PUNISHMENT

PROBLEMS AND 
NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS


 
It has been clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that punishment can very effectively be used to control behavior.  So, why do behaviorists usually warn against using it?  Simply because we can almost always control behavior just as effectively by using reinforcement as by using punishment, and without having to put up with the problems and negative side effects of punishment.  If we wish to stop a behavior that is already occurring, we can usually do so by simply eliminating the reinforcement for the behavior a process we call extinction.

The following is only a partial list of the problems and negative side effects resulting from the use of punishment to control behavior.  Others could easily be added.

The following most directly apply to corporal punishment, but should also be considered when contemplating other forms of punishment.


 
1.  PUNISHMENT OFTEN FAILS TO STOP, AND CAN EVEN INCREASE THE OCCURRENCE OF, THE UNDESIRED RESPONSE.
Since attention is one of the most potent rewards available, and since it is difficult to punish without paying attention to the offender, punishing may serve more as a reward than as a punishment.
2.  PUNISHMENT AROUSES STRONG EMOTIONAL RESPONSES THAT MAY GENERALIZE.
Once the strong emotional responses are aroused the degree and direction of generalization is largely uncontrollable.  The result may be excessive anxiety, apprehension, guilt, and self-punishment.
3.  USING PUNISHMENT MODELS AGGRESSION.
The meaning of "social power is exemplified.
4.  INTERNAL CONTROL OF BEHAVIOR IS NOT LEARNED.
The offender may learn to inhibit the punished response during surveillance, but once surveillance ends there is no internal control mechanism to continue inhibiting the behavior.
5.  PUNISHMENT CAN EASILY BECOME ABUSE.
Most parents who abuse children do not intend to do the damage they inflict.  Most of the damage and injury occurs when the parent loses control, and goes beyond the boundaries of reasonable behavior.
6.  PAIN IS STRONGLY ASSOCIATED WITH AGGRESSION.
The pain of punishment often leads to a display of aggression against either the source of the pain or, in some cases, an innocent scapegoat.
7 PUNISHMENT WORKS BEST WHEN IT OCCURS EVERY TIME.
While reward works best when given on an intermittent basis, punishment works best when a continuous basis.  The degree of vigilance required to constantly monitor behavior so that every occurrence of the undesired behavior can be punished is rarely possible.  The undesired behavior is, therefore, intermittently reinforced when it is not punished, and the behavior continues.