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Negative Effects of Excessive Positive Reinforcement Essay


Positive reinforcement refers to the act of augmenting a certain stimulus that causes a behavior in order to increase the likelihood of the behavior recurring in future (Baron & Galizio, 2005). When an action results in a favorable or positive outcome, the behavior that caused that outcome becomes stronger. Positive reinforcement leads to repetition of behaviors mainly due to coercion or motivation. It is the most widely used principle of analyzing and evaluating behavior. Reinforcement has also been described as the process of encouraging and appraising an action based on its consequences (Baron & Galizio, 2005).

When people engage in a certain behavior and get the desired results, they are more likely to repeat it than if it does not give the desired results. Positive reinforcement is used among children and at workplaces to encourage certain behaviors. However, it is detrimental if done excessively. Excessive positive reinforcement has several negative effects that include complacency, loss of interest in certain behaviors and activities, loss of motivation and inspiration, dependence, and loss of self-directed behavior development.

Negative effects of positive reinforcement

One of the major effects of excessive positive reinforcement is complacency. When a certain action is reinforced repeatedly, an individual might become accustomed to the reinforcement of stimulus and forget about changing or repeating the behavior (Baron & Galizio, 2005).

On the other hand, it piles pressure on people to perform better on new tasks than they did on the previous tasks (Henderlong, 2002). This is observed in workplaces where employee reward schemes cause reduced performance and productivity. Employees become accustomed to the fact that their performance is determined by rewards and not on their pertinacity to become all-rounded individuals. They work hard and sustain high performance for a certain period of time after which they get used to it and become complacent or lose interest because they are required to perform better every time (Baron & Galizio, 2006).

Excessive reinforcement erodes the aspect of challenge that is important in employee development. Human beings grow and develop by being subjected to new challenges and new ways of doing things. Reinforcement encourages people to stick to fixed ways of working and behaving that guarantee certain results (Perone, 2003). Another example of workplace reinforcement that has negative effects is the scheme used by certain organizations to reward sales professionals. Companies reward their sales teams with bonuses if they attain a certain level of sales volume. Reinforcement discourages performance because the teams relax or stop working hard after attaining a sales volume that guarantees them a bonus. There is a limit beyond which positive reinforcement becomes ineffective in boosting performance or encouraging certain behaviors (Baron & Galizio, 2006).

Excessive positive reinforcement is disadvantageous in many cases because it decreases the likelihood of a behavior recurring due to lack of internal motivation (Henderlong, 2002). Many people use rewards to reinforce certain behaviors. These rewards have a long-term negative effect because they encourage people to increase their efforts to achieve definite outcomes and ignore the importance of increasing their desire to repeat the behavior. This is evident in schools and workplaces. Employees who are rewarded with monetary gifts and other incentives perform poorly in the long term because their aim is not to become phenomenal employees but to win a holiday package or a monetary gift from their company (Baron & Galizio, 2006).

On the other hand, students who get tokens, trophies, candies, and praise as positive reinforcements experience long-term negative effects. Their main objective is the reward and not the attainment of exemplary academic achievements (Maag, 2001). It is necessary to use other forms of reinforcement that encourage students to develop positive personalities and characters rather than work hard to get rewards.

Another negative effect of excessive positive reinforcement is loss of interest in a certain behavior or activity. People continue behaving in a certain way as long as their behaviors are reinforced (Henderlong, 2002). However, in case the reinforcement is stopped, they abdicate the behavior due to loss of interest. This phenomenon is observed among children who lose interest in doing certain activities whenever their parents stop praising or rewarding them (Henderlong, 2002).

This happens because excessive reinforcement conceals the intrinsic value of behaviors that are presented as necessities for attaining certain rewards. Positive actions are seen as activities that should be executed in order to get certain reactions from seniors (Henderlong, 2002).

