Professionals in the field of ABA must understand some basic facts about reinforcement and punishment to create effective behavior change programs. First, there are important differences between positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. Second, the professional must plan for unintended consequences associated with reinforcement and punishment. Finally, neither reinforcement nor punishment are inherently good nor bad, ethical or unethical.
Much of the terminology within ABA provides clarification that sets the technology apart from that offered in other fields. At the same time, some terms create more confusion than clarification. Newcomers to the field spend considerable time studying the terminology rather than the technology. The terms positive and negative reinforcement and punishment appear to be among the most confusing for outsiders. This raises the question, is the distinction really necessary?
Reinforcement is critical for learning, but reinforcement alone is insufficient. Instructional control determines the success of a program. Staff routinely “pair” themselves with reinforcement to establish instructional control. What if I told you that the reinforcement strategy you’re using may be making you aversive to your client?