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Positive Punishment and its impact On Our Everyday Life

Positive Punishment and its impact On Our Everyday Life

Updated on May 16, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Positive Punishment - Meaning, Examples, Technique, Impact & More

Key Takeaways

  • Positive punishment aims to discourage negative behavior by adding an unpleasant consequence.
  • Positive punishment helps in behavior modification.
  • It helps to promote good behavior and impede undesirable behavior.
  • The concept was first made popular in psychology by B. F. Skinner.
  • Positive punishment attempts to reduce undesirable behavior by introducing a painful or unpleasant stimulus.

The term positive punishment can sound weird and absurd to many because we know that punishments are always unpleasant and annoying. 

This makes the concept contradictory and a matter of debate and discussion in our daily lives.

This type of punishment aims to introduce aversive stimuli to curb undesirable behavior. The goal is to reduce the future occurrence of such behavior. 

This concept was first used by B.F Skinner in his classic theory of Operant Conditioning.

Positive punishment may work well if it is used with negative reinforcement. The chances are that the undesirable behavior will be eliminated forever.

Let’s learn more about this topic here:

Positive punishment – meaning

Positive punishment refers to the addition of unpleasant stimuli to curb or deter an undesirable action or behavior. The negative consequence when added to the undesirable behavior helps to reduce its future occurrences.

Positive punishment is a phenomenon in which an unwanted behavior is followed by an aversive stimulus that either reduces the undesirable behavior or completely stops its future occurrence.

The concept of positive punishment is actually related to the principle of operant conditioning.

The American psychologist B.F Skinner first introduced the theory of operant conditioning in 1937. 

Operant conditioning is a type of learning process in which a behavior is followed by a consequence. 

The nature of the consequence determines whether the organism repeats that behavior in the future or not.

Let us look at an example. Suppose a child is good at playing the harmonica.

If people applaud him for it, this motivates him to further improve his skills. This is a case of positive reinforcement supporting good behavior.

On the other hand, suppose the child does not play well one day. His teacher or other people around reprimand him for not playing well.

This may negatively affect the child and he may never want to play the piano again. This is an example of negative reinforcement.

Operant conditioning can be divided into three broad categories – reinforcement (positive and negative), punishment (positive and negative), and extinction.

What is punishment?

For now, let us talk only about punishment.

Punishment can be defined as the addition of an aversive stimulus, or removal of a positive stimulus. It aims to curb negative behavior.

It is important to remember that a punishment neither strengthens nor weakens the response that follows it. 

This is what makes a punishment different from reinforcement. We shall elaborate on this in later sections.

Punishment can have one or more of the following effects:

  1. It can suppress behavior.
  2. Punishment can condition a negative feeling.
  3. It may spread the effects of that negative feeling.

If we look at the types of punishment, we can divide them into two types: positive and negative.

Positive punishment involves adding an aversive stimulus to a situation or action.

Now, the reader may be confused by the term “positive punishment.” How can a punishment be positive? You’re also thinking in similar ways. Right?

Well, the punishment itself is not actually positive. The word “positive” is used here to denote the act of “adding” an aversive or negative stimulus.


Let us now look at an example of positive punishment. Suppose a child is talking too much during class and disturbing the class.

Then, the teacher might ask the child to stay back after school and write a hundred times on the blackboard that he will not talk in class. 

This is an example of positive punishment. The act of writing on the board is a negative stimulus.

Positive punishment can be used to change undesirable behavior in children, adults, and even animals! 

In fact, positive punishment is one of the most common techniques that dog trainers employ to train dogs for various purposes.

The psychology of positive punishment

We normally associate punishment with a negative consequence. But in the field of psychology, it may have good effects as well.

Many scientists and psychologists have conducted research to understand the importance of positive punishment.

Research shows that punishment is an integral part of the learning process in every individual’s childhood. It can help to teach a child the relation between an action and its consequences.

