Negative Reinforcement: Application Question

By Heidi Tobe on November 1, 2021

negative reinforcement

We’re back with more on negative reinforcement! Today wraps up our series comparing recall vs. application vs. reasoning questions. Throughout 2021, every two months we’ve taken a topic that could show up on the ASWB exams and compared two ways it could be tested. February and March covered Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In April and May we looked at Antisocial Personality Disorder. In June and July we covered the differences between Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2. Last month, we tackled the topic of negative reinforcement with a recall question. This month we’re back with a final question on negative reinforcement, with a practice application question.  

Reminder: there’s nothing ‘negative’ about ‘negative reinforcement’.

As we discussed last week, people often confuse negative reinforcement with punishment because of the meaning we place on the word ‘negative.’ When it comes to behaviorism, the most important thing to remember is this:

Positive does NOT mean good and Negative does NOT mean bad. (Check out last month’s blog post for more on positive vs. negative and reinforcement vs. punishment). 

Recall vs. Application

Last month’s question was a straightforward, factual recall question on negative reinforcement. Application questions also test factual knowledge, but they take it a step further. Application questions test your ability to apply factual knowledge to a scenario. This month’s practice question challenges you to apply your knowledge of reinforcement and punishment and apply it to a specific client scenario. Let’s see how you do!

ASWB Application Practice Question

A social worker has been meeting with a teenage client around school performance issues. The client excitedly shares with the social worker that they have turned in every homework assignment for two weeks straight. The social worker asks what helped them stay on track and the client responds ‘I was just so sick of getting yelled at by my parents every night.’ This is an example of:

A. Positive Reinforcement

B. Negative Reinforcement

C. Positive Punishment

D. Negative Punishment

(scroll for answer and rationale)














The correct answer is B: Negative reinforcement. The desired behavior was turning in their homework. When they did so, the yelling by their parents was removed.  

ASWB Masters and Clinical Exam Preparation 

How did you do with today’s application question? Did you find it easier or harder than a recall question on the same topic? Whether you’re taking the LMSW or LCSW exam, recall and application questions make up a smaller portion of the exam than reasoning based questions. The good news is, TDC will prepare you for all three types of questions. Unlike many other programs that focus pretty exclusively on factual recall and application, we teach you the foundational reasoning skills necessary for exam success. If you aren’t already signed up for one of our programs yet, we encourage you to read some of the testimonials of social workers just like you who passed using TDC. TDC has helped THOUSANDS of social workers successfully pass their social work licensing exams. Are you next?



Commenter Name
January 6, 2022

My answer was A because there was no indication that the yelling stopped. I could have picked B but felt that I would be assuming something that is not there which is that the behavior stopped. I was thinking that the parents yelling (adding stimulus) necessitated a response (increased behavior). Please clarify more. Thank you

Commenter Name
January 10, 2022

The teenager started turning in her homework (desired behavior) because she wanted her parents to STOP yelling at her (stopping-or removing-the yelling is what makes it negative). The fact that she states the reason that she started turning in her homework was to get her parents to stop yelling at her indicates that they were yelling because she wasn't turning in her homework, so once she starts turning it in, that would stop.

Commenter Name
January 26, 2022

I can see why the answer is B: Negative Reinforcement, but couldn't you also say that yelling was Positive Punishment, and that changed the behavior? I got tripped up on that one. Yelling/Spanking etc I would perceive as a punishment for an undesired behavior (not turning in homework), and due to the yelling, the undesired behavior changed.

Commenter Name
January 26, 2022

Reinforcement is about increasing a desired behavior. Punishment is about decreasing an undesired behavior. Since this is about increasing the desired behavior of turning in homework, that makes it reinforcement.

Commenter Name
March 2, 2022

I knew the answer was B, which was my first pick. I was so excited that i had picked the right answer. This was possible because i had to take my time to listen and read the TDC programs. First, i was confused with the different kinds of defense mechanism thing, but after my study with this program, am able to explain to my peers.
Thanks for this program. Am excited.

Commenter Name
April 1, 2022

Still confused about the answer. Reinforcement is something that we apply to cause positive change in the desired behavior. Here in this case, yelling has caused the client turn in every assignment for two weeks. Here yelling can be considered punishment as well as positive reinforcement because it was added to but not removed from the client. Whose behavior is in focus in this question? Client’s or her mother’s?

Commenter Name
April 4, 2022

You want to keep in mind that positive does not mean good and negative does not mean bad. Negative means something is being removed (yelling). Reinforcement means increasing the likelihood a desired behavior (in this case, turning in homework) will happen. Since the question is from the perspective of the teen, we are looking at it from their perspective. They started turning in their homework (desired behavior) because it would mean their parents would stop (remove=negative) yelling at them.

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