Punishment is a way of actively encouraging a person or animal to change their behavior and it can be both negative and positive. The use of discipline as punishment is a commonly accepted way of admonishing a child, and like reinforcement, punishment is one of the key components of operant conditioning. So what are examples of positive punishment and how can punishment ever be positive?
According to B.F Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, reinforcement is an event that strengthens or increases the behavior and punishment is the presentation of an adverse event that decreases the behavior. There are two types of reinforcement and punishment: positive and negative.
Positive punishment involves the threat of an unpleasant event should the behavior continue, whereas negative punishment involves the removal of something nice if the behavior occurs.
Examples of positive punishment in operant conditioning
Presenting an unpleasant outcome as a result of the undesirable behavior underpins positive punishment in operant conditioning. For example, when a teenager is late home for several nights in a row, threatening to ground them for a month the next time they are late could be perceived as a form of positive punishment. Used in conjunction with the positive reinforcement of a promise to put credit on their phone if they improve their timekeeping, positive punishments can be a very effective way of achieving a desirable change in behavior.
What examples of positive punishment are there?
One obvious example of a positive punishment is spanking a child for being naughty. Parents often use this form of positive punishment on younger children in the hope that the child eventually associates the punishment with their bad behavior, and therefore decides to stop the bad behavior in order to avoid any more punishment.
Using a time out for a misbehaving child is another type of positive punishment. Lots of children are subject to the time out punishment, either at home or school. For an effective time out, the parent or teacher removes the child from the place where they are causing disruption and places them in isolation. This helps the child to calm down and think about the consequences of their actions. Hopefully, in time, the incidents of negative behavior decrease.
Positive punishment is also an effective way of training dogs and many dog trainers use the behavioral modification techniques first described by Skinner in his theories of operant conditioning.
An example of a positive punishment commonly used by dog trainers is the water gun. If the dog is squirted by a water gun each time it repeats the undesirable behavior, eventually the dog will associate the water gun punishment with the undesirable behavior and the behavior should decrease.
Another effective method of positive punishment for dogs is a scent collar. These work by squirting a citrus scent under the dogs nose (dogs have very sensitive noses and they hate the smell of citrus lemon) whenever a remote control is activated. Such a device can be very useful for discouraging behavior such as repetitive barking and chasing sheep.