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A Common Misconception About Punishment
Positive and Negative Punishment
Unconditioned and Conditioned Punishers
Contrasting Reinforcement and Punishment
Factors Influencing the Effectiveness of Punishment
Individual Differences and Magnitude of the Punisher
Problems with Punishment
Emotional Reactions to Punishment
Escape and Avoidance
Negative Reinforcement for the Use of Punishment
Punishment and Modeling
Chapter 6, Quiz 1
Chapter 6, Quiz 2
Chapter 6, Quiz 3
Ideas for Class Activities
1. Provide students with interesting, everyday examples of behavior and consequences. In the examples, vary
whether the consequence involves the addition or removal of a stimulus and vary whether the future outcome of the
behavior is a decrease of increase in the behavior. Ask students to identify each example as positive or negative
punishment or positive or negative reinforcement and explain why.
2. Discuss the distinction between punishment as a behavior modification principle and punishment as the word is
commonly used in society. Start by asking students to describe what the term punishment has always meant to
them. Discuss how punishment is viewed as “hurting” someone (as in a “punishing” tackle in a football game) or
as getting back at someone for a wrong. Discuss the notion that punishment in behavior modification does not have
to involve pain or retribution. Discuss how governments and other authorities often mistakenly think they are using
punishment, when in fact the consequences may not decrease the behavior of interest and thus may not function as
punishment at all, or only partially function as punishment (e.g., speeding tickets).
Answers to Practice Test Questions
1. Punishment is defined as follows: When a particular behavior occurs, a consequence immediately follows the
behavior, and as a result, the behavior is less likely to occur again in the future (the behavior is weakened).
2. Many people consider punishment to be quite negative, for example something you do to a person who has
committed a crime or other inappropriate behavior. It is thought to involve retribution or painful consequences
delivered to the person. In behavior modification, punishment is a technical term with a specific meaning. You
cannot define punishment by whether the consequence would seem to be unfavorable or aversive. You can
determine that a particular consequence is punishing only by whether the behavior decreases in the future.
3. (a) An example of punishment might be when you show up late for a class and receive a reprimand from the
instructor. As a result, you are less likely to show up late for class again.
(b) This is positive punishment because the reprimand was delivered following the behavior and the behavior was
(c) The reprimand is a conditioned punisher. It became a punisher through prior learning.
4. To say that the behavior modification definition of punishment is a functional definition means that punishment
is defined by the effect on behavior. Punishment only occurs when the behavior is weakened as a result of the
response contingent consequence of the behavior.
5. In positive punishment, the occurrence of a behavior is followed by the presentation of a stimulus, and as a
result, the behavior is less likely to occur in the future. For example, Donny pulled Susie’s hair and Susie smacked
Donny. As a result, Donny did not pull Susie’s hair in the future. Other names for positive punishment include:
punishment by application, punishment by contingent presentation of a stimulus, punishment by presentation of an
aversive stimulus, and response contingent presentation of a punisher.
6. In negative punishment, the occurrence of a behavior is followed by the removal of a stimulus, and as a result,
the behavior is less likely to occur in the future. For example, when Taren threw her favorite toy across the room
her mother took the toy and locked it up. As a result, Taren is less likely to throw her toys in the future. Other
names for negative punishment include: punishment by withdrawal, punishment by loss of reinforcers, the penalty
contingency, and response contingent removal of a positive reinforcer.
7. (a) Unconditioned punishers are stimuli that require no prior training or experience to serve as punishers; they
are naturally aversive. (b) We have developed the capacity for our behavior to be punished by naturally aversive
events through the process of evolution. Without this capacity, we would be more likely to engage in dangerous
behaviors that could result in injury or death. (c) Some examples of unconditioned punishers are: extreme heat or
cold, extreme levels of auditory or visual stimulation, or any painful stimulus (e.g., electric shock, a sharp object,
or a forceful blow).
8. (a) A conditioned punisher is a stimulus or event that will function as a punisher only after being paired with an
unconditioned punisher or an existing conditioned punisher. (b) A neutral stimulus or event may become a
conditioned punisher if it is paired with an established punisher. (c) See the chapter for other examples of
9. A painful stimulus may be involved in both positive punishment and negative reinforcement in the following
way: When a behavior results in the presentation of a painful stimulus (positive punishment), that behavior is less
likely to occur in the future. However, any behavior that results in the removal of the painful stimulus (negative
reinforcement) is strengthened. For example, when Marlene attempted to remove a tray of cookies from the oven
without an oven mitt, her hand was burned by the intense heat of the tray (positive punishment). As a result
Marlene was less likely to reach into the oven without a mitt in the future. By putting on an oven mitt Marlene
avoids the intense heat (negative reinforcement), therefore she was more likely to wear an oven mitt when reaching
into the oven.
10. A reinforcing stimulus may be involved in both negative punishment and positive reinforcement in the
following way: If a reinforcing stimulus is removed following a behavior, the behavior will decrease in the future
(negative punishment) but if a reinforcing stimulus is presented following a behavior, the behavior will increase in
the future (positive reinforcement). For example, Alan gets a D in physics because he has been going out on
school nights in lieu of studying. Alan’s parents take away his car keys as a result, making Alan less likely to go
out and skip studying to go out on school nights (negative punishment). Alan then begins to study two hours per
night, and brings his grade up to an A for the next term. His parents then return his car keys, making Alan more
likely to study on school nights (positive reinforcement).
11. For punishment to be most effective, the consequence must follow the behavior immediately. As the delay
between the behavior and the consequence is increased, the effectiveness of the consequence as a punisher is
12. Punishment will be maximally effective when it is applied consistently. If a schedule of reinforcement
continues to be in effect for a behavior and punishment is applied inconsistently, the behavior is being influenced
by an intermittent schedule of reinforcement at the same time it is resulting in an intermittent punishment
schedule. When a concurrent schedule of reinforcement is competing with punishment, the effects of punishment
are likely to be diminished.
13. An establishing operation is an event or a condition that will make a consequence more effective as a punisher
(or reinforcer). Missing lunch (food deprivation) is an establishing operation which makes being sent to bed
without dinner more punishing for a child. An abolishing operation is an event or condition that makes a
reinforcer less potent. Having eaten a large amount of food before supper, makes being sent to be without supper
less punishing for the child.
14. In general, a more intense aversive stimulus will be more likely to function as a punisher.
15. The following five problems may result from the use of punishment:
(1) Punishment may produce elicited aggression or other emotional side effects.
(2) The use of punishment may result in escape or avoidance behaviors by the individual whose behavior
is being punished.
(3) The use of punishment may be negatively reinforcing for the person using punishment and thus may
result in the misuse or overuse of punishment.
(4) When punishment is used, its use is modeled and observers or individuals whose behavior is punished
may be more likely to use punishment themselves in the future.
(5) Punishment is associated with a number of ethical issues and issues of acceptability.
16. a. extinction; b. positive punishment; c. negative punishment; d. positive punishment; e. extinction; f. negative
punishment; g. positive punishment.
Answers to Quizzes
1. less 2. punisher or aversive stimulus 3. delivered or added 4. positive 5. removing, withholding 6. the
word “no” 7. establishing operation 8. the word “no,” a warning, a facial expression or statement of
disapproval 9. painful stimulation or an extreme level of stimulation 10. negative
1. punishment 2. removed 3. negative punishment 4. extinction, negative punishment 5. conditioned 6.
unconditioned 7. more 8. less 9. negatively 10. emotional reactions to punishment, escape and avoidance,
negative reinforcement for the use of punishment, modeling the use of punishment, and ethical issues