Did you realize that parents may teach their children to be rebellious? You might ask, “Who in their right mind would do that?” Quite a few of us, in fact. Learn how many parents unintentionally teach their children to rebel by using negative reinforcement.
B.F. Skinner, a behavioral scientist, thought that a stimulus could be used to raise or reduce the frequency of one’s behavior through a process known as operant conditioning.
Specific behaviors are regulated by their consequences in operant learning.
Reinforcement and punishment are the two forms of operant conditioning. Reinforcement promotes a behavior to repeat itself, whereas punishment discourages it.
There are two types of reinforcement: positive and negative reinforcement. Positive and negative reinforcement can both help to improve the desired behavior.
The terms positive and negative refer to how the stimulus is used to improve a certain behavior. Positive reinforcement occurs when a rewarding stimulus is introduced to reinforce a certain behavior. Negative reinforcement occurs when an unpleasant input is removed from the reinforcing process.
As a result, whether the reinforcement is positive or negative has no bearing on the kind or quality of the reinforcement. They simply state whether a stimulus is added (positive) or withdrawn (negative) to encourage a specific behavior.
See also: 5 Parenting Styles And How They Work
What Is Negative Reinforcement and How Does It Work?
By eliminating or avoiding an unpleasant experience, negative reinforcement encourages the desired behavior to be repeated in the future.
Positive reinforcement is frequently associated with prizes, and people automatically think that negative reinforcement is the polar opposite of awards, i.e. punishment. However, this is not the case. Negative reinforcement is not inherently harmful or punitive. Negative reinforcement differs from both positive and negative punishment.
Reinforcement motivates people to repeat particular actions and increases the frequency with which they do so in the future. Positive and negative punishment, on the other hand, discourages certain actions.
To recall the concept of negative reinforcement, think of it as taking something away or subtracting something in order to produce a positive outcome as a result.
The positive result in negative reinforcement is the elimination of something already existent or the avoidance of an unavoidable unpleasant occurrence. The individual wants to repeat the target action in order for the consequence to occur again.
Escape behavior is generally triggered by the removal or decrease of continuous stimulus. Avoidance is a behavior that is characterized by the postponement and prevention of unwanted stimuli.
Negative Reinforcement Examples
A nice illustration of how negative reinforcement works is when you take a shower or a bath. You return home in a sweaty shirt after being out all day. After that, you take a shower to get rid of the foul odor and the disgusting perspiration on your body
You enjoy the sense of freshness and cleanliness you get after a shower, so you’ll most likely do it again when you get home.
The unpleasant odor and unpleasant sensation are the aversive stimuli in this case. The unpleasant sensations are removed as a result of the activity.
Being able to maintain one’s health is a powerful incentive. So, if there is something you can do to have an illness that is currently existing eliminated (taking something away) or averted, you will most likely do it again in the future.
- You return home stinky and drenched in sweat.
- Showering is a common occurrence.
- Stimulus: Unpleasant odor and unpleasant sensation
- Negative Reinforcement: Showering removes the foul odor and sticky sensation. It helps you to get away from the noxious sensations that are already there.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Wearing a coat while it’s chilly outside can help you avoid the unpleasant consequences of being sick.
- The setting is a cold day with a low temperature.
- When you go outside, you should wear a coat.
- Getting a cold is a stimulant.
- Negative Reinforcement: On a cool day, wearing a coat can help you avoid getting a cold. To prevent negative effects, your action to avoid disease is encouraged.
Another example of negative reinforcement could be found here. When little kids play, they frequently scatter their toys, such as stuffed animals, across the room and then fail to put them away. To encourage their children to pick up toys after playing, some parents devise “cleanup songs,” “cleanup rituals,” or other inventive methods. This is a method of positive reinforcement.
Putting toys away might really be a negative reinforcement action. One disadvantage of scattering toys throughout the house is that they are more likely to be misplaced or difficult to locate when the kid wants to play with them again.
By instilling this natural consequence in the kid, they are more inclined to pick up toys in the future. Toy loss is thus avoided as an unpleasant stimulus.
- Toys are strewn about the house in this context.
- Playing with toys and then putting them away
- Stimulus: A favorite toy has been misplaced or lost.
- Negative Reinforcement: If a kid puts his or her toys away after playing with them, he or she will not lose them or forget where they are. The goal is to avoid the unpleasant outcome.
