,
you’re not happy with them.
Yeah, they did it. But they should have done it well before they did. So recognize all
that. And you see that a lot from parents and teachers. Let me reinforce myself with a
And next– I’m talking a lot about positive reinforcement because this is what we do. We
do positive reinforcement more than anything else. So, cautions in selecting and using
positive reinforcement, some more of these things. Always make the most of
opportunities to reinforce appropriate behaviors.
OK, some more cautions in selecting and using positive reinforcement. First of all, make
the most of opportunities to reinforce appropriate behavior. Make the most of these
opportunities, especially when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t get positive
reinforcement that frequently.
Reinforce appropriate behaviors, even if it is a very minimal amount of appropriate
behavior, because a lot of times these kids have very little positive reinforcement in their
environment. They’re getting in trouble all the time. They’re getting what people think
are punishment. They’re getting over and over again.
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But that may be the only praise that they get. Praise individuals for other things. You’ve
probably heard the saying, catch him being good. It is so important that you increase
the baseline level of positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior in the individual’s
environment, especially if you’re going to be using any type of punishment procedure.
You have to have that baseline level of positive reinforcement for other behaviors.
So, make the most of those opportunities. I think you should also be generally polite and
courteous to your clients all times. Demonstrate concern towards them. Demonstrate
interest in them and learn to stay calm.
You may be working with individuals who have very challenging behaviors, behaviors
that may make the average person want to do something back, yell at them, even hit
them. Of course, you would never do that. I know that. But you could be in those
I have had many different things. I have been choked. I have been stabbed Contingencies Program Transcript. I learned, in
one environment where I was working, to stop wearing a tie, because I was sitting in a
chair, somebody came up behind me, grabbed the tie, and yanked it back, and pulled
me off of the chair onto the floor. I was testing– it was actually a girl. It was about a
seven-year-old girl who had a pencil in her hand.
And I slid a piece of paper across the table to her with my hand like this. And she took
the pencil, which was very sharp, by the way, and jabbed it into the back of my hand.
Situations like that may arise. You need to, overall, not respond to situations like that.
Try to stay as calm as you can.
Yes, you– I yelled when I got stabbed in the back of my hand. I got up, and I ran out of
the room, which may have been reinforcing to her. But try to stay calm. But being kind
and courteous, I think, eliminates the possibility of some of those negative behaviors
coming towards you.
And that was my first year working as a master’s level psychologist that that happened.
It never happened after that. Of course, I never put myself in that situation again.
Proactive behaviors really work too. But be nice to them. In most cases, they’ll be nice
back to you.
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And also, don’t confuse positive reinforcement with a child’s basic rights. So, if you’re
working in a school, you’re working in a clinic, don’t deprive them of lunch. Don’t deprive
them of reasonable access to the bathroom. It’s probably illegal, but it’s also unethical.
And those are other things we’ll talk about more when we go into ethics in the ethics
The last thing I want to talk about on positive reinforcement is what I think is a big
misconception. And that is, is reinforcement bribery? And I’ll talk about this again in
class because I think it’s very important.
Some people think it’s wrong to use positive reinforcement, because they believe
children should exhibit responsible behaviors, because, well, it’s the right thing to do.
Now, why do you reinforce behaviors that they’re supposed to? Well, everybody needs
How many of you would continue to go to work if you did not receive your paycheck?
Your paycheck is positive reinforcement. It makes it more likely that you go back to
How many of you would go to work if you no longer got paid? Some of you may find
other reinforcers in your work. And you say, oh, yeah, I’d love to do that. But most of us
wouldn’t. Most of us would not go back to work if we stopped getting paid.
And reinforcement, praise, and whatever else you use for a child, is no more of a crutch
for the child as you getting paid, as public recognition that you may get, your boss giving
you a good evaluation on your yearly performance evaluation. Everybody needs
legitimate reinforcement. And that’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about
just using rewards.
And I use reward different from reinforcement because reward is you give somebody
something they like. But it’s not contingent on a behavior. Reinforcement is.
Reinforcement is, again, defined by, it increases the probability of the behavior follows.
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So legitimate reinforcement should always be given to children. And we do, even those
individuals who argue against it, people like Alfie Kohn, who wrote a book called
Punished by Rewards back in the 90s. It was– he never even did any research himself.
