Disclaimer | By: Gavin Cosgrave | Reading Time: 7.8 minutes

Examples of Negative Reinforcement

Quick Reminder of What Negative Reinforcement Is

Negative reinforcement occurs when something already present is removed (taken away) as a result of a behaviour and the behaviour that led to this removal will increase in the future because it created a favourable outcome.

Drying Wet Hands.

Thomas has wet hands after washing them. He rubs them in the towel and the water is now removed from them. He knows that every time he doesn’t want his hands to remain wet he can use a towel to get rid of the water. He now uses a towel every time he wants to remove the water from his hands.

Drying wet hands as an example of negative reinforcement.
Drying hands is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The water on his hands was present before he rubbed them in the towel. His behaviour of rubbing his hands in the towel removes the water and he uses a towel every time he wants this to happen. Therefore negative reinforcement is occurring.

  • Before: hands are wet.
  • Behaviour: rub them in the towel.
  • After: water is gone from his hands.
  • Future behaviour: Thomas will rub his hands when they are wet.

Blasting the Car Horn.

When the light goes green at a traffic light, the car in front of Sarah doesn’t move. She hates when this happens and from experience knows that blasting her car horn gets cars that are in front of her out of her way. She dutifully blasts the horn and the car moves out of her way.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The car stuck in front of Sarah is aversive to her and she wants it removed. She blasts her horn at the car and it moves out of the way (it’s removed). She knows from experience that blasting her horn like this gets rid of these annoying cars and so continues to do it, therefore negative reinforcement is occurring.

  • Before: annoying car in front.
  • Behaviour: blast the car horn.
  • After: annoying car is gone.
  • Future behaviour: Sarah will blast the horn when an annoying car is in front of her.

Car Windscreen Wipers.

John is driving to work when it starts raining. To get the water off his window he turns on his window wipers. After a while the rain stops but he knows that if it starts again all he has to do is turn on his wipers to get rid of the water from his car window.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Using the windscreen wipers to remove water is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement occurred because the water was present before John turned on his wipers. Turning on the wipers removed the water and John knows that in future when he needs to remove rain water from his car window all he had to do is turn on his wipers.

  • Before: water on the car windscreen.
  • Behaviour: turn on the windscreen wipers.
  • After: water gone from the windscreen.
  • Future behaviour: wipers will be turned on when there is water on the windscreen.

Screaming!

Timmy doesn’t want to eat carrots but his parents keep trying to get him to eat them. At dinner time, if there are any carrots on his plate he will scream and shout until they are taken off his plate. His parents always give in to the tantrums and take away the carrots because his tantrums are becoming increasingly severe and last longer.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Screaming so Timmy doesn't have to eat carrots is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The carrots were present before Timmy had a tantrum. His tantrum then caused his parents to remove the carrots. Timmy’s tantrums are getting more severe and lasting longer which suggests this behaviour is increasing, therefore the tantrums are being negatively reinforced by the removal of the carrots.

  • Before: carrots on the plate.
  • Behaviour: screaming.
  • After: carrots no longer on the plate.
  • Future behaviour: Timmy will scream when he doesn’t want carrots.

Tearing Trousers.

Jim is 8 years old and he hates wearing the new trousers his mother bought him. He learned in the past that his mother won’t make him wear trousers that are in any way damaged so he deliberately tears the knees on the new trousers. Now that the new trousers are damaged Jim’s mother throws them out and so he doesn’t have to wear them.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Damaging a pair of trousers so you don't have to wear them is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The trousers are aversive to Jim and he didn’t want to wear them at all. From experience he knows he never has to wear damaged trousers and so his behaviour of damaging the trousers leads to them being removed, therefore negative reinforcement has occurred.

  • Before: horrible trousers.
  • Behaviour: tear the trousers.
  • After: trousers are gone.
  • Future behaviour: Jim will tear any trousers he doesn’t want to wear.

Using the PECS “NO” Picture.

Paul is being taught to communicate using pictures. He is learning that when he gives a “NO” picture to his teacher in response to something he doesn’t like being offered to him, the teacher will then remove the unwanted object from his view. He is learning really fast and is now using his “NO” picture every time he doesn’t want something that is presented to him.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Negative reinforcement can occur when using PECS.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The item/object that Paul does not want is present before he gives his teachers the “NO” picture. After he gives the NO picture the item is no longer present. He has learned that this works every time he wants something removed and so the frequency of this behaviour has increased, therefore negative reinforcement has occurred.

  • Before: an item Paul doesn’t want.
  • Behaviour: give his teacher the “NO” picture.
  • After: the item is removed.
  • Future behaviour: Paul will give his teacher the “NO” picture when he wants something taken away.

