Positive Punishment: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining Positive Punishment
  • 0:29 B.F. Skinner & Punishment
  • 1:23 Positive & Negative…
  • 2:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Positive punishments work to decrease the likelihood of an undesirable behavior reoccurring by adding an unfavorable consequence. Learn more about positive punishments from examples, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Defining Positive Punishment

Imagine that you were driving down the street in your brand new sports car. Though you realize that the speed limit is 50 miles per hour, you decide to test the transmission and drive at 70 miles per hour. A few seconds later, you get pulled over by a cop. He writes you a ticket for speeding, which is a $200 fine. You decide that from now on you will do the speed limit. This is an example of positive punishment, which decreases behaviors by adding an unpleasant outcome or consequence after the undesirable behavior.

B.F. Skinner and Punishment

B.F. Skinner is an American psychologist and behaviorist known for his theory on operant conditioning, among other things. Operant conditioning is a way of learning in which our behavior is changed as a result of its consequences.

Reinforcement and punishment are two concepts that are central to the theory of operant conditioning. Reinforcement includes those things that strengthen or increase behavior. For example, praising a child (reinforcement) after the child receives an A on a test (behavior) will increase the likelihood that the child will work hard for good grades.

A punishment is anything that decreases or suppresses behavior. For example, taking away a child's phone (punishment) after they miss curfew (behavior) will decrease the likelihood that the child will break curfew again. Punishments can be either positive or negative.

Positive and Negative Punishments

You are probably most familiar with negative punishments. A negative punishment decreases behaviors by taking away something desirable as a consequence of the undesirable behavior. For example, taking away a teenager's cell phone (punishment) after the teenager has skipped school (undesirable behavior) is an example of a negative punishment. The purpose of taking away the cell phone is to decrease the likelihood that the teenager will skip school again.

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