What is Positive Punishment? Theory, Examples & Practices

Table of Contents
Positive Punishment

If this is the first time you are coming across the phrase ‘positive punishment,’ it might sound oxymoronic. The idea of punishment involves feelings of distress, embarrassment, or consequences for doing something bad.

On the other hand, the concept of ‘positive’ involves something good, flourishing, and beneficial. So, it is understandable to ask how the two completely opposing terms got together.

Contrary to the commonly accepted meaning of the word ‘positive,” it has a slight modification in the context of positive punishment.

In positive psychology, it is used to indicate behavioral modification, i.e., something is added to a certain behavior to exert a change that will provoke unpleasant consequences.

This is what we are going to discuss in this article, the advantages and disadvantages of positive punishment, how to implement it in different social circumstances, and how to implement it in your daily life.

Some examples of positive reinforcement include praise, recognition, food, and treats. Positive punishment in sports involves measures that add negative consequences for the team or the player.

Such examples are the red or yellow card in football, added scores in golf that increase the handicap, and playing overtime in various sports when teams or players draw the score.

Positive punishment, when implemented adequately, discourages the behavior and teaches that when repeated, it will deliver the same consequences.

What is Positive Punishment?

The concept of positive punishment refers to the idea of adding an effect to a specific behavior to produce discouragement and complete disengagement in repeating it.

The term ‘positive’ refers to the added consequence of a given action. For instance, if you eat bad food, you’ll get sick, or if you disobey traffic rules, you’ll get fined,i.e., the ‘result’ of the misdemeanor leads to positive punishment.

Positive punishment represents one of the four methods that lead to behavior change. These were introduced by Skinner (1971) in his theory of operant conditioning. The four types include:

The core purposes of these methods are the following:

  • To discourage (punish) or encourage (reinforce) certain behavior.
  • To add something (positive) or to remove something (negative) that leads to behavior change.

Positive Punishment and Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory

Skinner was a behaviorist who developed the theory of operant conditioning (1971). Since he firmly believed that nurture, i.e., external factors affect people’s behavior, he conducted various experiments in his attempt to offer a model that explains why and how people behave under certain circumstances.

He wanted to prove that Pavlov’s theory on classical conditioning (the predominant theory of that time) did not offer a detailed explanation of complex behavior tendencies.

The Operant Conditioning Theory rests upon the idea that when a behavior is rewarded, it tends to be repeated, when it is punished, it is discouraged.

Behaviorists firmly believe that humans (and even some animals) behave based on the input and the influence they get from the environment where they reside.

He defined four possible alternatives that result in a behavior change and deliver different outcomes.

  • Positive Punishment – When you introduce an unpleasant consequence that happens as a result of unwanted behavior with the intention to prevent that behavior from happening again.
  • Negative Punishment – Unlike positive punishment, when you add a consequence, negative punishment involves removing or taking away something that is likely to discourage negative behavior.
  • Positive Reinforcement: It differs from the positive punishment by the expected outcome. While the result of the positive punishment is to discourage behaviors from reoccurring, positive reinforcement is given to encourage certain behaviors to happen again.
  • Negative Reinforcement: With negative reinforcement, it is still expected that the behavior will continue by taking out something from the mix.

Examples of Positive Punishment

Consciously or subconsciously, we all use or are subject to positive punishment in our daily lives. Think about the following situations:

  • Parents of small children often lose their temper when their kids throw tantrums or behave badly. The most common reaction (although the least effective) is to yell or shout to the child to calm down.
  • Punishing the child by adding extra tasks to do or double the homework.
  • Adding more chores to teenage children who failed to get home on time.
  • Getting a speed ticket when going over the speed limit.
  • Being forced to do overtime because you were late for work.

All these are examples of positive punishment, i.e., there are added consequences that are aimed to prevent the behavior from happening again.

Despite the fact that positive punishment is a purposeful action administered by another person, there are also examples of when it happens naturally (the pain you get when you accidentally touch a hot stove).

When Is Positive Punishment Most Effective?

There are multiple beneficial effects of positive punishment, even though the term ‘punishment’ is often associated with negative outcomes.

However, in operant conditioning, it simply means discouragement to do something by using added stimuli like scolding, hand grabbing, extra work, or writing.

Of course, experiencing them involves feelings of intimidation, embarrassment, frustration, and even pain. Anyway, these strong emotions do play the role of bad-behavior prevention and have the following outcomes:

  • The child/person gets the message, i.e., understands that his/her behavior is unacceptable.
  • The punishment serves as an indication that there are consequences that will adversely affect the person. This implies that any possible reoccurrence of the behavior will result in similar consequences.
  • Positive punishment creates a model of how a person should behave in a given environment.

However, no matter how effective positive punishment might be, it should have controlled use, which will not create an opposite effect.

Therefore, whoever administers positive punishment (parents, teachers, caregivers) needs to be aware that preventing a behavior from happening occurs only in combination with reinforcement and explanation of its importance.

Having said that, it would be very effective if you administered positive punishment while offering a valuable lesson to learn.

Since there’s a possibility for children to forget the consequences when the punishment is no longer implemented, they need to have an alternative model of a desirable behavior so that they suppress the one that is not desirable.