Many things that we learn in our lives can be attributed to natural punishment.

Now, what is a natural punishment?

Well, so far, we have talked about positive punishment. We have also provided an example of positive punishment in the previous section.

As discussed before, positive punishment works by presenting an aversive stimulus to a situation. When this stimulus is added naturally, we can call that a natural punishment.

How do punishments change behavior?

Now let us look at an example of natural punishment. If we touch a hot stove, our hand gets burnt. In this case, the burn on the hand is a negative stimulus.

Children can also learn a lot about social norms and values from an early age through positive punishment. 

Parents often administer positive punishment in small doses to children in order to decrease bad behavior. This can help the child learn important concepts like morality and ethics. 

Positive punishment is also closely related to the “control theory” as defined in sociology. 

According to this theory, every individual has criminal urges inside them. For example, the majority of people believe that it is easier to steal money than work hard for it.

However, not every person around us actually goes to the bank to steal money. This is because the act of stealing is a socially accepted crime and is met by punishment.

This punishment is usually a jail sentence. So, this equates to the addition of a negative stimulus, i.e., a positive punishment.

The idea behind this is that, after the thief faces positive punishment, he will not repeat his actions again.

Positive punishment – a type of operant conditioning

We already mentioned in the previous section that positive punishment was a part of the operant conditioning theory proposed by the American psychologist BF Skinner. 

But Skinner explicitly mentioned that positive punishment is not the only way of behavior modification.

Skinner said that when adding an aversive stimulus after an unwanted behavior, we should also take into account other factors like the individual’s feelings or motivations. 

A combination of these factors helps to determine whether the punishment can be effective or not.

In 2008, a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham conducted a study to determine the long-term benefits of punishment in a group environment. 

They found that punishment helped to increase the coordination and cooperation among members of the group.

Positive punishment examples

In this section, we will have a look at some examples of positive punishment.

As you read through this, you will realize that you have probably witnessed or faced these punishments yourself in your daily life, without knowing!

Example 1 – disciplining the child and developing good habits

Let us start with a simple example. Suppose a child has broken an expensive vase while playing around in the house. 

His mother may shout at him or beat him. This is nothing but a case of positive punishment.

Alternatively, if a child keeps playing video games after a certain allotted time, his mother may ask him to do additional household chores like cleaning his room.

This is also another example of positive punishment.

Or imagine a scenario when the mother asks a child to study something. She then leaves his room.

When she comes back after some time, she sees that the boy or girl is not studying. Instead, he or she is playing with their cell phone. 

The mother will scold the child and may even slap or spank them. This example shows an instance of positive punishment.

Or suppose a child loses his water bottle in school. When he comes home and tells his mother about it, she might get angry and might spank the child. This is also a case of positive punishment.

Note that it is not always advisable to apply positive punishment. Researchers often debate whether giving physical punishment to children is good or bad. 

We shall discuss this in detail later. For now, let us look at some more examples of positive punishment in our daily lives.

We cited an example of natural punishment earlier.

In another instance, suppose a child is playing with a sharp object like a knife or a pair of scissors, without understanding what it is. He or she might get injured while playing.

This serves as a natural punishment for the child. He or she will think twice before playing with the knife or scissors again.

Example 2 – disciplining teen behavior

Let us think of a situation involving a teenager. Suppose a teen comes home late at night after partying. 

His parents may ground him, and not let him go out anywhere for a week. This is a classic example of positive punishment.

Not allowing the teen to go out acted as a negative consequence for their late comebacks all the time.

Example 3 – adult behavior modification

Examples of positive punishment can be found in the case of adults as well. Have you ever parked your vehicle in a no-parking zone? 

Or, have you ever used a motorcycle without a helmet? Did you ever cross the speed limit of your car?

In all these cases, you would have to pay a hefty fine. It is more than likely that this would discourage you from repeating the same actions again.

Sometimes we may also need to pay a late fee if we fail to pay the electricity bill or house rent on time. These are also examples of positive punishment.

