Punishments in Psychology: Definition & Examples Video

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Reinforcement and Punishment: Examples & Overview

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 What is Punishment Psychology?
  • 0:33 How Punishment Works
  • 2:00 Examples of Punishment
  • 2:55 Downsides to Punishment
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Peggy Olsen
A punishment is used to reduce an undesired behavior. Learn more about punishment through several examples and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What Is Punishment in Psychology?

Have you ever received a speeding ticket or had detention because you passed a note in class? If you have, you probably felt like you were being punished. After getting the ticket or sitting through detention, did you stop speeding and passing notes, or did you continue your usual behavior? In operant conditioning, reinforcers (or rewards) and punishments are used to shape the behavior of animals, including humans, and the term is specifically used to mean a consequence that reduces a targeted behavior.

How Punishment Works

Let's talk about that speeding ticket. Do speeding tickets change your behavior? The purpose of a speeding ticket is to reduce speeding. Speeding is the behavior that is targeted to change. If the speeding ticket does not change your behavior, then it is not a punishment, at least for you; it might be for someone else. The person receiving the punishment is the one who determines if it is a punishment. A billionaire might be willing to pay a $400 ticket for the opportunity to drive his motorcycle 100 mph down the freeway. A college student working part-time might consider a $400 speeding ticket a huge incentive to keep eyes on the speedometer. Consider these factors when thinking about punishment:

  1. The person receiving the punishment defines it. You might think sending your child to their bedroom is a punishment, but they might consider it a reward.
  2. To be more effective, a punishment must be just strong enough to change the behavior. Punishments that are too severe and too weak are both ineffective.
  3. Some psychologists argue that punishment does not eliminate behavior, but just suppresses it in case the punisher is watching. This might be thought of as the 'just don't get caught' aspect of punishment.
  4. Consistent punishment is more effective than inconsistent punishment. Getting a ticket every time you go over the speed limit is more effective than speeding almost every day and only getting a speeding ticket once a year.

Examples of Punishment

Punishments come in two types: positive punishment and negative punishment. Based on the definition, we know that both will reduce the target behavior if we choose the right punishment for our subject. A positive punishment adds something, and a negative punishment takes something away. A positive punishment includes things like scoldings, spankings and extra chores. A negative punishment takes something desirable away, like a toy. It also includes things like fines (which are taking away money) and grounding a child.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account