Negative Reinforcement Examples for ASWB Exams

By Heidi Tobe on May 6, 2019

Negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement are two concepts from behavioral therapy that are likely to show up on the ASWB’s exams (both LMSW and LCSW). While we previously wrote a blog with a practice question and rationale on this topic, today we want to take a few minutes to hone in specifically on negative reinforcement examples, as this is one of the most misunderstood behavioral principles.

Reinforcement

In operant conditioning, the word ‘reinforcement’ refers to strengthening (increasing) a desired behavior. So if I want a child to complete his chores, do his homework, etc., I can reinforce these behaviors to increase the likelihood of getting the desired behavior.

When it comes to reinforcement, one of the most important things to remember is that positive does NOT mean good and negative does NOT mean bad. Positive refers to adding something (think of a plus sign) to increase a behavior. Negative refers to removing something (think of a minus sign), also to increase the behavior. So what are our key points so far?

  1. Reinforcement (whether positive or negative) is about increasing a desired behavior
  2. Positive means adding something to increase the desired behavior
  3. Negative means removing something to increase the desired behavior

Negative Reinforcement Examples

1. A classic example of negative reinforcement is the beeping noise your car makes when you haven’t buckled your seat belt. The car makes this beeping noise in order to increase the likelihood of you buckling your seatbelt (so, buckling your seatbelt is the desired behavior). This is reinforced by removing the beeping sound when you buckle your seat belt.

Before: car makes beeping noise

Desired behavior: putting on seat belt

After: beeping noise stops

Outcome: the person is more likely to buckle their seat to avoid the beeping sound

2. Alarms serve a similar function. The desired behavior of an alarm is to wake you up. Turning off the alarm removes the alarm sound and increases the behavior of waking up.

Before: alarm makes noise

Desired behavior: waking up and turning off the alarm

After: alarm stops making noise

Outcome: the person will wake up in order to make the alarm stop

Sometimes we unintentionally reinforce behaviors without realizing we’re doing so. Here’s an example:

3. A child throws a temper tantrum at the dinner table because she doesn’t want to eat her dinner. The parents remove the child’s dinner (negative reinforcement) to get the child to stop throwing a temper tantrum (the desired behavior), but doing so makes it more likely she will throw a temper tantrum in the future when she doesn’t want to eat something.

Before: child throws a temper tantrum

Desired behavior: to stop the temper tantrum

After: child stops throwing a temper tantrum when dinner is removed

Outcome: the child is more likely to throw a temper tantrum in the future when she doesn’t want to eat something

4. A final negative reinforcement example is nagging. A child’s mom nags him to complete his chores. In order to stop her from nagging him (the removal of nagging), the child completes his chores (the desired behavior).

Before: chores are not completed and mom nags

Desired behavior: child completing chores

After: mom stops nagging and child completes chores

Outcome: the child is more likely to complete their chores to avoid their mom nagging them.

ASWB Exam Prep

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4 Responses to “Negative Reinforcement Examples for ASWB Exams”

  1. Barbara mclean

    So say a teenager comes in after curfew, and her parents take away her allowance for that week.
    Is this an ex of negative reinforcement?

    Reply
    • Barbara

      Or is this negative punishment? Im so confused

      Reply
      • Heidi Tobe

        Hi Barbara,

        That would be negative punishment. Reinforcement is about INCREASING a desired behavior (so this can’t be reinforcement, because we don’t want to increase the behavior of her coming home late). We want to DECREASE the behavior of her breaking curfew, so this would be punishment. You are correct that it is negative punishment because it is taking something away (her allowance). It would be positive punishment if something was added, like giving her an extra chore to do.

        Reply
  2. Regina

    Thanks for the breakdown

    Reply

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