Punishment is often misused, probably because it is viewed at retribution for a "crime". Just because it is often misused doesn't mean it has to be. For formal definitions of some of the concepts used on this page, see Confusing Consequences: A Brief Introduction to Operant Conditioning.
Some problems with the use of punishment include:
- The effects may only be temporary.
This is more of a problem when the aversive stimulus used is mild.
- It is not as clear of a source of information as is reinforcement.
Reinforcement provides the organism with more information than does punishment. Reinforcement tells the animal "what you did is good", while punishment tells the animal
- It may lead to escape, avoidance, aggression, & other negative emotional reactions.
The mechanism by which this occurs is called classical conditioning.
Some principles for the effective use of positive punishment include:
- It must be prompt.
It should follow the occurrence of the undesired behavior immediately.
- It must be consistent.
It should occur each and every time the undesired behavior occurs.
- An alternative behavior should be made available which can be reinforced.
The purpose here is to overcome the problem of punishment not being as good of a source of information as is reinforcement.
- At times a conditioned punisher should be used.
A conditioned punisher is a word (exs. "eheh", "no", or "wrong") and/or body posture (exs. a frown and/or stiffening of the body) that predicts that punishment will occur if the offending behavior continues. This eventually becomes an informational signal can reduce the need for actual punishment.
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Created 6/96, Last update 6/11/99. Comments? Contact Dr. P.