He just basically had his ideas, and he wrote a book about it, got on Oprah, so he got
Luckily, I don’t hear his name mentioned as much anymore. But a very anti-behavioral.
Totally– and he argued against companies giving bonuses to their workers. He never
went so far as to argue against employers stop paying their workers, because he didn’t
consider that reinforcement. But it is.
Now, Webster’s dictionary defines bribery as an inducement for an illegal or unethical
act. And I agree, you should never have a child. You see bribery all the time. Parents do
bribe their child. They bribe their child, generally, to stop engaging in certain behaviors.
You think grocery stores put candy right by the register by accident? No. It’s they’re,
one, for impulse buys. But also, kids see it. They want candy. They start making a loud
noise. The parent gives in, gives the child candy. That’s a bribe.
OK, I’ll buy you a candy. Just stop yelling. That’s not reinforcement. That’s a bribe. And
we do not bribe children. So, we also don’t give any type of reward not to stop
inappropriate behavior, any misbehavior. But parents do it all the time.
That example I gave you in the store, they do it at home. They give the child something
for the child to stop the behavior. We don’t put that into any type of behavior plan that
we work with. That is a bribe. We don’t want to give bribes. Proper positive
reinforcement is given only after an appropriate behavior to increase or maintain that
behavior. That is positive reinforcement.
OK, let’s go to negative reinforcement. But let me positively reinforce myself. Ah, ice
water. It really is when you’re thirsty, you’ve been talking a lot, it really is reinforcing.
Negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement also strengthens behavior. It makes a
behavior more likely to occur. We do that by withdrawing a stimulus Contingencies Program Transcript. We take something
away from the individual. We take something away from the individual.
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So, when we talk about negative reinforcement, it’s defined as the removal of a stimulus
after a behavior that increases the likelihood of it occurring again. When you work with
parents, you’ll probably say, oh yes, I use negative reinforcement. Oh, yes, I spank my
child. But no, that’s not negative reinforcement.
Reinforcement increases the probability of a behavior. So, removal of stimulus
increases the likelihood of behaviors. The child wants a cookie. The child cries until his
mother gives him a cookie. Now, the mother giving the child the cookie, removes a
negative stimulus, the child’s crying. And the mother is more likely to give the child a
cookie next time. That’s negative reinforcement.
The child, however, was positively reinforced. That’s negative reinforcement. Now we
also use negative reinforcement in schools. I think a lot of problem behaviors in schools
are maintained via negative reinforcement. Let’s say you have a child that acts out when
they’re given a math problem. He or she is given a math problem to solve.
The child becomes disruptive in the classroom. The child makes a lot of noise. A child
maybe do things that are totally unrelated to the math, but disrupts the classroom.
The teacher sends the child to the principal’s office or to some disciplinarian. The child
has basically escaped that math assignment. The child has been negatively reinforced
for that inappropriate behavior by acting out, by being disruptive.
It’s very tricky in dealing with these things. But the child has, in essence, escaped the
aversive stimulus, the aversive stimulus being the math assignment. You see it a lot in
schools, especially in regular education classrooms.
Negative reinforcement, the child does something so that they can avoid or escape
something else that they don’t want to do. Children who can’t read, when reading comes
up in class, may do the same thing. That is an example of negative reinforcement,
increasing maladaptive behaviors.
And I think we see problem behaviors with children, probably more than anything else,
negative reinforcement is playing a role. They’re escaping or avoiding something. But
negative reinforcement also can be used to promote behavior. So, it’s not just that bad
creating maladaptive behaviors.
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I totally recommend to teachers, to parents, to use negative reinforcement to promote
positive behaviors. For example, a teacher eliminates that night’s homework assignment
if the child performs a certain level on a test or the child does all of their classwork, then
they don’t have to do homework. I’ve seen schools or classrooms where children have
gotten out of tests by doing well on assignments.
So in other words, they’re avoiding having to do something that they don’t necessarily
like by, in some cases, doing what they don’t necessarily like. That, by removing that, it
increases the likelihood that they’re going to do their in class work so that they can
avoid the other work, the homework. Who likes homework? I never liked homework.
Now, you do all your work at home. So actually, I do too. I work from home. This is my
office. So yes, it can be used positively.