Example 4 – training animals

An example of positive punishment in the case of animals can be whipping horses to make them run faster. Positive punishment is used in training dogs, horses, and other pet animals.

Examples of positive punishment in everyday life

Positive punishment is a method used in Operant conditioning to remove unwanted behavior and replace them with positive ones. 

We can have ample examples from daily life incidents where positive punishment was functional. 

  • A child may be punished for his/her misbehavior by a parent. The parent may take away their favorite toy and not return it for a few days, just to teach the child how to unlearn the unwanted behavior.
  • When kids fight in school, they get a suspension order from school for two weeks.
  • A latecomer employee gets a verbal reprimand from the boss.
  • If you disobey traffic rules, you will have to pay a fine for your misconduct.
  • The teacher can send a talkative child to the principal’s office for misconduct in the classroom.
  • A dog trainer may not give food to the dog until he learns the tricks of fetching a ball in the right manner.
  • A teacher can punish a student for not doing classwork on time. The child will be given more work to be finished after school hours.
  • Yelling at a child who misbehaves in class.

10 techniques of positive punishment

Positive punishment can be an effective way to instill desired behavior in a child.

Now how do you enforce positive punishment on your child? Well, several techniques of positive punishments are there. Let us elaborate on a few of them in this section. 

We should, however, keep one thing in mind. We should make sure that the severity of the punishment matches the level of the unwanted behavior.

Researchers always advise parents to avoid sterner and stricter punishments on the child, as these may have a long-lasting negative impact on the child’s mental health. 

We shall discuss this issue later in the article.

For now, let us look at ten techniques of positive punishment that can be applied to children:

1. Scolding

This is the most common type of positive punishment technique that parents or teachers use on children. 

Scolding can be private or public. When a child does mischief at home and his mother scolds him for it, that is an example of private scolding. 

Alternately, if a child wastes food while at a restaurant, his mother would scold him then and there, in front of everyone at the restaurant. 

This is a case of public scolding. It is worth mentioning here that according to many psychologists, public scolding often leaves a negative impact on the child.

2. Spanking

This is also a very popular form of punishment.

According to research, as many as 70% of Americans believe that spanking is a necessary step while raising a child. However, many psychologists contradict this thought.

3. Marker system

This method actually involves a combination of positive punishment with positive reinforcement. This technique is often used in schools. 

If a child does mischief like fighting with someone or talking during class, a mark is put against his name on the blackboard. Repetition of the behavior results in the addition of more such marks. 

However, if the child does a good job like getting a good grade on a test, one mark is taken away. At the end of a certain period, if the child has no marks against his name, he is rewarded.

4. Time-out

This refers to the instance of removing a child from the place where he has committed the undesired behavior.

Suppose two siblings are fighting over their favorite toy, and one of them hits the other.

The mother removes the troublemaker and sends him to the corner of the room, where he has to sit and stare at the wall for a certain time. 

The duration of the time-out would depend on the severity of the action.

5. Writing sentences

This is a technique that is often used in the school environment. 

If a child talks in class, he or she may be asked to stay back in detention and write on the blackboard a hundred times that they will not talk in class.

6. Extra chores

Many parents often make a child do household chores as a means of punishment. This is also a form of “positive parenting.”

It has multiple benefits such as keeping the child engaged in some fruitful activity, making the child learn important life skills, and also forging a parent-child bond if they are doing the task together.

7. Grounding

Psychologists often debate whether the grounding is a positive punishment or a negative one. However, it can be both, depending on the specific situation. 

If a parent restricts a child to the house and does not let him go out anywhere, this is a case of grounding as a positive punishment. 

This is because a restriction is being added. However, if the parents do not let the child go to a party and thus restrict him at home, then this becomes a case of negative punishment.

8. “Early to bed”

Many parents may often force a child to go to bed early when they are showing unruly behavior. 

