Positive and Negative Punishment

When we all were young, punishment came in handy for our parents because they could have spanked us, taken the toy blocks from us, or even help us learn a lesson and from the mistakes of misbehaving. In this manner, parents are most likely to use negative punishment. This is defined as someone’s behavior decreasing because the positive stimulus is not longer present (1)***. An example of negative punishment is when a teacher removes a child from the class because he or she is misbehaving. The result of this the child getting taken out of the positive reinforcement of the learning environment to be separated from the others by being asked to sit in a corner and face the window or another punishment that does not allow the child to be with the rest of the class. In this case, the child gets punished and most likely will not make the mistake again in the future. On the bright, sunny side of punishment is positive punishment. Positive punishment along with negative punishment and all other concepts (listed in the textbook) can be confusing if the topic is not explained clear enough. This type of punishment occurs when a behavior decreases when the stimulus is not good. In other words, you have the behavior plus the stimulus in one way or another, which equals the effect on future behavior of a person. The stimulus is added to help decrease behavior (1)***.

Sometimes the consequences of the actions of the person who is getting punished can be good or bad. It all depends on the situation. Like humans, pets can be trained and punished as well. I have learned through research and the textbook that the punisher is also known as the aversive stimulus (1, 2)***. Sometimes a person can be afraid of the aversive (the human) because he or she knows what may happen although the consequences were thought out before misbehaving. The use of punishment must be effectively with either positive or negative reinforcement because the person with the bad behavior will most likely continue to have the same behavior before getting punished (2)***. Punishment can work with animals, too. Dogs, for example, are smart pets for animal loves; however, they have their own behavioral problems just as people do. The psychologist B. F. Skinner (1938) helped discover the concept of operant conditioning. Operant condition involves with an organism’s activity in the surrounding environment (1)***. With this said, dog owners will help dogs associate their activity or behavior so it will not occur often as it does or they will decrease the behavior so it does not exist any longer. A positive punishment that can be used with dogs is a water gun. This is a good example since it is harmless than other methods such as a shock collar that will cause pain to the dog. Continuing on with the example of the dog and the water gun, if the dog is outside and every time it goes into the owner’s house it gets the floor dirty and just make a mess everyone, the owner can use the water gun to spray the dog. However, just spraying alone will not be any use. Therefore, using verbal words and saying “no” as the dog comes in the house and leading the dog back outside will be a start to the decrease of the behavior. Reinforcement must be used because the punishment will not be effective. After doing this repetitiously, the dog may see the owner with the water gun and not even come into the house because it will know what will happen. (3)***.This is a good example of positive punishment that can be used on dogs as house pets.

To further explain the difference or the types of punishment, two more examples of positive and negative punishment will be given. A positive punishment is the use of time out. This is used in school and home by removing the misbehaving child from the positive environment in order to be placed in isolation (1)***. This happens at school because the child is causing problems with another student or being disruptive. Using time out whenever the child falls out of place, the stimulus (the punisher) must use a firm voice after a warning or two so the child is aware that you mean business. If the adult shows fear or starts to yell, then the time out is a waste of time and it will be used ineffectively (4)***. From using this form of punishment, the child is allowed to think about their actions and the consequences of their actions. Again, the adult who is dealing with the child should be calm and not loud. With this in mind, firm kindness and setting an example for the child is the goal of time out. The child is also learning how to decrease his or her behavior and think before acting in order to not repeat the bad behavior. The parent should keep in mine the location of where the child will be placed when in time out because active play should not be acceptable in this use of discipline. It is said to put the child in time out per minute of the child’s age (5)***. A negative punishment that deals with negative reinforcement is someone driving in heavy traffic trying to go to work or school. This is a negative punishment because it is being reinforced by the effort of avoiding traffic. However, you decide to leave home a lot earlier to avoid traffic because you want to make it one time for whatever is going on with at school or work. You try to go around the consequences of being late and stuck in traffic because you did not learn from your lesson from the day before on not leaving on early to make sure you are on time (6)***. This negative punishment is being reinforced by you avoiding the heavy traffic. We all know what the traffic is like in Memphis. So to these two are examples of two types of punishments.

In a previous class, I wrote on the topic of spanking in the form of punishment and the issues of physical punishment. Spanking can be considered positive punishment because the parent is teaching the child not to misbehave. At most times there is no reinforcement when the child is get spanked or beaten. The parent may just have the excuse of spanking a child because of anger or because they feel that they really need one for unjust causes. Also this is not an effective punishment because the child will get adapted to the parent spanking him or her and just keep misbehaving. That could lead to three or more spankings in one day (8)***. On the other hand, it can also be negative because the child will learn how to be afraid of the parent or fear the adult since he or she may know what the consequence may be if this is unacceptable conduct either at home or at school. Also it depends on how often the child is spanked in order to consider this as true discipline (7)***. Reinforcing the spanking with a firm voice will allow the child to know that the parent is the boss and that they mean what they say and they should do what they say. Either the child will obey or they will get spanked. It is the child’s choice of good or bad (9)***. This is a parent that uses authoritative parenting style. Spanking can go both ways of either type of punishment.

I remember when I was younger, not exactly, per se, but I remember getting punished. I got punished, mostly likely in the form of getting a beaten with the belt or grounded from my unacceptable behavior and a few grads here and there. The punishment was very effective because I learned my lesson and did my best to behave so that I will get the TV or computer taken away from me. I certainly did not want to get hit with the belt. The punishment affected me short and long term because I either learned the lesson or kept misbehaving or I continue to be on the right track of doing good in class and at home. Now from reflecting back on the punishment, I realized that my mother was only teaching me a lesson because she was the only parent in my life.


  1. King, Laura A. The Science of Psychology.***
  2. http://www.drlinden.net/CBTLEC10.pdf***
  3. http://www.dogmanners.com/punishment.html***
  4. http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/parenting_tips/discipline/time_out.html**
  5. http://www.kidsbehaviour.co.uk/UsingTimeOutAsPunishment.html***
  6. http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/proj/nru/nr.html***
  7. http://www.apa.org/releases/spanking.html***
  8. http://www.naturalfamilyonline.com/5-ap/45-spanking-child.htm***
  9. http://earlychildhood.suite101.com/article.cfm/spanking_pros***


  • Teachers expect to be listened to by students and parents. They are trained to teach. There are also people who study and learn the way that different discipline strategies affect children. There are so very many credible pediatric organizations that say without a doubt that corporal punishment damages children.

    My question is: Why are these professionals in their field (of child development) ignored?

  • Anonymous,

    Most people may think they know how to raise a child and sometimes there are some good parents. However, there are some that are will not listen the professionals since it is their child own child that they are raising and not the professionals'. Also, these professionals may be ignored because the parents always punish their child in a specific way and it tens to work or at least work for the parents. Think about the show Nanny 911.