What is reinforcement, and how is it different from bribery?

Reinforcement is anything that comes after a behaviour, that increases the future likelihood of that behaviour occurring again.

Does that make sense?

There are two main types of reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is where something is added. For example, a child says “smarties” (the behaviour) and they are then given some smarties (reinforcement). The addition of the smarties reinforces the behaviour of saying the word. Therefore, they child is likely to say the word “smarties” more frequently in the future.


Are you still with me?

The second type of reinforcement is negative reinforcement. This is where something is removed. For example, a child says “I’ve finished” (the behaviour) and the activity is removed (reinforcement). The removal of the activity reinforces the behaviour of saying “I’ve finished”. Therefore, the child is more likely to say it in the future.

To be technical, it is only technically reinforcing if the occurrence of the behaviour increases in the future.

So, what’s bribery?

Most importantly, bribery is not used in ABA. Bribery is when a problem has already arisen, and something is offered in order to avert the problem. For example, if a child is arguing in the playground a parent might say “if you stop arguing now, we can get an ice cream”.

It is also considered bribery if something is delivered before the desired behaviour occurs, for example, “you can watch TV now if you promise to tidy your bedroom afterwards”.


I hope that clarifies the difference between reinforcement and bribery. There is much research and evidence to show the effectiveness of reinforcement. If you have any questions, or if this doesn’t clarify the difference, please get in touch. http://earlyactionforautism.co.uk/contact/