For example, if a child is engaged in playing video games or watching cartoons on his phone even during bedtime, then the mother can apply this form of positive punishment. 

This also helps in developing a healthy sleep pattern in the child.

9. Extra study time

If a child does not finish his assigned studies or does not complete his homework on time, his mother might make him study for extra hours than usual.

10. Natural consequence 

This is the best form of positive punishment as it helps provide important life lessons.

We have already provided a couple of examples of natural consequences or natural punishment in earlier sections. 

Another instance can be, suppose a child does not wear woolen clothes in the winter and consequently, he catches a cold.

Next time onwards, he would be more careful and wear appropriate winter clothing.

Positive punishment vs. Negative reinforcement 

People often get confused by these two terms –reinforcement and punishment. But there exists a fine line of difference between the two.

If we consider examples from everyday life, we can get a simple idea about the meanings of the two above-mentioned terms.

Reinforcement refers to giving positive feedback or rewards to strengthen a behavior.

For example, a mother praising a child for doing arithmetic sums correctly by giving chocolates is an example of reinforcement. 

On the other hand, punishment refers to negative feedback or a penalty for doing something wrong. For example, a police officer may find a driver crossing the speed limit. 

Take a look at the following table to understand the basic difference between positive punishment and negative reinforcement.

Type of Operant ConditioningDefinitionExample
Positive PunishmentPositive punishment, as already mentioned earlier in this article, is the application of an aversive stimulus to modify an undesired behavior.If a child eats too many candies or chocolates, his mother will scold him. Here, the act of scolding is the addition of a negative stimulus. 
Negative ReinforcementNegative reinforcement refers to the removal of an aversive stimulus for increasing a behavior.Suppose a child does not like drinking milk. His mother tells him that if he agrees to eat enough vegetables for lunch, he will not have to drink milk in the morning. In this case, removal of the milk equates to taking away a negative stimulus. This would reinforce the habit of eating vegetables, which is healthy behavior.
positive punishment vs. negative reinforcement

Both these methods are usually employed to bring about a change in behavior. 

The main difference between both methods lies in the fact that positive punishment is often employed for rectifying bad behavior. 

On the contrary, negative reinforcement is employed to encourage good behavior.

Positive punishment vs. negative punishment 

As we have seen before in this article, punishment simply refers to an adverse consequence that either happens naturally or is made to occur by humans, as a result of unwanted behavior.

There are two types of punishment as elaborated in Operant Conditioning. These are positive and negative punishments. Each of them determines a change in response or behavior of the organism. 

 Let us try to understand the differences between them with the help of simple examples.

Positive PunishmentNegative Punishment
In this case, an adverse stimulus is added to the situation as a result of undesired behavior.In this case, something desirable is taken away from the situation as a result of unwanted behavior.
Suppose two siblings are fighting over who gets to play with their favorite toy. Their mother scolds both of them. The act of scolding is the adverse stimulus that is added to the situation.Let us take the same scenario of two siblings fighting over the toy. If the mother simply takes away the toy to make them stop fighting, this becomes a negative punishment.
Suppose a student takes his phone to school and is caught using it during class. He would likely be scolded and put in detention. The act of the teacher reprimanding him is an adverse stimulus.Let us again take the same example of the student using his phone during class. Suppose the teacher does not put him in detention. Instead, she takes away his phone and says that she will not return it unless he gets good grades in the exam. This is a case of negative punishment.
Association with physical punishment
One of the most common forms of positive punishment is scolding or spanking a child, which involves physical punishment. However, many psychologists do not approve of this as it may leave a negative impact on the child.While comparing the different parenting styles, psychologists consider negative punishment to be better as it does not involve physically hurting the child.
positive vs. negative punishment

Despite these differences, both positive and negative punishments are essentially similar in one aspect. 

They both can help restrict unwanted or undesired behavior, but they cannot help in the development of good behavior.

