Positive Sanctions: Definition & 27 Examples

positive sanctions example and definition

Positive sanctions are rewards or positive consequences given in response to desired, idealized, or normative behavior.

The role of positive sanctions is to encourage and reinforce a certain behavior. By providing a reward, it is more likely to occur and reoccur.

Examples of positive sanctions might include praise, rewards, privileges, money, or preferential treatment.

Positive sanctions are often used in social situations, such as in parenting or teaching, and in economic theory, such as when negotiating favorable trade agreements between nations.

Positive Sanctions Definition

Positive sanctions refer to rewards or positive consequences that are ascribed when a person or entity engages in a desired behavior.

They are used to encourage and reinforce the behavior, making it more likely to occur again.

Positive sanctions can shape and encourage many behaviors, from small everyday actions like completing chores or paying attention in class to larger goals like saving money or staying healthy.

Furthermore, positive sanctions play an important role in global politics (Baldwin, 1971). For example, one country might encourage another to change its tariff laws in exchange for a positive sanction, such as preferential trade for that nation.

Positive sanctions help to maintain social order and cohesion by promoting conformity to accepted norms and values. They are an essential component in the inculcation of cooperation and collaboration within local, national, and global social systems (Horne, 2001). 

See more types of sanctions here.

Positive Sanctions Examples

1. Praise

From a very early age, children experience positive sanctions in the form of praise from their parents and teachers.

Domain: Informal Social Sanctions

The short-term dopamine hit and excitement we get from praise can encourage us to replicate the desired behaviors in hope for future praise.

Praise is highly effective for young children and animals. However, at older ages, praise becomes less and less valued and other types of positive sanctions – such as wealth and social status – become more important.

2. Subsidies

Subsidies are some of the most common examples of positive economic sanctions. They involve government grants or interventions that decrease the cost of goods and services.

Domain: Formal Economic Sanctions

An individual, family, or business may receive a subsidy if they behave in a desirable way. For example, it’s become increasingly common for businesses to be given subsidies if they take measures to decrease their carbon emissions.

3. Privileges

Privileges can take the form of special access to resources. They are positive sanctions when they’re provided as a reward for desired behaviors.

Domain: Social Sanctions
For example, a student might be given special privileges in the classroom such as free time or access to certain books if they do their work well.

In social dynamics in the playground, privileges may take the form of access to the “cool kids’ table” if you manage to successfully “act cool.”

4. Social Recognition

Recognition can be used as a positive sanction, especially for people who feel the need for social validation.

Domain: Social Sanctions
The act of acknowledging or praising someone publicly can reinforce the praised behavior and encourage others to act in a similar way.

Social recognition can take many forms, and will differ depending upon your social context. Examples include being praised, acknowledged, and receiving a certificate in school or the workplace.

5. Trademarks and Copyrights

Trademarks and copyrights can be considered positive economic sanctions provided for people to protect their intellectual property and well-earned reputation.

Domain: Formal Economic Sanctions
A brand that garners market recognition for their high-quality products and services is rewarded with trademark protection. For their hard work in developing a recognized brand name, governments choose to offer the brand protection so no one else can use it for their own gain.

Similarly, copyrights can be used to protect someone’s intellectual property. It prevents other people from stealing others’ intellectual work, which functions as a positive sanction provided to protect your labor.

6. Special Attention

The act of providing special attention or one-on-one time to an individual (attention) can function as a positive sanction.

Domain: Social Sanctions

By providing special attention, the reinforcement of desired or appropriate behavior can be encouraged, increasing the probability of its repetition in the future.

Attention serves as a means of demonstrating appreciation and support and can manifest in various ways, such as a special outing or quality time with a parent or teacher.

7. Trust

Through the granting of trust, the reinforcement of desired or appropriate behavior is facilitated, increasing the probability of its repetition in the future.

Domain: Informal Social Sanctions

Trust serves as a means of demonstrating confidence and support and can manifest in various ways, such as allowing an individual to make their own decisions or work independently.

The timely and authentic application of trust, particularly near the behavior being reinforced, maximizes its effectiveness as a positive sanction. 

