The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Negative effects of positive reinforcement

  • Michael PeroneEmail author


Procedures classified as positive reinforcement are generally regarded as more desirable than those classified as aversive—those that involve negative reinforcement or punishment. This is a crude test of the desirability of a procedure to change or maintain behavior. The problems can be identified on the basis of theory, experimental analysis, and consideration of practical cases. Theoretically, the distinction between positive and negative reinforcement has proven difficult (some would say the distinction is untenable). When the distinction is made purely in operational terms, experiments reveal that positive reinforcement has aversive functions. On a practical level, positive reinforcement can lead to deleterious effects, and it is implicated in a range of personal and societal problems. These issues challenge us to identify other criteria for judging behavioral procedures.

Key words

negative reinforcement punishment positive reinforcement aversive control 


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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