Difference between Punishment and Reinforcement

Differencebetween Punishment and Reinforcement

Differencebetween Punishment and Reinforcement

Punishmentand reinforcement are two of the three elements of the Skinnerstheory of learning. The two concepts are defined by their effect orthe intended outcome. However, they differ in two major ways. First,punishment relies on presentation of negative or unpleasant stimulusor withdrawal of a stimulus that is perceived to be pleasant as a wayof enhancing behavior change Frager, R., &amp Fadiman, J. (2013).Although the concept of punishment has a negative connotation, thestimulus may not be harmful if applied correctly. Reinforcement, onthe other hand, relies on presentation of a desirable or a pleasantstimulus or withdrawal of negative stimulus with the objective ofmotivating the target person to keep up a given behavior. Applyingreinforcement means that one has to ignore some minor negativebehaviors in the favor of calling out behavior that is perceived tobe positive.

Secondly,the two concepts differ in the nature of the intended outcome.Punishment is used to reduce the probability that a certain behaviorwill take place. For example, expulsion and fines may be imposed onstudents to ensure that they do not steal exams again. Reinforcement,on the other hand, is used to increase the probability that a givenbehavior will be repeated. This means that reinforcement is used tomotivate an individual to repeat an action in the future. Forexample, issuing tokens, praises, or rewards may be given to wellperforming students in order to motivate them and ensure that theycontinue working hard in the future (McLeod, 2007). Both negative andpositive forms of reinforcement achieve the same goal that is toencourage a given behavior or action.

Inconclusion punishment and reinforcement are defined by their effects.However, they differ in terms of the stimulus that is presented andthe outcome of presenting that stimulus.


Frager,R., &amp Fadiman, J. (2013). Personalityand personal growth (7 th ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McLeod,S. (2007). Skinner-Operant conditioning. SimplyPsychology.Retrieved September 16, 2014, fromhttp://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html