Guidelines for positive punishment with children

Positive punishments involve the use of an unpleasant stimulus to remove the unacceptable behavior. Thus, it doesn’t have to be physical punishment only.

It is a useful tool for parents. They can help their children learn moral values and what is right and what is not.

Positive punishment needs to be consistent and meaningful. It should make sense. 

The punishment should be age-appropriate and it should focus on behavior modification.

In no way, the punishment should appear abusive and unfriendly. Otherwise, it will cause more harm than do any good for the child.

The guidelines for positive punishments as given by James Lehman are as follows:

1. Meaningful consequences to be used – 

The unpleasant stimulus should be well related to the unwanted behavior. If you want your child to stop nail-biting, you may ask her to give away her favorite toys to neighborhood friends. 

Since she is very fond of her toys; she will immediately refrain from nail-biting.

2. Make the child understand the consequences clearly

You should make your child understand the reasons for punishment clearly. It means you need to tell them that the undesirable behavior A led to the negative consequence B. 

For example, giving extra household work to the child for his messy habits will make him understand the relationship between behavior and consequence.

3. Communicate other ways of problem-solving

Talk to your child about the other ways of learning appropriate behavior and resolving the issue. 

For example, if your teenage boy/girl wants to go for a night out with friends, you can ask them about alternative ways of having fun. 

Maybe, their friends can be called at home for a dinner get-together or having a game night at home, etc.

4. Avoid arguments over the punishment which is already been given

Do not argue with the child once you have given the punishment. Ignore their tantrums and apathy, if any. 

Just remember that you should not move away from your decision.

Otherwise, the child may think that they can emotionally manipulate you to get things done. In this way, positive punishments will lose their efficacy.

5. Make your child feel responsible for their unwanted behavior

Positive punishment will be worth it if you can teach your child how to own mistakes and modify their unwanted behavior in the right way. 

6. Avoid disgust, sarcasm, and bad mouth with the child

You need to realize that the aim of punishment is to alter the bad behaviors of the child. Do not humiliate and abuse their feelings. 

It can have a negative impact. The child may become more stubborn and angry-prone. The purpose is to teach the child in harmless ways, not to demean and insult them in any way.

Applying positive punishment to children in the classroom

We have previously talked about using positive punishment to correct the negative behavior of children at home. This is applicable in the school environment as well.

However, the major differentiating factor in the school environment is the presence of friends or peers. 

Punishing children in front of their friends can make them embarrassed, and ashamed, and may even affect their mental health in the long run.

So, positive punishment in the school environment should be used with much caution.

Teachers should keep in mind certain rules before giving positive punishment to the child.

  • It is advisable to pair positive punishment with positive reinforcement. This basically means that, alongside punishment for bad behavior, students also deserve rewards for good behavior.
  • Teachers must use less intense punishment techniques, and switch to intense ones only if the mild techniques are not working. For example, if a child talks excessively during class, do not put him in detention right away. First, scold him or make him sit away from his friends. If he still keeps talking, then he may be put in detention.
  • Teachers should not give such punishment which would hamper the student’s academic or social growth. For example, a teacher should not deduct marks from a student’s test as a means of punishment.
  • Teachers must make sure that the punishment they are imposing upon the child is accepted by the school authorities as well as the child’s parents. For example, no parent would want the teacher to physically hit their child.

The positive impact of punishments

From all the above examples, we can say that punishments are not always bad. If positive punishment can help a person unlearn bad habits and undesirable behavior, then nothing like it.

Positive punishments are given so that the behavior becomes less appealing and the person doesn’t repeat the maladaptive behavior again. 

Positive punishments have some benefits. They are as follows:

  • Punishment is a good way to make the child understand the differences between good and unwanted behaviors. They know what they are not supposed to do next time.
  • Positive punishments help the person to realize that every behavior is followed by a consequence. Thus, they can associate undesirable behavior with negative consequences.
  •  It helps to unlearn bad habits and socially unacceptable behaviors.
  • The person is given an opportunity to overcome the mistakes and learn the right ways of doing things.