Putting on Oven Gloves.

John put some soup into the microwave it’s now steaming hot. In the past when he tried to take out the bowl from the microwave after heating it up he has burned himself. He has since learned to put on oven gloves when taking the bowl out of the microwave. Since the oven gloves mean he never gets burned anymore he always puts them on.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Using oven gloves to prevent being burned is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

Negative reinforcement can also occur when something is prevented from happening. John has learned that to prevent burning his hands all he has to do is put on the oven gloves. So the behaviour of putting on the oven gloves is an example of negative reinforcement.

  • Before: piping hot bowl.
  • Behaviour: put on oven gloves.
  • After: hands are prevented from being burned.
  • Future behaviour: John will put on oven gloves when taking a hot bowl out of the microwave.

Pinching!

Adele doesn’t want to do her spelling programme at school. She has noticed that if she pinches her teacher when the spelling booklet is taken out, the spelling programme is stopped. Since Adele hates doing spellings she has now started pinching her teacher every single time the spellings are taken out and every time she pinches her teacher the spelling programme is always stopped.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Pinching her teacher so Adele doesn't have to do her spellings is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The spelling programme is present before Adele pinches her teacher. After she pinches her teacher the spelling programme is removed. Adele has also started pinching her teacher every time it is taken out and so there has been an increase in the future frequency of this behaviour. Therefore her pinches are being negatively reinforced.

  • Before: spelling programme.
  • Behaviour: pinches her teacher.
  • After: spelling programme gone.
  • Future behaviour: Adele will pinch her teacher when she doesn’t want to do her spelling programme.

Crying.

John and Michelle decide to go to a party with their son Adam. Adam doesn’t want to be there so when they get to the party he starts to cry loudly. John and Michelle don’t like to see their son upset and so make the decision to leave the party and go home. His parents are noticing that he has started to cry every time he is in a situation he doesn’t want to be in and they have been allowing him to leave.

Crying to get out of being at a party is an example of negative reinforcement.
Getting out of an aversive situation by crying is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

Adam didn’t want to be at the party – it was an aversive situation for him. He began crying and got to leave the party. As his parents are noticing this behaviour has been happening more frequently when he wants to leave situations it can be said that negative reinforcement is occurring.

  • Before: aversive situation.
  • Behaviour: cries.
  • After: aversive situation is gone.
  • Future behaviour: Adam will cry when he doesn’t want to be in an aversive situation.

Turning Off Your Alarm Clock.

Mike’s morning alarm goes off at 5:00am. He hates this noise and reaches over and hits the STOP button which stops the alarm noise. He does this every morning when his alarm goes off.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Turning off your morning alarm is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The alarm goes off and it’s a pretty annoying noise for Mike. He always hits the STOP button when the alarm goes off so negative reinforcement is occurring.

  • Before: morning alarm noise.
  • Behaviour: hit the STOP button.
  • After: alarm noise stops.
  • Future behaviour: Mike will hit the STOP button when the alarm goes off.

Putting on Sun-Cream.

Brian and Angela are going out for a walk. They notice the sun a scorching outside and know from experience that if they go outside without putting sun cream on they will get sun burn. They both put sun cream on, head out for their walk and don’t get sun burned.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Negative reinforcement occurs when you put sun-cream on to prevent being burned.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

This is another example of negative reinforcement occurring when something is prevented from happening. Brian and Angela know from experience that if they go outside in the hot sun with sun cream on then they will prevent themselves getting burned. So putting on the sun cream is negatively reinforced by preventing sun burn.

  • Before: hot sun.
  • Behaviour: put on sun cream.
  • After: no sun burn.
  • Future behaviour: Brian and Angela will put on sun-cream before going out in the hot sun.

Scraping Your Burnt Toast.

You’re after burning your toast again! You hate the black burned part and because you seem to keep doing this you’ve figured out that a knife will scrape it all off. You get your knife and start scraping. Once it’s all gone you eat your nice piece of toast.

Blasting the car horn to remove a car in front is an example of negative reinforcement.
Scraping off the burnt part of your toast is an example of negative reinforcement.

Why is this negative reinforcement?

The burned part of the toast is not something you want. So you’ve learned from experience that by getting a knife to scrape if off gets you a piece of toast you can eat. So when this happens again in the future you’ll take out the knife and start scraping.

  • Before: burnt toast.
  • Behaviour: scrape off the burned bits with a knife.
  • After: the burned parts are gone.
  • Future behaviour: when the toast is burned you’ll take out a knife to scrape it off.

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