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Negative Reinforcement


Negative reinforcement is the removal of a stimulus (i.e., something that is aversive to the learner) after a learner with ASD uses a target behavior or skill. That is, learners work to get rid of something that is unpleasant to them. Negative reinforcement often is used to alter interfering behaviors (e.g., repetitive, stereotypical, disruptive). When used effectively, negative reinforcement increases a learner’s use and/or maintenance of the target behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 2008; Zirpoli, 2005). Negative reinforcement is often used to teach self-help skills and replacement behaviors to take the place of interfering behaviors (e.g., repetitive, stereotypical, disruptive); however, it also can be used to teach all skills. Negative reinforcement is often used only after other reinforcement strategies, such as positive reinforcement and differential reinforcement (Please refer to Differential Reinforcement: Online training module, developed by the National Professional Development Center on ASD, 2009, at Autism Internet Modules) for more information about differential reinforcement), have not been effective in increasing the target behavior.

 Example of Negative Reinforcement

A teacher wants to increase the length of time that Molly, a learner with ASD, stays on task during individual work time. Molly does not like staying seated for long periods of time. Therefore, her teacher decides to use negative reinforcement to increase the length of time that Molly stays on task (i.e., work independently without prompting from the teacher). If Molly works independently without teacher prompts, she will be allowed to get out of her seat for 5 minutes.

It is important to note that negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment. The difference between the two is that negative reinforcement is used to increase the target behavior, whereas punishment is used to decrease a behavior.

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