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Types of Operant Conditioning


Explanations > Conditioning > Types of Operant Conditioning

Positive reinforcement | Negative reinforcement | Punishment | Extinction | So what?


There are four types of operant conditioning by which behavior may be changed. The following table summarizes these and the paragraphs beyond explain further.



Behavior Condition Condition
Positive reinforcement Strengthened Positive Yes
Negative reinforcement Strengthened Negative No
Punishment Weakened Negative Yes
Extinction Weakened Positive
or negative


Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened as a result of receiving a positive condition. The basic structure is as follows:

Do X ==> Y happens ==> Feel good ==> Do X more


A person lifts a finger. The dog eventually sits. The dog gets fed. In time, even beginning to lift a finger leads to the dog sitting.

A child screams. Its parents pay it lots of attention, which is pleasant. The child screams more often.

Negative reinforcement

Negative reinforcement happens when a behavior is strengthened as a result of stopping or avoiding a negative condition. The basic structure is as follows:

Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X ==> Z happens less ==> Feel better ==> When Z happens, Do X


A dog is thirsty and goes outside where it finds a bowl of water. Whenever it is thirsty in future, it goes outside.

A person goes out in winter and gets cold. They put on a coat and no longer feel warm. Next time they put on a coat when it seems cold.


Punishment works when a behavior is weakened as a result of experiencing a negative condition. The basic structure is as follows:

Do X ==> Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X less


A cow grazes an electric fence. It feels discomfort. It learns not to go near the fence.

A child hits a sibling. It is made to stand in a corner. It hits siblings less in the future.


Extinction occurs when a behavior is weakened as a result of not experiencing an expected positive condition or a negative condition is stopped.

Y expected ==> Anticipate feeling good ==> Do X ==> Y does not happen ==> Feel bad ==> Do X less

Z happens ==> Feel bad ==> Do X ==> Z does not happen ==> Feel better ==> Do X less


A dog sniffs around, looking for food and finds none in the outhouse. It does not look for food in the outhouse next time.

A child screams and is ignored. They scream less in the future.

See also


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