OK, we talked about positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement. Both of them
increase the probability of a behavior occurring again. Well, when we present a stimulus
that weakens the behavior or decreases the likelihood of it occurring again, we’re talking
about positive punishment. If it’s presented, it’s positive. It weakens the behavior, it’s
So, the definition of positive punishment would be the presentation of a stimulus after a
behavior that decreases the likelihood of occurring again, presentation of a stimulus
after the behavior that decreases the likelihood of it occurring again. So, it’s positive
punishment in behavior analytic terminology. Again, when I work with parents and
teachers, I call it presentation punishment Contingencies Program Transcript.
What punishment does, recognize this. Punishment suppresses behavior. Punishment
never eliminates a behavior. It suppresses it from being exhibited. The individual is still
capable of engaging in that behavior.
So, punishment never eliminates a behavior. It’s always part of the individual’s
repertoire. If, in the future, a situation arises where they think that behavior is useful for
them to either get positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, escape avoidance,
you’ll see it come back. So, no matter what positive punishment you use, it does nothing
to eliminate the behavior. It suppresses the behavior.
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There are also ethical concerns with the use of positive punishment. So, you should
never jump into positive punishment. You should always try reinforcement first. Always
try reinforcement first.
If you think you need to go to punishment, what we’re going to be talking about next,
negative punishment, or response cost, which doesn’t entail the promotion of presenting
an aversive stimulus. That’s a better punishment to use than presentation punishment.
In other words, use the least restrictive alternative, the least restrictive alternative.
And we’ll talk about that in detail in ethics. Also, it’s important to reinforce alternative
behaviors. All punishment does, as I said, it suppresses behavior. And it teaches the
child what not to do or teaches the adult what not to do.
You want to include reinforcement for another behavior to take its place. Otherwise,
you’re creating a behavioral vacuum. If a behavior is being punished, that behavior has
served some purpose for them. They have been getting some reinforcement, positive or
negative reinforcement for engaging in that behavior.
If you do not provide reinforcement for an alternative to that behavior, you’ve created a
behavioral vacuum. What do they do to get that reinforcement? The behavior will come
back real quick.
So don’t create a behavioral vacuum. Just going through this quickly now. Later on, we
will go through in great detail on this. You will read a chapter that I have written on
differential reinforcement, which is what we call reinforcement of alternative types of
So you will get that in great detail later on. So let me give you some examples of
positive punishment. Spanking, I don’t recommend spanking. I never recommend
spanking. I don’t think that there is any reason for spanking.
I don’t tell parents, don’t spank, if they’re already doing it, because that may create a
vacuum in their behaviors and how to handle things. I try to shape them away from
© 2021 Walden University, LLC 17
spanking children. And if their spanking gets to the point of physical abuse, I would be
mandated to report them.
But I generally, would not just say, don’t spank. Don’t ever spank, because if it’s an
engaged part of the parents’ repertoire, it’s going to happen. So, we’re going to discuss
this in detail later on. For now, let’s just say, we don’t recommend spanking, period.
Yelling, yelling at a child for bad behavior would be an example of positive punishment Contingencies Program Transcript.
You’re yelling at them. You’re chastising them verbally.
Forcing the individual to do an unpleasant task when they misbehave, that would be
positive punishment. You’re making them do something that is unpleasant to them,
cleaning, for example, which relates to the next one, which is chores. Adding chores to
their responsibilities if they failed to follow rules, that would be positive punishment.
In schools, giving them extra work to do would be positive punishment. Now, I don’t
recommend ever having individual writing lines. Being on the board, being a sentence, I
will not talk out of turn. I will not talk out of turn. I will not talk out of turn.
Why? Because what you’re doing when you do something like that, when you’re giving
them extra work, repetitive like that, it becomes, just write something over and over and
over again. It becomes monotonous. It becomes aversive in itself.
What is it associated with? It’s associated with writing. Writing can become aversive. So
you were, in essence, punishing writing, by trying to punish another behavior by making
them write lines. So, I don’t recommend that.
Positive punishment, we’ll talk about that more in detail also. All of this stuff, we’ll talk
about in more detail. But you’re going to have increased numbers of exposures to these
Finally, we have negative punishment. Negative punishment is negative withdrawal,
punishment weakens. So, we define negative punishment as removal of a stimulus after
behavior that decreases the likelihood the behavior will occur again.
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I usually use the term response cost. In other words, your response, your behavior, is
going to cost you something. It’s going to cost you something you like. You’re taking
something away from them.
