Positive reinforcement

In Operant Conditioning, positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future. When a favorable outcome, event, or reward occurs after an action, that particular response or behavior will be strengthened.

Positive reinforcement can often be more effective than punishment or negative reinforcement. Multiple studies have shown that teachers who spend more time promoting responsible behavior than responding to irresponsible behavior are more effective. 1

For maximum effectiveness, aim for at least 3 times more praise than discipline or corrective statements, with a ratio of 5 to 1 being ideal. 234


  1. Beaman & Wheldall, 2000; Brophy & Good, 1986; Thomas, Becker, & Armstrong, 1968; Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004. ↩︎

  2. In general, teachers should offer praise statements more often than corrective statements. Researchers have recommended at least a 3:1 ratio (Fredickson, & Losada, 2005; Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993). ↩︎

  3. Others have recommended that teachers strive to maintain a ratio of 4 or 5 positive statements to 1 corrective statement (Good & Grouws, 1977; Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2004). ↩︎

  4. John Gottman and colleagues (1998) explored the positive-to-negative ratios in marriages. Using a 5:1 ratio, which Gottman dubbed “the magic ratio,” he and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce by scoring their positive and negative interactions in one 15-minute conversation between each husband and wife. Ten years later, the follow-up revealed that they had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy. ↩︎