Problems & Principles for Effective Use
by Mark Plonsky, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1996-99
Also available in Polish (thanks to V. Aleksandrova)
& Portuguese (thanks to A. Weber & A. Domingos)
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 "stop that".
- 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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