In this article, we will review negative punishment, its definition, examples, and drawbacks.
American psychologist B.F. Skinner developed the theory of operant conditioning, which stated that a person or animal’s behavior could be increased or decreased by adding or removing appropriate stimuli after the behavior is exhibited.
The difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning is that classical affects unconscious behavior, while operant affects conscious behavior.
Within operant, punishment aims to reduce a behavior while reinforcement increase a behavior. Punishment or reinforcement can be positive or negative. Positive and negative indicates whether it’s adding something (positive) or taking away something (negative).
The two types of punishment are positive punishment and negative punishment. The two types of reinforcement are positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
What Is Negative Punishment
Negative punishment, an operant conditioning technique, reduces a behavior or response by taking away a favorable stimulus following that action.
Because negative punishment procedures decreases the likelihood of the behavior occurring again by removing a stimulus, the stimulus must be pleasant or essential. The person or animal learns to associate the negative consequence with the behavior. This type of conditioning is also known as “punishment by removal.”
Examples of Negative Punishments
Example 1: Used in school
A fifth-grader boy disrupts the class frequently.
|Undesired behavior||Class disruption|
|Conditioning||Take away the boy’s recess privilege to stop the disruption|
Example 2: Used in law enforcement
A driver parks his car at an illegal spot.
|Undesired behavior||Illegal parking|
|Conditioning||The driver is fined $270 to stop illegal parking|
Example 3: Used as parenting techniques
A child throws a temper tantrum in the grocery store
|Pleasant stimulus||Electronic screen time|
|Conditioning||The child’s electronic screen time is taken away by the parent to stop the tantrum|
Effectiveness of Negative Punishment
Negative punishment can be extremely effective when the following criteria are met: contingency, contiguity, and consistency.
Contingency describes the dependent nature of the punishment on the behavior. If the punishment is applied whenever the target behavior appears, then the punishment depends on the appearance of the undesired behavior. If the stimulus removal happens whether the act appears or not, or before the behavior occurs, then it is less likely to work.
Contiguity is the immediacy of the behavior and stimulus removal. If punishment is delayed, the suppression of behavior will not be as effective1. When there is a significant gap between the behavior and stimulus removal, the association is weakened. In addition, other actions may appear in the meanwhile, and this behavior then mistakenly becomes the one being suppressed.
Consistency is necessary for negative punishment to work. Consider speeding. People still regularly speed despite the possibility of receiving a traffic ticket because they don’t get one every time. They are only fined if they are caught, and that’s why it doesn’t work well in this case.
Side Effects of Negative Punishment
One problem of negative punishment is that it works for as long as the stimulus is consistently removed. But once the punishment stops, the undesired behavior is very likely to resume. Another drawback is, while it can stop an undesired behavior, it doesn’t provide information on what the desired action is.
Here’s an example of negative punishment causing an unintended problem. A student misbehaves in class and the teacher takes away his token gold star. This penalty may have a deterring effect on the conduct. But if a child is misbehaving because he is anxious or hyperactive, the punishment doesn’t teach the child how else to deal with the issue. This forceful behavior restraint may result in mental or emotional problems for the child2.
- 1.Meindl JN, Casey LB. INCREASING THE SUPPRESSIVE EFFECT OF DELAYED PUNISHERS: A REVIEW OF BASIC AND APPLIED LITERATURE. Behav Intervent. May 2012:129-150. doi:10.1002/bin.1341
- 2.Skinner BF. Science and Human Behavior. Simon and Schuster; 1965.