Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment

Reinforcement vs Punishment

Reinforcement and Punishment are two concepts in Psychology between which a number of differences can be identified. It was B.F Skinner, a behaviorist who engaged in experimentation and introduced the concepts of Operant conditioning. This is a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened if followed by a reinforcer or diminished if followed by a punisher. In Operant condition, we speak of Reinforcement and Punishment. Reinforcement and punishment have to be viewed as tools to model the behavior of a person or a pet. Even those who have not known the value of reinforcement in strengthening the likelihood of a desired behavior know the effect of punishment in decreasing an undesired behavior. There are both positive and negative reinforcements, and most people confuse negative reinforcement with punishment. However, there are differences between the concepts of negative reinforcement and punishment that this article attempts to highlight.

What is Reinforcement?

Reinforcement is any event that strengthens the behavior. When speaking of reinforcement, there are mainly two types. They are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement increases behavior by presenting positive stimuli. This can be appreciations, gift, food, etc. Let us try to understand this through an example. What do you do when you want your dog to learn toilet training? It has been proved beyond doubt that there are stimuli, which can be used to increase the likelihood of the dog piss or excrete where you want. If you show your happiness and give your dog his favorite biscuit, there is more likelihood of him repeating this behavior. Your happiness and the biscuit both work as positive reinforcements for the dog to behave in the desired manner. Now let us move on to negative reinforcement. It increases behavior by removing negative stimuli. This should not be confused with the idea of punishment. For example, if your mother wants you to take out garbage from home and scolds you for not doing that every week, you could eliminate her scolding if you take out garbage on time before she even gets to know about garbage truck coming to your area. To your surprise, mother does not scold and even praises your behavior. You learn to throw garbage out as you know that your behavior will eliminate scolding. This is called negative reinforcement.

Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment- reinforcement

What is Punishment?

Now let us focus on understanding what is meant by punishment. We have become used to punishment since our childhood. If you slap your dog for scratching your furniture, you are punishing him for his undesired behavior. This punishment is not liked by the dog, and he tries to avoid it by, not scratching the furniture. This highlights that Punishment decreases the likelihood of an undesired behavior. This also has two types. They are Positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment involves adding something such as paying a fine. Negative punishment is removing something you like such as less time for playing and watching TV. Finally, there is extinction that is used to decrease the likelihood of a behavior. If you see that your son does not keep his uniform in its place and throws socks and shoes on returning from school, you can simply say time out when he is busy watching his favorite TV program or when he is playing games on computer. This makes him learn the behavior you want him to indulge in.

Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment- Punishment

What is the Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment?

• Punishment is a type of reinforcement.
• Reinforcement refers to the stimulus or stimuli that are used to increase or decrease the likelihood of a behavior.
• Punishment is when you slap your dog or spray water on his face to stop him from scratching furniture.
• Punishment is different from negative reinforcement where stopping an undesired behavior brings in praise or stops undesired reaction from others.

Image Courtesy:

1.”Dog training” by Moshe Blank [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

2.”Female animal trainer and leopard, c1906″ by Photo Crafts Shop of Denver [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons