The time has come to wrap up our 4-part blog series! As I mentioned in our first blog, the goal of this series is to explain the basic tenets of Behavior Analysis: Reinforcement (Positive and Negative) and Punishment (Positive and Negative). In last week’s post, we looked at positive punishment, which is a means of reducing a behavior by adding an unwanted condition as a consequence. Today, in our fourth and final installment, we’re going to take a look at negative punishment and extinction.
Negative punishment involves taking something desirable away in order to reduce the occurrence of a particular behavior. Just as was the case with positive punishment, the goal of negative punishment is to reduce an unwanted behavior. This can be achieved in a couple of ways:
- Time-out:Removal from a reinforcing stimulus or environment contingent on problem behavior. In other words, if a problem behavior occurs, you remove a reinforcer as a consequence.
Some things to keep in mind when using time-out:
- Time-in must be more reinforcing than time-out! If the child is being removed from a neutral or aversive (undesired) activity, it can be reinforcing (meaning the problem behavior will increase!)
- There must be a specified amount of time that the child will be in time-out. It should not be necessary to exceed 5 minutes for small children.
Example: Suzy is playing with a group of friends in her room, and having a good time. However, she keeps throwing blocks at the wall. You warn her that if she throws another block at the well, she will be put in time out. She throws a block, so you remove her from the room and have her sit quietly for 2 minutes by herself. She returns to her friends and does not throw any more toys.
- Response cost:Removing a specified amount of reinforcement contingent on problem behavior. This can include removing privileges, access to well-liked toys or games, allowance money, and being grounded.
Example: Mateo stayed out past curfew last night, which is against the rules of the house. You decide not to give him his allowance this week as punishment. Mateo does not break curfew again.
In addition to those two negative punishment procedures, there is another behavior reduction technique that is quite effective to use – extinction. Although it is separate from negative punishment, I decided to include it with this concept because they are the most similar. Extinction is one of the fundamental principles of behavior analysis, and it is the most direct way to reduce a behavior.
Extinction is defined as withholding reinforcement for a behavior that was previously reinforced. The idea here is that if a behavior does not receive reinforcement, it will no longer occur. This is distinct from negative reinforcement in that we are not necessarily removing anything as a consequence of behavior – we are simply not reinforcing it.
Example: Dylan has started to say cuss words a lot. Every time Dylan says a cuss word, his father scolds him and explains why he shouldn’t say those words, but Dylan keeps on doing it. His father decides to put Dylan’s cussing on extinction: from now on, when Dylan says a cuss word, his dad pretends that he didn’t hear anything. At first, Dylan cusses more frequently, hoping to elicit the response that he used to receive, but his dad keeps on ignoring it. Eventually, Dylan’s cussing behavior reduces.
It is important to note that soon after extinction was implemented, the unwanted behavior (cussing) increased! This is common and to be expected – it’s called an “extinction burst”. The target behavior may increase in frequency, duration, or magnitude at first when the reinforcer no longer follows it, but eventually it will decrease.
Other changes to behavior that may be seen are operant variability (Dylan may start performing another behavior in place of cussing), emotional responses (Dylan may become upset when he doesn’t receive a response), or spontaneous recovery (after Dylan’s cussing behavior goes away, it may come back again at a later time). Despite these challenges, it is important to stick to extinction once you have decided to use it! Giving in and reinforcing the behavior will only make it even harder to eliminate further down the line.
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this blog series has been helpful to all of you! I was really only able to skim the surface of behavior analysis, but I hope to delve a little deeper into these concepts in later blogs, so keep an eye out for new installments further down the line!