Monday, June 12, 2017

Theories of Punishment

Theories of Punishment

There are many theories of punishment. However, on page 374 of "Introduction to Learning and Behavior" by Russell A. Powell, P. Lynne Honey, and Diane G. Symbaluk state research to investigate the effectiveness of punishment has been great but attention to developing and testing theories of punishment have been minimal. 

One theory is the Conditioned Suppression Theory. The theory is based on early work by Skinner in the year of 1938. It was discovered by Skinner that punishment can stop a behavior but the behavior resumes when the punishment is withdrawn. This is sort of a dichotomy since the punishment in the first place was to stop a certain behavior. 

Skinner considered this: punishment typically generates a emotional response. This suppresses any kind of ongoing appetitive behavior. Furthermore, take a rat for example; when a rat is given a shock when it presses a lever, for food, it becomes upset and it does not continue to press the lever. 

As the book states, "when the rat is shocked for pressing a lever that produces food, it becomes upset that it loses interest in the food and therefore does not press the lever to obtain it. If however the shock is withdrawn the rat resumes lever pressing as soon as it calms down enough for its interest in food to be revived (Powell, Honey, and Symbaluk 374)." 

An analogy in for contrast purposes is that if Tyler stops teasing his sister, when he told not to, it is because he is upset and does not have time to pay attention to her. Thus as the book clearly states, the conditioned suppression theory of punishment states punishment does not weaken behavior but produces an emotional response that interferes with the occurrence of a behavior. 

What was interesting was that Skinner found this conclusion: punishment is ineffective to produce a lasting behavior. Interestingly, Skinner's experiment did not use a punishment that was strong because he utilized a device that slapped the rat on its' paw when attempting to press the lever. Subsequent research, although it is a form of torture and cruelty, reveals that more stronger forms of punishment are found to be effective. A form is using strong electric shocks will be capable to suppress behavior for a longer amount of time as stated by Azrin and Holz in the year of 1966 in "Introduction to Learning and Behavior." This was stated on page 374 of this book as well. 

Another theory is the Avoidance Theory of Punishment. You'll be pleased to notice that punishment involves avoidance conditioning, which the response of avoidance consists any behavior other than the behavior that is to be punished. This was stated by Dinsmoor in the year of 1954 according to our book "Introduction to Learning and Behavior." In other words, as the book states, when a behavior like jumping over the fence is strengthened according to a form of shock avoidance in an avoidance situation, then the behavior of doing "anything other than lever pressing" is reinforced by shock avoidance in a punishment of lever pressing situation. 

Reference: Powell, R. A., Honey, P. L., & Symbaluk, D. G. (2017). Introduction to learning and behavior. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Posted for Ramanpreet Kaur


  1. This was a very factual and detailed post. I did enjoy hearing about the specific types of punishments. The one I found most interesting was the last one, avoidance theory of punishment. I never thought doing nothing would be something (if that makes sense). That part of the post made me more mindful that all actions or no actions have consequences. Skinner and friends knew that over 50 years ago. This blog post was very informative and interesting!

  2. Thank you Madison. I liked how you can see that I went into detail with this post. It took me quite a while to decide on a topic to write about but when I read the section of punishments, I just had to write about it. We all as children have been punished unnecessarily and I had to read on it. It was very interesting for me too and I hoped to show that in my post. Glad you really liked it. It means a lot to see someone appreciating your hard work. I hope you well with life and in class.

  3. My most interesting thing I found was that punishment doesn't help us create a lasting effect. We think if we punish someone, like let us say a child for speaking disrespectfully, the behavior will die. However, as soon as the punishment period is over, the child will resume.

    It is in the best interest to make a child understand why the behavior is wrong and try to take small steps to implement gradual change over time. Of course, maturity plays a key role in this.

  4. Thank you once again. I appreciate your comment. I look forward to hearing more from you and I hope to comment on other students posts. These posts are so interesting to talk about. Best of luck!

    And thank you once more. I love to hear from people and get their take. That is communication - hoping to allude to another of our theories in Psychology and showing the importance of communication that we ourselves are showing through this class, discussion post, and website Professor Berg has so brilliantly managed to create for all of us.

  5. I always find the topic of punishment very interesting. As a adult now, I think that punishment isn't as helpful as parents may think. I agree with Skinner that after punishment the behavior resumes and now the child may resent the parent. Instead, I think parents should communicate with their kids and raise them accordingly. Children need consistency and good exemplars, you can not tell the child one thing and do another, expecting the child to just know. This can do more harm than good, such as creating anxiety for the child, not knowing what to response to expect from their parents.

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