Those forms of punishment like slapping, spanking, or verbal aggression might backfire and make the children more violent in the future.

Numerous studies have shown that physical aggression can cause inner frustration, fear, and resentfulness that produce emotionally unstable and insecure adults.

Plus, if the child develops overly expressed fear, he/she might withdraw and become socially isolated.

Therefore, the ideal way to use punishment is in combination with reinforcement and providing a model behavior.

Positive Punishment for Kids

Many parents feel utterly perplexed when they have to deal with repetitive children’s misdemeanors. We have already discussed that physical punishment is not advisable, but positive punishment is far from physical.

The following punishment tactics (James Lehman) can be used when disciplining children:

  1. Introduce consequences that teach children a valuable lesson – when children behave impolitely or aggressively, don’t snap or yell. When they calm down, try to make them realize the consequences by writing an essay about the effects of being rude or learning new techniques for anger management or good manners.
  2. Be precise about the consequences – When you explain to your child that one action leads to very specific consequences, then make those consequences happen regardless of how the child feels. That way, he/she might be reluctant to repeat the unwanted behavior.
  3. Problem-solving discussions should be part of your conversation – Discussing the issue can be overwhelming, and your child might feel as if he/she is being punished. Yet, while reprimanding the child, offer to discuss future consequences if the behavior is repeated. For a teenager breaking curfew, discuss the options he/she has when doing so.
  4. Stay consistent with what you’ve said – Many parents warn their children about the consequences, and when they need to implement positive punishment, they become too empathetic and emotional. What they do is give their children a tool for manipulation and disrespect of the rules.
  5. Get your child to think about and suggest consequences –  Nobody wants positive punishment. Still, when you engage your kids to create the consequences, they feel like having control over their model of better behavior.
  6. Don’t belittle your children when they behave badly – Showing sarcasm or disdain when your children repeat the negative behavior can cause the opposite effect. The point of positive punishment is to teach them to behave well, not make them feel less worthy.

Positive Punishment in the Classroom

There are numerous ways positive punishment is used in the classroom, without even being aware of it. Some of the examples include:

Cleaning the classroom – Most of us have witnessed this measure implemented over and over again. When a student is caught throwing paper or other garbage all over the classroom, the teacher can order the student to clean the classroom thoroughly to understand what it takes to clean the classroom.

Detention – This measure is often implemented when students break classroom or school rules, such as verbal insults, fights, and texting during classes. It is believed that students will have time to think about their behavior and understand the consequences.

Doing extra school work – If a student misbehaves in class, the teacher can punish the student by making him double the school work.

Yet, teachers need to be aware that positive punishment might not be efficient if it embarrasses the student in front of peers. Since peer pressure for many students can be overwhelming, it will just make him/her more hostile and reserved if the student feels dishonored.

Therefore, it is recommended that teachers combine positive punishment with positive reinforcement.

What are positive punishment examples in sports?

Positive punishment in sports involves measures that add negative consequences for the team or the player. Such examples are the red or yellow card in football, added scores in golf that increase the handicap, and playing overtime in various sports when teams or players draw the score.

What is positive punishment for exercising?

As positive punishment involves adding something to the mix, exercising means doing more exercises, and adding more workouts or programs than the ones already included in the ongoing training session.

Positive Punishment vs. Positive Reinforcement

The difference between the two is quite straightforward. Positive punishment discourages behavior from happening, while positive reinforcement encourages good behavior.

In other words, when a child does something inappropriate, you add something to it to discourage the behavior from happening. That is positive punishment.

Positive reinforcement encourages the behavior by adding something to it. For instance, when a child behaves well while shopping, the parents could offer a small reward such as ice cream or a toy to reinforce that behavior.

Positive reinforcement sends a message that the behavior the child exhibited is acceptable and appreciated.

Positive Punishment Vs. Negative Reinforcement

While positive reinforcement means adding something to the mix to encourage behavior, negative reinforcement means removing something unfavorable to promote good behavior.

We already know that positive punishment involves adding stimuli so that unwanted behavior is not repeated. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, means taking away stimuli that are not wanted.

For example, if a teenager comes home late, he/she might not be allowed to go out for a week. That is positive punishment. When detention is removed, that is negative reinforcement.

Pros and Cons of Positive Punishment

Despite the negative reference to the concept of punishment, as we realize, its purpose is to discourage negative behavior. This means when used adequately, it can produce important effects, such as:

  • The child gets the idea that his behavior is not acceptable and understands that it can’t be tolerated in the future.
  • The child associates the punishment with the behavior, and hopefully he/she won’t repeat it.
  • The child has a reason to behave properly because he/she knows the consequences.

You have already realized that positive punishment is not the ideal method, and it has some downsides as well, such as:

  • The punishment doesn’t make the child forget the behavior. It just suppresses it, so the behavior will likely be repeated.
  • If positive punishment involves aggression, it can backfire and make the child solve problems similarly.
  • It can be the cause of certain types of fears and even phobias (depending on the intensity of the punishment).
  • It doesn’t teach the child what the desired behavior is, but it rather points to the unwanted behavior.
Your test result:
In less than 15 min, discover what you are great at using our science-backed strengths assessment.
Blog Feedback
Not at all Likely Extremely Likely
Join +3 million people from leading companies in discovering what they are naturally great at