Positive reinforcement does not involve mechanisms to correct negative actions that could affect the long-term embracement of desired behaviors. For instance, many employers reward their employees using praise and monetary gifts. They fail to point out their weaknesses and failures for fear of affecting their performance and productivity. This reinforcement has a long-term negative effect on the employees because the mistakes and failures compound and affect their output. The same case applies to parenting. Children who are not punished by their parents for misbehaving never learn about the consequences of engaging in certain behaviors (Henderlong, 2002). Counseling and other forms of positive reinforcement are ineffective in convincing children to embrace certain behaviors and abdicate others.

Extreme positive reinforcement undermines the desire for individuals to be self-directed and self-motivated (Baron & Galizio, 2006). This tendency encourages external reinforcement that undermines people’s abilities to be autonomous. Excessive reinforcement discourages people from finding motivation and inspiration to achieve certain results and maintain certain behaviors from within (Maag, 2001).

Self-driven motivation lasts a long time while external motivation does not. People engage in certain behaviors only if they result in certain outcomes (Perone, 2003). There is a misunderstanding with regard to the relationship between reinforcers and rewards. This misunderstanding is prevalent in schools where teachers use rewards to coerce students into embracing certain behaviors (Maag, 2001).

Rewards are used in ways that make students lose the desire to repeat specific actions. Self-directed behavior development is an important part of human development. People feel stronger and more confident when they behave in certain ways mainly due to individual efforts (Baron & Galizio, 2006). This undertaking is undermined by excessive positive reinforcement because it shifts the goal from wining through individual efforts to winning through external impetus.

Effective conditioning involves the use of both positive and negative reinforcement (Perone, 2003). Overreliance on positive reinforcement ignores the effectiveness of using negative fortification in behavioral conditioning (Baron & Galizio, 2006). Teacher use both approaches to motivate students into embracing certain behaviors. In that regard, rewards and punishment are used together. Positive reinforcement alone is not sufficient to motivate people to abdicate certain tendencies and embrace others because their stimulus is not strong enough to attain that goal. An example of positive reinforcement is directing attention to certain areas. Giving attention to students is a great reinforcer that encourages them to behave in a certain way (Maag, 2001).

However, doing it excessively has negative consequences. For instance, giving attention to students who behave inappropriately can encourage them to change in the short term. However, sustained attention will encourage them to pretend and embrace temporary behaviors that will only apply when the teacher’s attention is directed towards them (Maag, 2001). They do not practice the behaviors because they want to reap their benefits but because they want to escape the wrath of the instructor. They put in lots of efforts to please the teacher without gaining the desire to incorporate the behaviors into their values and personalities. Positive reinforcement is effective only when used sparingly in certain situations.


Positive reinforcement refers to the act of emphasizing a certain behavior in order to increase the likelihood of its happening in future. This concept has been used in workplaces, schools, and in parenting. Numerous strategies are used to ensure that people repeat certain desirable behaviors. Positive reinforcement has several advantages. However, it is disadvantageous if used excessively. The negative effects of excessive positive reinforcement include complacency, loss of interest, loss of motivation and inspiration, dependence, and loss of self-directed behavior development. Studies involving employees and children have shown that excessive use of reinforcement is ineffective.

Employees report reduced productivity over the long term because reinforcement places too much pressure on them to produce more every time it is used. On the other hand, excessive use in parenting ignores the important part played by negative reinforcement in behavior development. Positive reinforcement is an important aspect of behavior development. However, it has numerous negative effects if used excessively.


Baron, A., & Galizio, M. (2005). Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Should the Distinction be Preserved? The Behavior Analyst, 28(2), 85-98. Web.

Baron, A., & Galizio, M. (2006). The Distinction between Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Use with care. The Behavior Analyst, 29(1), 141-151. Web.

Henderlong, J. (2002). The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 125(5), 774-795. Web.

Maag, J. (2001). Rewarded by Punishment: Reflections on the Disuse of Positive Reinforcement in Schools. Exceptional Children, 67(2), 173-186. Web.

Perone, M. (2003). Negative Effects of Positive Reinforcement. The Behavior Analyst, 26(1), 1-14. Web.

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