Positive Reinforcement Vs Bribery

You can imagine how many times I hear “Don’t you just use bribery to get your kids/clients to do what you want them to do?”

Let’s take a look at what bribery is exactly.

The definition of a bribe is; “something that serves to induce or influence” (Merriam-webster).  Bribery means “to influence or corrupt by a bribe” (Dictionary.com).

The definition of positive reinforcement is “when a behavior is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus that increases the future frequency of the behavior” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

Ok, here are the main differences;

  1. Bribes are typically given in response to a problem behaviour, whereas reinforcement is a consequence and happens after a behaviour occurs. Reinforcement is earned for a job well done!
  2. Positive reinforcement focuses on increasing desired behaviours, and creates a lasting positive change on behaviour.  Bribery changes behaviour in the moment but not over time.
  3. Bribery is intended to benefit the person delivering it and is typically reactive (i.e. when parents loose it!). Positive reinforcement is planned, can be very systematic and is intended to benefit the person receiving it.
  4. Positive reinforcement – the adult is in control and is the decision maker as to when and if it’s coming. Bribery – the child is in control, negotiation is made in exchange for compliance.

The mistake many parents make (myself included!) is that bribery often happens in the heat of the moment to stop a child from engaging in a problem behaviour.  We’ve all been there right??

Your child is kicking off (usually in a public place) and you panic or just loose it with them, saying something along the lines of, “if you get in the car and put your seatbelt on, I’ll put on your favourite music!”

This seems to work in the moment doesn’t it??

But what do you think will happen in the future when your child does not feel like getting into the car….?? Yep…your child will likely learn that kicking off gets them good things so the likelihood is that they will kick off again!

Positive reinforcement increases behaviours.

Bribery influences and corrupts a person.

So, the take home point is this:

Stick to positively reinforcing behaviours you WANT to see happen again – desired behaviours


Bribe. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2017, from Merriam-Webster website; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bribe

Bribery. (n.d). Retrieved September 25, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/bribery

Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Basic Concepts. Applied Behavior Analysis(2nd ed., pp 560-567). Columbus: Pearson

Join our FREE Facebook Community Group