reinforcement: the threat of further punishment was created and that
threat could be escaped by cleaning the room. (Or, the tendency to
procrastinate or rebel was punished and lost strength.) Cleaning his
room is called an "escape response" because the threat of punishment
is turned off. An "avoidance response" is when the teenager cleans his
room even before being threatened with punishment; his cleaning
avoids punishment and the threat of it, thereby reducing his stress.
Reinforcement (+ or -) is the opposite of punishment but the same as
escape from anything unpleasant.
An easy way of telling the difference between punishment and
negative reinforcement is to consider the effects. If the target behavior
declines rapidly, it was probably punished; if the target behavior
increases, it was surely reinforced. Fining yourself for eating more
than 1200 calories per day is punishment; threatening to fine yourself
for not studying two hours per day is negative reinforcement if it
results in studying two hours a day or more. Often, punishment
produces immediate changes (escape) whereas negative reinforcement
(avoidance) takes time (Miller, 1980).
Finally, don't be confused by negative reinforcement being involved
in producing both desired and unwanted behaviors. We learn to avoid
punishment by being good (the clean room miracle mentioned above)
and we often acquire unwanted behaviors (fears, a hot temper,
submissiveness, shyness, and bad habits, like drinking) because they
help us escape unpleasant situations.
There are only a few self-help methods based on negative
reinforcement or avoidance and escape. It is vitally important that you
understand negative reinforcement so you can understand yourself.
This learning principle is referred to many times in previous chapters,
especially in chapter 4.
To appropriately avoid, escape or handle an unpleasant
situation, person, thought, feeling, possible punishment or
unwanted consequence. (And to recognize your harmful ways
of avoiding and escaping so you can develop better ways.)
To use the escape or avoidance of something unpleasant (either
naturally existing or intentionally created) as a reinforcer of a
STEP ONE: Identify the unpleasant experience you want to turn
off and/or the desired behavior you want to strengthen.
The unpleasantness may come from any source: the physical
environment (heat, cold, pain, hunger needs), interpersonal
relationships (anger, excessive demands, boredom), or internal