Consequences

In the ABCs of behavior the C stands for consequence. After a behavior occurs there are 4 ways to describe the effect of the consequence given.

Positive= Something Applied Negative=Something Removed
Reinforcing= Increases Behavior Something is given to the student which they like so they are more likely to engage in the behavior again.Smile, high five, tickles, candy, money Something the student didn’t like is removed so they are more likely to engage in the behavior again.Take away work, take away demands, make undesired noise or sensation stop
Punishing= Decreases Behavior Something is given to the student which they do not like so they are less likely to engage in the behavior again.Time out, detention, spanking Something the student liked is removed so they are less likely to engage in the behavior again.Take away points, take away video time, take away freedom, take away candy

Generally we first consider if the consequence is reinforcing or punishing. If a consequence is reinforcing the preceding behavior will continue or increase. If a consequence is punishing then the behavior will cease or decrease.

We only know if a  consequence is reinforcing or punishing by looking at its effect. Commonly individuals give a consequence they believe to be punishing, like keeping a student in from lunch, and it turns out to be reinforcing. If you find your self saying “I gave him xyz consequence but he is still doing it…” This is one explanation. Another explanation is that whatever the student is gaining from the behavior is more reinforcing and thus worth the punishment.   The same thing happens with reinforces. I may think that telling Johnny “Great job!” is reinforcing, but if he finds it embarrassing it may actually be acting as a punisher. This means that the whether a consequence in reinforcing or punishing is relative to the subject and circumstance!!!

In behavioral terms Positive and Negative refer to directionality not desirability!! In simple terms, they are indicating if you, the behavior modifier, are giving or taking something. If the consequence is positive, it is traveling from you to the subject. If it is negative something is being removed or taken away. So if I were arrested but behaving so well that the officer removed the handcuffs that were hurting me- That is negative reinforcement! Another example is if I see that a student is working well so I say” Johnny, you have done such a good job you don’t need to do the last 3 problems.” Negative punishment on the other hand is removing something desired such as recess or video game time, or taking away a toy.

An important thing to remember about consequences is that they are relative to the subject and context!