Birkedahl, N. (1990). The habit control workbook. Oakland, CA:
New Harbinger Publications.
Parents and Children: A Positive Approach to Child
Management. A video about the use of rewards; available from
Research Press, Champaign, IL.
Negative reinforcement; escape and avoidance learning
It is relieving--rewarding--to get away from anything unpleasant: a
hostile person, a hard job, paying a fine, punishment, self-criticism,
etc. Therefore, any action by you that enables you to escape pain or
discomfort is reinforced by the relief you experience. This is a very
important concept. You can't understand human behavior and
emotions without this notion.
Chapter 4 gives several examples of negative reinforcement.
People have difficulty grasping the idea. Consider this example:
suppose you try to quiet a crying child by offering it a piece of candy
and the child responds in a rage by knocking the candy out of your
hand with a stick. Your approach to the problem has been punished by
the child; you won't try that again. Then, suppose you get mad and
scream angrily at the child, and the child immediately becomes quiet
and compliant. Your screaming has just been negatively reinforced
(you would say "rewarded," i.e. the unpleasant crying stopped) and
you have become a little more likely to get mad and yell when faced
with a crying child in the future (unless, of course, you become more
aware of what is happening to you and over-ride this tendency with
your brain). This child getting quiet has had the same effect on your
behavior as if the child had given you a delicious candy bar for getting
mad and yelling.
In short, positive reinforcement (being rewarded) and negative
reinforcement (getting rid of something unpleasant) influence the
immediately preceding behavior the same way; they both strengthen
it. Yet, when we are in the actual circumstances, we see the situations
very differently. We humans seem to have much more difficulty
recognizing that negative reinforcement is shaping, modifying,
manipulating our behavior and emotions than in seeing that money,
friendship, love, sex and M & M's influence us powerfully. We must
become more aware.
Punishment is also frequently confused with negative
reinforcement, partly because of the negative label but primarily
because the threat of some punishment is often the cause of the stress
that is avoided or escaped (producing the relief). Suppose a teenager
is grounded, i.e. "punished," for not cleaning his room. And, suppose
he now starts cleaning his room every week. Somehow a cleaning
response was reinforced. How? The parent used negative