Consequences of Behavior

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Behavioral consequences (results) have a direct influence on the behavior a child exhibits. Behavior can be modified, that is, increased, initiated, or extinguished, by systematic manipulation of its consequences. The possible consequences of human behavior are classified as positive reinforcement, extinction, negative reinforcement, and punishment.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the presentation of a desirable reinforcer after a behavior has been exhibited. The reinforcer, or consequences of behavior, tends to increase or sustain the frequency or duration with which the behavior is exhibited in the future (Alberto & Troutman, 2002). Everyone receives positive reinforcement throughout each day. The process of positive reinforcement involves increasing the probability of a behavior recurring by reinforcing it with a reinforcer that is appropriate and meaningful to the individual (Downing et al., 1991). A reinforcer is reinforcing only if it is perceived as reinforcing by the individual.


Kevin has received a superior report card and is praised by his parents and brother. As a result of the positive reinforcer (praise), the probability of Kevin’s continuing to study hard and receive superior report cards in the future is increased. If Kevin’s report card were ignored or severely criticized because of a single poor grade, the probability of his continuing his efforts and receiving superior report cards in the future would be decreased.

Ms. Pompey has identified stars as positive reinforcers with her classroom group. She puts a star on Cynthia’s paper because Cynthia has successfully completed her homework assignment. Cynthia enjoys receiving stars. By placing a star on Cynthia’s paper, Ms. Pompey knows she is increasing the probability of Cynthia’s completing her homework assignments in the future.


Extinction is the removal of a reinforcer that is sustaining or increasing a behavior (Alberto & Troutman, 2002). Extinction is an effective method for decreasing undesirable behaviors exhibited by individuals (Downing et al., 1991). Unplanned and unsystematically applied extinction techniques have been naturally applied throughout history. For example, parents tend to ignore many unacceptable behaviors exhibited by children, such as roughhousing, arguing, and showing reluctance to go to bed, in the hope that these behaviors will decrease in frequency. The ineffectiveness of ignoring as an unplanned intervention is frequently a result of the inconsistency of its application rather than its inadequacy as a behavior change technique. We insist that there be no roughhousing or arguing and that the child be in bed at the designated time one day but do not insist on these rules the next day. The inconsistency on our part, as a teacher or parent, tends to confuse children and reinforce the unacceptable behavior.

Extinction involves the removal or withdrawal of the reinforcer responsible for maintaining behavior. In the classroom setting, the target behavior will be extinguished once the reinforcer has been withdrawn for a sufficient period of time.


John, a ninth grader, was always making funny sounds with his mouth in Mrs. Rawlin’s class. These activities got him a lot of attention not only from his peers but also from Mrs. Rawlin. She usually stopped the class and told John how immature he was behaving for his age and that he was making a fool of himself. The class responded with laughter. John laughed the loudest. After several meetings with the school counselor about John’s classroom behavior, Mrs. Rawlin agreed to implement another approach.

The next time John made a funny sound, Mrs. Rawlin told the class to ignore him and that those students who did would be rewarded with free time. John continued to make sounds for a few days, but because of the lack of attention from peers and teacher, the behavior began to change. Over the course of 7 school days, John’s behavior was extinguished, and Mrs. Rawlin was able to conduct her class without disruptions. John is now receiving attention from his peers and Mrs. Rawlin for appropriate behavior.

Eight-year-old Robin was constantly tattling on every child who committed the slightest transgression within his purview. Robin’s teacher, Ms. Fye, was reinforcing Robin’s behavior by responding and attending to him when he tattled on others. Finally, she planned an intervention program employing extinction to decrease Robin’s behavior. She would ignore all his tattling.

Each time Robin approached her to tattle on a classmate, Ms. Fye did one of the following:

  1. intervened before Robin had an opportunity to tattle and focused his attention on another topic (picture, book, and so on)
  2. turned her back on him and attended to another child who was performing appropriately
  3. turned her back on him and walked away without any sign of recognition

During the initial phase of the behavior change process. Robin’s tattling increased for a brief period. As the program continued, the behavior decreased and was extinguished. In addition to extinguishing their inappropriate behavior (making funny sounds, tattling), John and Robin appear to be learning appropriate ways of gaining attention and acceptance (McSweeney, 2002).

During the extinction process, there are two behavior response phases. During the initial phase, immediately after the reinforcer sustaining the behavior has been removed, the target behavior usually increases or decreases dramatically. During the second phase, the target behavior changes systematically.

The response during the initial phase is a natural one that occurs when an individual is suddenly confronted with a situation in which established methods of gaining goals become nonfunctional. It is natural to become confused under such conditions and to continue to try the previously effective method of attaining a goal.

It is during this initial phase that beginning practitioners frequently throw up their hands in frustration and abandon a project. However, if they persist, the behavior will in all probability extinguish.

The teacher or parent should be patient and consistent; the behavior will change.

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