Positive and Negative Punishment Essay

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Positive and Negative Punishment

Because of their use related to value judgments, the terms “positive” and “negative” are frequently misconstrued. In the social sciences, the use of “positive” and “negative” often refer to the presence or absence of a variable, respectively. Thus, positive punishment refers to the introduction of a stimulus and negative punishment refers to the removal of a stimulus. Both positive and negative forms of punishment purportedly achieve the same goal of behavioral change: specifically the extinguishing of an undesirable behavior.

Positive punishment refers to the introduction of some adverse or uncomfortable stimulus. The subject chooses either to endure the stimulus and continue the behavior or to avoid the stimulus by ceasing the behavior. With negative punishment, something perceived of as pleasurable is removed or taken away. The subject chooses either to adapt to the absence of the pleasant variable or extinguishes a behavior in order to retrieve the desired stimulus. In both cases, the individual experiences some kind of pain or discomfort due to the presence or absence of a variable.

Both positive and negative punishment have the potential to be effective, when the element that is being introduced or taken away evokes a significant enough response in the subject. Circumstances and individual differences are more important than whether to use one type of punishment or another. Furthermore, it is possible to use both positive and negative punishments concurrently to motivate a desired change in behavior.

Positive Punishment: Examples

Verbal Reprimand

Verbal reprimand is of the most common types of positive punishment. For verbal reprimand to work, the subject must respect the individual or group issuing the reprimand. Only if the child or adult subject cares what the other party thinks or how they will react will the person feel discomfort and perceive the reprimand as a punishment. Verbal reprimand functions as a positive punishment in several ways. First, a verbal reprimand can be repetitive, as with nagging. To cease the nagging, the subject may stop the undesirable behavior. Second, a verbal reprimand can disrupt the relationship. To return to a happy, harmonious relationship, the subject may stop the undesurable behavior. Third, a verbal reprimand might convey feelings of pain or being hurt, triggering compassion, empathy, and guilt. Out of genuine love or altruism, the subject might cease the undesirable behavior. Fourth, a verbal reprimand could be issued in public, resulting…

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…negative punishment. The child is told that until he or she cleans the room, there will be no technology use at all including the use of mobile phones. Children who rarely use technology might not respond well to this type of negative punishment, but those who do value their games or their social media may quickly clean their room in order to get back their technology privileges. Removing technology privileges is a type of negative punishment that some telecommunications companies use with their customers. For example, a telecommunications company might have a policy of reducing bandwidth speed sharply if the person goes over a certain number of downloads per month. The resulting slow speeds is enough to motivate the customer to avoid downloading massive amounts of digital content.


The effectiveness of both positive and negative punishment depends on the subject’s personal preferences and situational variables. Both positive and negative punishment aim to extinguish an undesirable habit or behavior, rather than to inculcate a desired behavior. To inculcate a desired behavior, positive or negative reinforcement would be used. Punishment does not necessarily have to be punitive to be negative. Both positive and negative punishment by definition involve feelings of…

Sources Used in Document:


Kahan, D.M. (1998). Punishment incommensurability. Criminal Law Review 691(1997-1998).

Reed, C.G. & Godden, A.L. (1977). An experimental treatment using verbal punishment with two preschool stutterers. Journal of Fluency Disorders 2(3): 225-233.

Williams, K.D., Shore, W.J. & Grahe, J.E. (1998). The silent treatment. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 1(2): 117-141.

Wright, C.N. & Roloff, M.E. (2009). Relational committment and the silent treatment. Communication Research Reports 26(1): 12-21.

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