Difference Between Reinforcement and Punishment


Main Difference

The main difference between Reinforcement and Punishment is that Reinforcement is an intense and enthusiastic outcome, for excellent performance, whereas Punishment is a consequence of some wrongdoing.

Reinforcement vs. Punishment

Reinforcement is an act of encouraging good behavior, whereas punishment is an act of discouraging bad behavior. Reinforcement causes the action to happen more often, while punishment causes the behavior to happen less habitually.

Reinforcement motivates the good behavior that is socially acceptable; on the other hand, punishment represses the bad behavior that is socially unacceptable. Reinforcement is the building of good habits by the appreciation of good behavior; on the contrary, punishment is the building of good practices by the condemnation of bad behavior.


Positive reinforcement is the addition of pleasant stimulus to enhance a particular behavior, while positive punishment is the addition of averse stimulus to stop the specific behavior. Similarly, negative reinforcement is the removal of an adverse stimulus to enhance a particular behavior; on the flip side, negative punishment is the elimination of a pleasant stimulus to deter a specific behavior.

In the context of operant conditioning, reinforcement is defined as any event or response followed by an action that increases the frequency of particular action; on the other hand, punishment is defined as an event or response followed by an action that decreases the rate of specific work. Reinforcement is intended to increase the desirable behaviors, while punishment is meant to reduce undesirable behaviors.


Comparison Chart

Reinforcement is the promotion of desirable pattern of behavior that is socially praisedPunishment is the repression of an undesirable pattern of behavior that is humanly unbearable
Strengthens responseWeakens response
Increases the frequency of the behaviorDecreases the rate of the behavior
Steps Involved
Addition of pleasant stimulus or removal of an undesirable oneAddition of unpleasant stimulus or replacement of a pleasant one
Encourages good behaviorDiscourages bad behavior
Positive Type
Positive reinforcement adds positive stimulusPositive punishment adds negative stimulus
Negative Type
Negative reinforcement removes the negative stimulusNegative punishment removes the positive stimulus
An enthusiastic resultAn aversive result

What is Reinforcement?

Reinforcement is a response or event that accelerates the chances of response to happen. It is defined as a favorable condition that causes the desired behavior to occur more frequently to continue and strengthen in the future.

Reinforcement is reward-based operant conditioning as the favorable condition acts as a reward. Reinforcement is used to upsurge the probability of specific behavior to occur in the future by adding or removing particular stimuli.

The term ‘reinforce’ literally means to strengthen, and is used in psychology to refer to the particular events that are desired to happen frequently in the future. The best way of teaching social skills and good habits to a person is through positive reinforcement.


  • Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is adding social factors to enhance the desired behavior. For something to happen again and again in the future, the positive stimulus is given as appreciation, so that the person keeps doing the same thing to get the reward. Eventually, good habits predominate, and socially praised skills are built-in personality. Example: A mother gives her child a sports toy car to do homework. The toy is given for the appreciation of doing homework so that the child does more homework in the future.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Negative reinforcement is eliminating adverse or hostile factors to increase the wanted actions. It suggests taking away something unpleasant to inflame a person in the right direction. Example: Ali does homework to stop his mother’s nagging. Nagging is the negative factor, so Ali does homework to avoid his mother’s nagging.

What is Punishment?

Punishment is an act of response or behavior by the application of an aversive stimulus to decrease the frequency of the behavior. Unfavorable events happening in response to improper actions is the definition of punishment.

Punishment is a context of operant conditioning which aims to discourage bad behavior. It aims to decrease the probability of adverse events to happen. An action intended to reduce the undesirable behaviors that are socially unsupportable is called punishment.

Punishment only works when reinforcement doesn’t work well. Punishment is an event or consequence followed by action that decreases the frequency of particular behavior.

Negative behaviors can be abolished by either taking away excellent opportunities or by giving unpleasant and tiring tasks. The sole prerogative is to punish the person for misbehaving and make him never do that again.


  • Positive Punishment: Positive means “addition.” Positive punishment is adding a negative factor or stimulus to let down the negative behavior. It can simply be defined as adding a detrimental element to decrease the negative response. Example: Lilly gave Jason additional tasks for lying. Lying is an evil act, so to prevent him from lying again, Lilly made him do burdensome tasks.
  • Negative Punishment: Negative means “removal.” Negative punishment is removing positive factors or a pleasant stimulus to deter negative behavior. Simply removing positive elements to decrease the negative reaction is negative punishment. Example: Jackeline was grounded because he talked back. Talking back to elders is a bad habit, so to eliminate it, he was deprived of freedom.

Key Differences

  1. The process of supporting a pattern behavior is reinforcement, while the process of forfeiting the pattern behavior is punishment.
  2. Reinforcement is an act of appreciation for letting good events happen more frequently, whereas punishment is an act discouraging bad behavior.
  3. Reinforcement is an enthusiastic and exciting outcome for excellent performance; on the other hand, punishment is the averse outcome for bad behavior.
  4. Reinforcement intensifies the response; on the flip side, punishment aims to weaken the response.
  5. The consequence of reinforcement is increased or frequent behavior; conversely, the result of punishment is decreased or less common behavior.
  6. Reinforcement is adding a desirable stimulus or removing averse one, while punishment is adding averse stimulus or removing a pleasant one.
  7. Reinforcement motivates the desired behavior, whereas punishment represses the undesired behavior.
  8. Reinforcement increases the target behavior; contrarily punishment decreases the target behavior.
  9. Positive reinforcement is adding positive things or stimulus to spur the person to do the craved acts more; on the flip side, positive punishment is to add negative things to refrain the person from doing immoral acts.
  10. Negative reinforcement is to remove harmful things from a person’s life as a reward so that he is determined to do kind acts, conversely negative punishment is to eliminate the good stuff from a person’s life as a penalty so that he is beware of wrongdoings in the future.


Reinforcement increases desired behavior by giving pleasant stimulus or removing irksome incentive as a reward. In contrast, Punishment decreases the undesired behavior by giving negative stimulus or removing pleasant stimulus as a penalty.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson