The principles of Applied Behavior Analysis do not just occur within the vacuum of a clinical or
therapeutic setting. Believe it or not, we see the fundamentals of ABA constantly in our daily
lives. For this “ABA All Around Us” series, we’re going to break down some basic concepts and
apply them to real-world situations. Today, let’s take a look at Negative Reinforcement:
Last time we talked about positive reinforcement which increases the future likelihood of a
behavior occurring by introducing something into the environment. Negative reinforcement,
however, increases the future likelihood of behavior by removing something. Let’s apply this
concept to a real-world scenario: the act of taking aspirin for a headache.
In this situation, your behavior of taking the aspirin is negatively reinforced by the removal of a headache. By
removing the headache, your behavior of taking the aspirin is being reinforced, and you are
therefore more likely to engage in the behavior of taking aspirin the next time you have a
If you tried taking aspirin and it was not effective at removing your headache, then
reinforcement was withheld from your behavior and you are now not as likely to take aspirin the
next time you have a headache.
Negative reinforcement doesn’t just have to involve removing a
stimulus that is already in place (the headache that you already had). Negative reinforcement also
involves avoiding or preventing a stimulus or a situation from occurring. For example, imagine
you’re driving down the road and you come to a red light. By stopping at the red light, you are
avoiding either being pulled over or getting into a car accident.
Your behavior of stopping the car is being negatively reinforced by avoiding the aversive situation of getting a ticket or getting into
a car accident. By successfully avoiding these things, you are more likely to engage in the
behavior of stopping at a red light again in the future.