The negative consequences of positive punishment

We have briefly mentioned in the previous sections that positive punishment can have unwanted side effects, especially in the case of children.

According to a US-based survey from 2014, as much as 37% of American children are spanked by their parents. 

The same survey found that spanking, hitting, or another physical punishment is directly related to childhood aggression and antisocial behavior.

Another study from 2016 supports the same ideas. Some parents might not know the line between punishment and abuse. 

This may cause permanent mental trauma for the child, in the form of fear and anxiety.

If positive punishment is not used in the right manner, then it can backfire. It causes defiant behavior. The child may become obstinate, aggressive, and emotionally intolerant.

Being punished in the school environment in front of friends and peers also has a long-term negative impact on the child’s mental health.

Thus, the downsides of positive punishments are:

  • The punished behavior is just suppressed for the time being. Since it is not forgotten, it might come back any moment. Thus, consistency in discipline is the key.
  • It can cause feelings of aggression and hostility if used in an abusive way.
  • Punishments can induce fear in timid and shy kids and they may suffer from anxiety and phobic responses.
  • Sometimes positive punishment may help the child only to unlearn the unwanted behavior. But it doesn’t teach the child the appropriate behaviors.

Thus, a healthy mix of positive reinforcement and positive punishment can do wonders in learning the best behaviors in various social situations. 

Examples of positive punishment in the workplace

Although positive punishment is primarily used to modify the behavior of children, it can be applied to adult individuals in the workplace as well.

For example, if an employee behaves rudely with the manager, he or she may be asked to write a formal letter of apology.

Or, if a sales employee makes a critical error that results in massive losses for the company, the supervisor may punish him by assigning him extra work.

Another example of this can be cited from the famous TV series, The Office

In an episode from season 2, when the employees complained to the higher authorities about inappropriate sexual remarks made by the regional manager Michael Scott.

He was made to undergo sensitivity training.

Let’s discuss a few examples in detail:

  • If an employee turns up late every day, the employer may give a verbal scolding to stop him from making the same mistake again. Here, verbal reprimands are used to stop the undesirable act of coming late to the office every day.
  • If you were caught by your boss chit-chatting during office hours, you may be asked to sit with extra work till late at night. Here, the extra work acts as an aversive stimulus pleasant behavior of wasting time during office hours.
  • Your employer may send you written warnings if you are showing a lack of adequate work performance.
  • Sometimes, new regulations are set for those employees who are lazy and don’t perform up to the mark in the office.

Critical synopsis of the model of positive punishment

Whether positive punishment is a good thing or bad depends on how it is applied.

In order for positive punishment to be successful, parents, teachers, or caregivers should keep the following things in mind:

  1. The punishment should be of an appropriate level matching the level of the unwanted behavior.
  2. The punishment should be given at an appropriate time.
  3. The child should not be demeaned or humiliated.

On the other hand, psychologists often criticize positive punishment, especially physical punishment like spanking. In extreme cases, this may lead to permanent mental trauma for the child.

The video link shared below shows the impact of positive punishment in daily lives. Do check out for your better understanding.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

To end the discussion, it can be said that the efficacy of positive punishment will depend on its correct usage and whether it could deter unwanted behavior.

It also aims to replace undesirable behaviors with more pleasant ones.

The process persuades the occurrence of good behavior by introducing a negative stimulus that can reduce the occurrence of unwanted behaviors.

Positive punishment is widely used in teaching-learning situations and workplace settings. If it is used in the right way, it’s a great tool to extinguish unwanted behaviors forever.

After all, mild positive punishments can do wonders to modify, change, and discourage behaviors that are not acceptable in society.

Article Sources


Did you know that a child may show possessiveness to the opposite sex parent and consider the same-sex parent as a rival? Well, it is called the Oedipus Complex & click on the link to know all about it!

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