Positive punishment initially sounds like an oxymoron, as they are seemingly contradictory terms. An easy way to remember is to refer to it as “punishment by application”, where instead of taking something away from a person as punishment, one would present them with an unfavourable outcome in order to decrease the undesirable behaviour (Cherry, 2015).
Positive punishment can be defined as “presenting a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future.”
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B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory
This concept was used in B.F. Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning, which was the theory that certain behaviors are more or less likely to be repeated based on how we respond to that behavior (“Simply Psychology”, 2015).
What positive punishment is meant to achieve is the lessening of a negative behavior by pairing it with something negative. Ideally, the person will dislike the added negative outcome enough where they will stop exhibiting the undesirable behavior.
Other forms of punishment, such as negative punishment, will involve taking something away from the person in order to decrease the behavior (“Simply Psychology”, 2015).
The aim of punishment in general is to weaken someone’s behavior until it completely eliminates their response. For example, in order to punish a child for picking their nose a teacher can reprimand him or her in front of the class. This is done in order to weaken the nose picking enough for the child to stop.
Another type of positive punishment is sending a child or teen to their room, write an essay about what they did wrong, or scolding someone for something they did that you did not like. But does it actually work?
What Would You Do?
It seems that the hardest thing to decide is to what extent punishment can be a good thing, if at all. For example, a social experiment on the ABC show “What Would You Do?” was conducted of a mother publicly shaming her daughter in the street for lying and stealing. The polarising responses from the people in the street show how they themselves define and apply positive punishment.
This clip here is taken from the 2011 controversy of a judge who beat his daughter who has cerebral palsy with a belt. It’s very interesting as you watch Dr. Drew, a psychiatrist, and Judge Karen debate on what is right and what is legal. It should be noted that a clip of the judge beating his daughter is shown.
Positive Punishment on Children and Teens
As Dr. Drew stated, punishment isn’t as effective as we think.
According to James Lehman, grounding your child and putting them under “house arrest” will only teach them “how to ‘do time’”, but it doesn’t actually show them how to change their behavior (Empowering Parents & Lehman, 2012). They will eventually get used to it and cope, ultimately not learning what you’re trying to teach.
You instead restrict their choices and they can feel so restricted that choices have been made for them that it leaves no room for them to evaluate and make decisions. There will be no room to grow.
Another form of positive punishment is physical, such as spanking, and research has shown that these have lasting side effects on children. In fact, many studies have shown that physical punishment can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury, and mental health problems for children (APA & Smith, 2012).
According to Alan Kazdin, PhD, a psychology professor at Yale University,
“You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want…there is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying that this is a horrible thing that does not work.”
Research also shows that it does not actually weaken a person’s behavior when punished, it simply suppresses it. If a teenager or child fears being punished, they may continue to do the undesirable outcomes away from the “punisher”; in essence, they don’t like the punishment, but they may still enjoy the behavior itself (APA & Smith, 2012).
Many times we are unaware as to why we are punishing our children. In the heat of the moment it could be due to anger than a want to discipline them (Empowering Parents & Lehman, 2012). Not recognizing why we are positively punishing people will only lead to confusion on both sides.
Positive Punishment in the Workplace
Punishment doesn’t necessarily stop when we stop becoming teenagers.
The idea that punishment can be effective in stopping undesirable employee behaviors, such as tardiness and absenteeism is still a strong belief that many hold (Wichita Business Journal, 1996).
Research has shown that positive punishment doesn’t bring about good work behaviors, it only temporarily stops one bad behavior from happening and it can also lead to fear, psychological tension, anxiety, etc. These emotional and behavioral responses likely impact work productivity and work behavior (Wichita Business Journal, 1996)
Much like what happens with children, employees who receive positive punishment are more likely to start acting hostile, isolate themselves, and it inhibits their growth (Gordon Training International, 2011). As said previously, positive punishment does not leave them with freedom to grow as employees.
What Does Work?
Luckily, PP practitioners have been able to provide several examples of how we can begin to do things differently as people, parents, employers, and as an organization.
Using applied behavioral analysis, the Parent Management Training Program headed by Kazdin at Yale found that having children act out a scenario where they are throwing a tantrum and try to control it was very effective.
Children who practice controlling their tempers when they are not angry are more likely to control their tempers when it’s genuine because they have practiced (APA & Smith, 2012). You can find more information and tips here.
Research has also shown that many parents do not explain or negotiate with their loved ones as much as they should.
Helping them understand why there are rules set will help a child or teen develop an internalization of those rules because they see the value in upholding it. For example, telling your child not to hit their younger sibling and then asking them, “How would you feel if he or she hit you” will allow a child to step out of their behavior and understand the impact it has.
The reason being is that it allows people to assume responsibility for their own tasks and decisions and it creates a safe environment for them to ask for help, look for mistakes they have made, or to look forward in working with others to create something.
Creating healthy relationships in the workplace is key in having employees who are disciplined.
The importance in applying PP to the workplace is huge, as Isen & Reeve (2005) showed that positive reinforcement and mood led to a positive intrinsic motivation for completing a task. As a result, employees enjoyed their tasks more, felt more optimistic when taking on an uninteresting task, and it helped them remain focused on a task.
Concepts like hope and altruism also help provide a positive work environment that is more effective than positive punishment (Youssef & Luthans, 2007). In fact, it affects everything from organizational commitment, to creating realistic plans on how to complete tasks, as well as strengthen resilience and build social support.
When maintaining a positive mood in a work environment, the organization profits and grows because people want to come in to work and help. There is less fear, hostility, passivity, and complacency because there is room and freedom to grow.
This way of “disciplining” has been shown to be more effective than punishing because people begin to internalize their roles and have an understanding and appreciation for the demands of work (Youssef & Luthans, 2007). But, because punishment works fast and effectively on the short-term, many still choose to stick by it.
What do you think of positive punishment? Let us know below!
APA, & Smith, B.L. (2012). The case against spanking. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx
Cherry, K. (2015). Positive Punishment: Definition and Examples. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/operantconditioning/f/positive-punishment.htm
Empowering Parents, & Leman, J. (2012). Discipline Kids Who Ignore Consequences. Retrieved from http://empoweringparents.com/Kids-Who-Ignore-Consequences-10-Ways-to-Make-Them-Stick.php
Gordon Training International. (2011). The Perils of Punishment. Retrieved from http://www.gordontraining.com/leadership-training/the-perils-of-punishment/
North Shore Pediatric Therapy. (2012). The Difference Between Positive and Negative Punishment. Retrieved from http://nspt4kids.com/parenting/the-difference-between-positive-and-negative-punishment/
Simply Psychology. (2015). B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning |. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-condititonin.html
Wichita Business Journal. (1996). Punishment in the workplace creates undesirable side effects. Retrieved from http://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/stories/1996/11/18/focus3.html