It’s important to note that whether or not a stimulus is unpleasant is a personal decision. A stimulus that is unpleasant to one individual could be beneficial to another.
For example, not everyone enjoys or cares for the sense of being fresh and clean after a bath. This area includes, for example, children’s behavior. Children are unconcerned about being stinky or dirty. (This is why getting our children to bathe might be a struggle for some of us parents.)
Applying sunscreen is another health-related habit you should do. You know from experience that if you walk outside without sunscreen when the heat is blazing, you will suffer a sunburn. Sunburn is not only uncomfortable, but it can also lead to skin cancer.
- In this case, the setting is a day in the sun.
- Putting on sunscreen is a common occurrence.
- Sunburn, which is both painful and sometimes hazardous.
- Negative Reinforcement: Wearing sunscreen will help you avoid becoming sunburned. As a result, you’ve avoided the unpleasant stimuli.
Negative Reinforcement Is Misunderstood
Negative reinforcement occurs far more frequently than we realize in our daily lives, despite the fact that we don’t hear the word very often.
Negative reinforcement is sometimes misunderstood as being less effective or desired than positive reinforcement.
We’ve previously shown that putting toys away to avoid losing them, wearing a jacket to avoid having a cold and applying sunscreen to avoid sunburn are all examples of “good behavior” that could be efficiently promoted through negative reinforcement. As a result, negative reinforcement is just as desired as positive reinforcement. (Of course, not all positive reinforcement is beneficial.)
Whether or not a specific negative reinforcement is beneficial or effective is determined by the event and context. Generalizations like “negative reinforcement isn’t as effective as positive reinforcement on someone” are just false.
Parenting’s Negative Reinforcement Trap
Here’s a less visible but more common example of how parents unwittingly employ negative reinforcement.
A child is told to go to bed by his mother, something the toddler despises. After that, the toddler screams, whines, and throws a tantrum. To end the tantrum, Mom caves in and accepts a later bedtime. The child is no longer sobbing or whimpering.
Going to bed is an unpleasant sensation for the kid in this situation. The unpleasant input is avoided by throwing a tantrum, reinforcing the tantrum-throwing habit.
A toddler’s wailing and weeping, on the other hand, is an unpleasant sensation for Mom. When Mom gives in, the unpleasant input is removed, reinforcing Mom’s habit of giving in.
To put it another way, the child has learned that tantrums and disobedience may get a parent to back down from their expectations. The parent has discovered that giving up can stop a child from throwing a tantrum. Both of them have received reinforcement without even realizing it. This is called escape learning since they are both learning how to get out of uncomfortable circumstances.
The Negative Reinforcement Trap is the name given to this interaction.
When parents do not follow through on their orders or discipline, they unwittingly reinforce noncompliance in their children, creating a Negative Reinforcement Trap.
The behavior of both parents and children is affected by these negative reinforcement conditioning processes. When the kid behaves aversively, the parent has been trained to give up, and the child has been learned to act aversively every time the parent disciplines.
Parental Inconsistency and Problems with Behaviour
The four distinct forms of reinforcement schedules, i.e., when and how frequently the parent gives in, influence the strength of the children’s non-compliant reaction.
Giving in occasionally but not all of the time reinforces the children’s unpleasant behaviors the greatest.
Inconsistent parenting is equivalent to a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, which is the same sort of schedule that leads to gambling addiction in certain people. When it comes to parenting, inconsistency makes it more difficult to modify a children’s rebellious behavior.
Let’s return to the prior example. Mom grows increasingly irritated over time. She acts tough by screaming, threatening, or physically assaulting others.
Now one of three things can occur:
1) The toddler stops whining and throwing tantrums out of fear, which reinforces Mom’s harsh behavior;
2) The toddler escalates the protest, which frustrates Mom even more and she responds even harsher; or
3) 1 or 2 above occurs intermittently depending on who “wins” on different occasions, and the inconsistency reinforces both participants’ aggressive behavior.
The parent-child interactions grow increasingly difficult to regulate as the dynamic continues, resulting to a disastrous coercive cycle 7.
According to Coercion Theory, this is how certain children acquire behavior issues like Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Breaking the Cycle
Parents should employ non-aggressive and non-punitive disciplinary approaches, such as Positive Discipline, to deal with their children’s unpleasant behavior in order to interrupt or prevent a negative reinforcement coercive cycle. Setting limits and being persistent in enforcing regulations is also a good idea.