8. Money and Direct Payments

Money can be used as a form of positive sanction both in social and economic domains.

Domain: Formal Social and Economic Sanctions

In fact, money is the primary positive sanction provided for people to encourage them to get a job and be a productive member of society.

Similarly, money can be an effective way to incentivize people into taking surveys, where cash, gift cards, or other monetary prizes might be given in exchange for participation.

9. Physical gestures

Physical gestures, such as a pat on the back or a hug, can be used as a form of positive sanction.

Domain: Informal Social Sanctions

Physical gestures are very commonly used as positive sanctions in social situations such as sporting teams.

Sports players make a big show out of patting each other on the back and physically celebrating one another’s success as a way to make that success a desirable thing to aspire toward.

10. Tax Holidays

Tax havens are another way that governments engage in positive sanctions through economic policy.

Domain: Formal Economc Sanctions

Each year when governments pass down their budget, they weave in economic incentives such as tax holidays. These economic incentives can be considered positive sanctions.

For example, tax incentives or tax holidays might be provided as positive sanctions for people who are considered to be providing particular value to the progression of society. They might go to new companies aiming to progress green technology, or research and development companies aiming to create new healthcare products.

11. Primary Reinforcers

Primary reinforcers are positive sanctions that are intrinsically desirable to humans, such as our basic needs.

Domain: Psychology/Operant Conditioners

We can also take a cue from psychology to find some positive sanctions that people receive. One example is primary reinforcers, which are reinforcements that people intrinsically desire.

These include: food, water, shelter, reproduction, and other innate desires. These may be used as a positive social sanction when, for example, people are provided with things like food and water for doing tasks that are socially desirable..

List of Additional Positive Sanctions

  • Low-interest loans – Economic
  • Government Grants – Economic
  • Preferential Trade agreements – Economic
  • Public affirmations – Social
  • Celebrations in your honor – Social
  • Protective tariffs – Economic
  • Import quotas – Economic
  • Patents – Economic
  • Enhanced social status – Social
  • Increased responsibility – Social
  • Licensing agreements – Economic
  • R&D funding – Economic
  • Infrastructure investment – Economic
  • Respect from peers – Social
  • Paid education and training – Economic
  • Government procurement contracts – Economic
  • Subsidized housing – Economic

Positive vs Negative Sanctions

  • Positive sanctions are rewards or positive consequences that are provided when the desired or appropriate behavior is exhibited. Positive sanctions can encourage and reinforce the desired behavior, making it more likely to reoccur. Examples of positive sanctions might include praise, rewards, privileges, or other forms of positive reinforcement.
  • Negative sanctions are punishments or negative consequences that will be assigned if undesirable behavior is exhibited. They discourage the behavior in the hope that it will be less likely to occur again. Examples of negative sanctions might include reprimands or fines.


Positive sanctions, such as praise, rewards, and privileges, are given as rewards for desired or appropriate behavior to encourage and reinforce the behavior and make it more likely to occur in the future. They can be used to shape and encourage a wide range of behaviors, from small everyday actions to larger goals. 

Positive sanctions are often used in social situations, like parenting or teaching, and are most effective when used consistently and with other positive reinforcement strategies. They should be used fairly and appropriately and tailored to the individual and situation.


Baldwin, D. A. (1971). The Power of Positive Sanctions. World Politics, 24(1), 19–38. https://doi.org/10.2307/2009705

Caruso, R. (2021). Negative and positive sanctions. In Research Handbook on Economic Sanctions (pp. 297-308). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Horne, C. (2001). Sociological perspectives on the emergence of norms. Social Norms.

Mageo, J. M. (1991). Inhibitions and compensations: a study of the effects of negative sanctions in three Pacific cultures. Pacific Studies, 14, 40-40.

Mungan, M. C. (2019). Positive Sanctions versus Imprisonment. George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper, (19-03).

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Tio Gabunia is an academic writer and architect based in Tbilisi. He has studied architecture, design, and urban planning at the Georgian Technical University and the University of Lisbon. He has worked in these fields in Georgia, Portugal, and France. Most of Tio’s writings concern philosophy. Other writings include architecture, sociology, urban planning, and economics.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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