Negative Reinforcement Question P/S

3/19/2019 10:06:15 PM
I had a question on negative reinforcement. One of the Psych questions stated an individual washed their hands in order to "cleanse" themselves of the anxiety they felt about being contaminated by germs. Since the ritual helped lower their anxiety they continue to perform them.The question asks what their cleansing rituals are an example of?
The answer given is negative reinforcement however I have a question on why this is correct. I understand that the hand washing is reinforced by removing the anxiety, but isn't this a case of using the "ends to justify the means" of sorts? You can't remove the anxiety without doing the ritual cleansing, so in this case you are forced to add a stimulus or action in order to feel the effect of lessened anxiety. Since this situation can only occur after the action is done wouldn't it be positive instead of negative?

Take the given example of "Teenager doesn't have to do chores after getting good grades". This is given to us by UWorld as an example of negative reinforcement. The mom's action is the one represented as positive or negative, in order to reinforce the effect- her sons grades hopefully stay high. Isn't it wrong to say that the hope of grades staying high is what made the chores go away? in which case this would be positive punishment: The attainment of good grades(positive) to remove the chores (undesirable)? When comparing these, the original question seems like its justifying its answer in this reverse manner. I previously understood these questions as the addition or removal of an action/ stimulus is judged as positive or negative and the effect is deemed as reinforcement or punishment. I can't seem to wrap my head around how the effect of lessened anxiety could be judged as positive or negative since the hand washing has to take place for that effect to happen, it can't happen in reverse just as the hopes of maintaining grades can't happen unless you do something to make that happen (action to justify they might stay high).

Of course a positive punishment doesn't fit since you're not adding something undesirable. Is there even a definition that fits adding a desirable stimulus (want to wash hands) in order to stop a behavior (anxiety from being contaminated)??? Another example would be giving a child an Ipad in hopes they stop running around. Would this still be negative reinforcement? The effect here cannot precede the action. Thanks for the help in advance! I know I can pick this answer out if I see it because no other definition fits but I want to know if my way of thinking is wrong or if there's a problem.


3/21/2019 11:35:19 AM
I was stumped by the same thinking... I could have sworn it was positive as she is adding a stimulus (ie washing hands).
edited by on 3/21/2019


3/26/2019 5:55:06 PM
The definition of negative reinforcement is removing a stimulus to increase the likelihood of behavior. In the case of washing hands, the individual is 'removing' the feeling of uncleanliness. Once that feeling of uncleanliness is removed, she feels better and continues to participate in this ritual. Washing your hands is not a stimulus. Handwashing is the behavior that is being reinforced.

In the case of the teenager, removing the threat of chores motivates the teenager to continue to get good grades. This is more like avoidance learning, which is still a form of negative reinforcement.


3/26/2019 10:33:55 PM
I just saw this question, and this is one where you have to not overthink and pay attention to the wording. The passage states that the washing "relieves anxiety", thus removing a negative stimuli and stopping the behavior (negative, punishment)


3/26/2019 10:33:56 PM
I just saw this question, and this is one where you have to not overthink and pay attention to the wording. The passage states that the washing "relieves anxiety", thus removing a negative stimuli and stopping the behavior (negative, punishment)


3/28/2019 10:28:04 PM
rdmd243196 wrote:
The definition of negative reinforcement is removing a stimulus to increase the likelihood of behavior. In the case of washing hands, the individual is 'removing' the feeling of uncleanliness. Once that feeling of uncleanliness is removed, she feels better and continues to participate in this ritual. Washing your hands is not a stimulus. Handwashing is the behavior that is being reinforced.

In the case of the teenager, removing the threat of chores motivates the teenager to continue to get good grades. This is more like avoidance learning, which is still a form of negative reinforcement.


Best reply yet, definitely makes sense to move away from actions and remember to stick to stimuli. Thanks!


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