For example, a child loses watching TV. They have TV privileges, watching TV is not a
right, it’s a privilege. They don’t get to watch TV. Grounding a teen for coming in late
after curfew, you’re usually a token economy. You give them tokens for positive
behavior, you take tokens away for negative behavior.
Now, there’s an interesting application. And this is a study that I remember getting this
when I was a student that I thought was very interesting. It’s from 1974. Ross did a
study in which he treated nail-biting by requiring the client to donate money to a disliked
charity if there was no nail growth in a week.
In other words, if there was evidence that they bit their fingernails, they had to donate,
this was in a therapy session, they had to donate money to a charity, to an organization,
that they very much disliked. In this case, in this study, it was a Jewish client. And they
had to give money to the American Nazi party. Yes, at least back then, there was an
American Nazi party.
So, they don’t want to do that. You wouldn’t want money going to that. It was a small
amount of money. But who wants any money to go to a group like the American Nazi
party? Nobody would.
So it was designed to be aversive to the individual. It’s not just losing money. Even if it’s
a quarter, I don’t want that quarter going there, because I wouldn’t mind– if I lost a
quarter, big deal. It’s not that much money. I’m financially stable. I’ve been working for
many decades. I have enough money, a quarter’s not that big a deal.
If that quarter’s going to a group that I very much disagree with, then that quarter is not
just a quarter. It’s going someplace where I don’t want it. So, I’d say it was an interesting
application. I thought I’d bring it up. And I remember getting that when I was an
undergraduate, at which point it was a recent study.
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Time out. Now, response costs, we’re generally thinking about one thing is taking away,
a clear contingency in which a specific, clearly defined reinforcer is withdrawn for
problem behavior. Time out is a more generalized version of response cost, in which the
individual is removed, in most cases, we talk about seclusionary time out from all
sources of reinforcement.
That’s why sending a child to their room, where they have a computer, video games,
TV, other things to do, that’s not time out, because there’s potential reinforcers in that
room. Time out, seclusionary timeout, is removal from reinforcers. Now, it’s best used
when it’s a social– something is being maintained via social reinforcement, by removing
them from social activities. That can work.
You try to remove them from the environment in all possible reinforcement, is basically
what timeout is designed to do. And it’s time out from positive reinforcement. So there
has to be removal of reinforcement. Now, there are other variations of time out. I’m not
going to go into them here, because I have a whole lecture on time out in another class.
We’ll go into many different ways in which you can use timeout.
But assuming we’re using the more seclusionary version of time out when somebody is
removed from all– trying to remove them from all sources of reinforcement. It sounds
simple, but it can be very complex. As I said, sending a child to his or her room is not
effective if there are toys, a TV, a computer, et cetera, in their room.
It’s best to have a small room that is barren or free from any source of stimulation for
exclusionary time out. Most schools, most homes, don’t have a good place. Institutions
do Contingencies Program Transcript. Although, I seen abuse quite often there too. So, you may need to have the person
sitting in a corner or something like that but trying to remove them from reinforcement.
And don’t talk to them while they’re there, unless there’s something to put them back in
there if they get out. So often, I’ve said, now, be good in there. Don’t do– remember
what you did. Don’t do that again.
Parents or teachers who use talking to the person while they’re in there are kind of
defeating the purpose, the getting the attention while they’re in there. And you want to
remove them from that. Now, there is non-exclusionary time out as an alternative that I
will talk about later on.
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That’s it for this week. So, let’s review a little bit about what we talked about. I reviewed
contingencies from week one. And then we talked about the four types of contingencies
in greater detail. We’ve had them before. You’ll have them again.
Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative
punishment. Key things remember, when we use positive, it means presentation. We
use negative, it means removal, taking something away. Punishment increases the
frequency of behavior– reinforcement increases the frequency of behavior. Punishment
decreases the frequency of the behavior. Very simple to remember. More difficult to find
in a natural environment and to implement.
So that’s it for the week. I know it’s redundant. It will be redundant when we go over it
again. But you will know all of this stuff. So, I hope you found this interesting. I hope
you’re finding all of this stuff interesting, that you’re really getting into behavior analysis.
When we get into specific stuff, specific techniques, later on in your more advanced
courses, you’ll see how all of these things fit together. And I think that’s great. And you
will get there. And you’ll be able to figure out when you’re working, what works best in
what situation Contingencies Program Transcript.
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