The goal of punishment is not to allow certain types of behavior to happen or make them weaker. When defining punishment, it is vital to consider the three elements. First of all, the particular behavior occurs, then consequences follow it, and, finally, the behavior is weakened (Miltenberger, 2016). When an aversive stimulus or punisher is involved, the probability of the behavior to occur again in the future decreases.
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Positive punishment means employing something aversive in order to influence the behavior. Hence, when the behavior occurs, an unpleasant stimulus is employed, and the behavior is unlikely to happen again. Negative punishment implies that the reinforcing stimulus is removed so that the behavior is less likely to happen again (Kelishadroky, Shamsi, Bagheri, Shahmirzay, & Mansorihasanabadi, 2016). Punishment can be considered effective only when the behavior decreases in the future.
The main difference between positive and negative punishment is the use of the punisher. In case of the negative punishment, the stimulus is removed, whereas, in case of the positive punishment, it is presented. However, both types of punishment aim to reduce the occurrence of unwanted behavior (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). From a theoretical point of view, both of the types belong to the Operant Conditioning theory introduced by B. Skinner, which deals with reward and punishment (Miltenberger, 2016). Besides, either reinforcement or removal of the stimulus should happen immediately and be repeated consistently after the behavior happens.
Positive punishment is often executed by teachers and educators. For example, a student picks up his mobile phone during the class and distracts others. Immediately he receives a reprimand from a teacher and an extra assignment to be completed. As a result, his behavior is unlikely to happen again. In this case, the aversive stimulus is the received reprimand and additional homework. Moreover, other students who were observing the situation unfolding are less likely to behave in the same way.
Positive punishment is also frequently used by senior managers. An employee is late for work and misses the beginning of the weekly meeting. The senior manager gets angry and criticizes the employee in front of the whole office. The act of criticizing is an aversive stimulus that happens right after the behavior occurs. It is, therefore, more likely that the employee will become more punctual.
Negative punishment is actively used by parents who want to eliminate the particular behavior of the kids. For instance, two or more kids are playing together, and the elder one refuses to share toys with others. A parent comes in and takes the toy away to calm the kids down. The parent has to remove the stimulus every time so that the elder kid understands he or she needs to share toys with others.
Many kids prefer to skip the main meal and move on to desserts. Parents can influence kids’ eating habits by excluding desserts from the menu at all. In this case, kids will have to eat the main dish first; otherwise, they will not have a desert. Removal of the desert is the representation of the punisher.
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The ultimate goal of any punishment is to decrease undesirable behavior. However, there is no doubt that positive and negative punishment should be used wisely. One of the drawbacks is that punishment does not offer or explain an appropriate behavior. The individual that uses positive or negative punishment should carefully target the stimulus. Repetition of the action will gradually lead to the complete elimination of the behavior.
Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Kelishadroky, A., Shamsi, A., Bagheri, M., Shahmirzay, B., & Mansorihasanabadi, M. (2016). The role of reward and punishment in learning. International Journal of Advanced Biotechnology and Research, 7(2), 780-788.
Miltenberger, R. (2016). Behavior modification: Principles and procedures. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.