What Is Punishment Psychology, And Should You Use It? | BetterHelp (2023)

Experiencing Mental Health Concerns Due To Punishment?

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Psychological punishment can refer to a variety of actions meant to psychologically affect others so that they will engage in desired behavior. Although punishment may have been used extensively in the past, positive reinforcement is often more highly recommended today. If you are experiencing mental health concerns due to experiences with psychological punishment, you may wish to consider online therapy.

The Law Of Effect

Dr. Burrhus Frederic Skinner, or B.F. Skinner, was a psychologist who thought classical conditioning may have been too simple to explain human behavior accurately. Therefore, he decided to use the causes of action and consequences to determine why we do what we do. Skinner based his operant conditioning on Dr. Edward Thorndike'sLaw of Effect.

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The Law of Effect theory was that satisfying responses can cause an individual's actions to be repeated, and unwelcome responses can cause these actions to occur less frequently. For example, if you did something nice for someone else, and they praised you for it, you might be more likely to do it again.

Dr. Skinner found three different operant responses that often follow certain behaviors. These include:

  • Neutral responses, which are those that do not decrease or increase the probability of the behavior happening again.
  • Reinforcement, which is a response that increases the chances of a certain behavior happening again.
  • Punishments, which are responses that weaken the behavior and lessen the chance that it will happen again.

Psychological Punishment Definition

Psychological punishment can include ignoring, yelling, intimidating, or nagging someone to do or not do something. Other forms of psychological punishment that can be traumatic include physical and verbal abuse, swearing, and violent anger. These forms of psychological punishment are often effective because the person on the receiving end can be filled with fear, shame, or guilt. These methods of punishment should never be used as they may not teach the individual anything but fear and violence and are likely to have negative impacts.

If you are experiencing any abuse or violence at home or elsewhere, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for advice and assistance.

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Positive Punishment Versus Negative Punishment

Positive punishment is a type of punishment that produces a stimulus that can cause a behavior or activity to stop. For example, let's say your child runs into the street, and you yell at them. When your child is no longer in the street, you stop yelling at them. This can increase the chance that your child will stay out of the street in the future because they will likely associate being in the street with being yelled at.

Even pain can be considered apositive punishment. When you do something that causes pain and then stop doing it, and the pain also stops, you may refrain from doing it again because of the pain it caused.

An example of this could be touching a hot stove or curling iron. Although it may hurt, the pain can serve a purpose by reminding you to be careful around hot objects so that you don't get hurt again.

Negative punishment is when the person doing the punishing removes a stimulus that the subject considers a privilege. For example, if you arrive at work an hour late, your boss may not pay you for that hour, or if you do not do your work properly, you may not get the promotion you want. The punishment can increase the chance that you come in on time and do your work properly because of your desire for pay and a promotion.

Positive And Negative Reinforcement

There are two other forms of operant conditioning: positive and negative reinforcement. These are similar to the punishment theory but reversed. They can be used to reinforce a behavior rather than discourage a behavior.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement consists of giving an individual something they like or want so that they are influenced to repeat the desired behavior. For example, if your partner cleaned the kitchen and made dinner, you could verbally express your appreciation or take care of their least favorite chore. This may influence them to repeat the behavior of cleaning the kitchen and making dinner in the future.
  • Negative Reinforcement: This consists of stopping something negative or unpleasant to encourage the individual to repeat the positive behavior. For example, you might stop an employee's supervision when shown that they can be trusted to do their job correctly. They may be more likely to do their job correctly in order to avoid supervision.

Is Psychological Punishment A Healthy And Effective Practice?

You may wonder whether we should use punishment as a learning tool for our children or peers. Is it wise to attempt to enforce our desires on others by punishing them?

Punishment may have been the preferred teaching tool at home and school in the past. However, in the United States, punishment may be more frequently frowned upon today. Some experts believe that punishment and negative consequences can encourage bad behavior rather than reinforce good behavior. There has been quite a bit of research showing that positive reinforcement can be more effective than negative reinforcement or punishment. Many parents and schools may now be turning to methods like positive parenting, which can encourage good behavior while promoting children’s inherent worth and self-esteem.

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is often remembered long after it takes place. While remembering a spanking for misbehaving at school may stop a child from misbehaving again, it may also lead to aggression because the child may think being aggressive is an effective way of handling challenging situations.

Punishment may also lead to fear of the punisher, which can mean that obedience becomes the result of fear, rather than the child simply wanting to behave well. Even though you may believe that it could be good for your child to be afraid of the consequences of "being bad" at school, it may not be helpful if they are afraid of their teacher or going to school in general. This could cause your child not to want to go to school or to be frightened of authority figures such as teachers and police officers.

Some types of punishment are typically not useful in any context, such as becoming violent or abusive. Studies have shown that children who have been subject to abuse or violence can be more likely to be abusive as adults. Approximately one-third of those neglected or abused as a child may abuse or neglect their children. In addition, survivors of abuse can be more likely to have mental health disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety disorders. Survivors can also be moresusceptible to addiction disorders. Still, it can be important to note that many abused and neglected children can grow up to become excellent parents who may never abuse or mistreat their children.

Experiencing Mental Health Concerns Due To Punishment?

Work With A Therapist Online.

(Video) Why You Shouldn't "Punish" Your Partner

Online Therapy May Help You Cope With Mental Health Concerns From Punishment

If you’re living with mental health concerns stemming from psychological punishment, you may wish to seek therapy so that you can work with a mental health professional to learn coping skills and gain insight into the way the punishment affected you. Traditional therapy may not be your preferred method of getting help, and if that’s the case for you, you may be interested in online therapy. With online therapy, you still get to connect with a licensed professional, but you can do so without leaving the house.

Often, psychological punishment can negatively impact self-esteem. According to this study, online therapy can be effective in increasing self-compassion and happiness, as well as decreasing difficulties with emotion, depression, and stress.


When a person takes action to affect another psychologically in order to get them to behave in a certain way, that can be considered psychological punishment. This type of punishment was frequently used in the past, but today, it may be considered more effective to use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behavior. Psychological punishment can sometimes lead to negative impacts on mental health. If you’ve experienced this personally, please know that help is available, and online therapy may provide the support and guidance you deserve.


Why is punishment good psychology? ›

A punishment in psychology is a consequence which reduces or aims to reduce the likelihood of a targeted and undesirable behavior from happening again. Punishment is a part of operant conditioning, or the use of rewards to encourage certain behaviors and use of negative consequences to discourage unwanted behaviors.

What is punishment as used in psychology? ›

Punishment is a term used in operant conditioning psychology to refer to any change that occurs after a behavior that reduces the likelihood that that behavior will occur again in the future.

How can punishment be used effectively in psychology? ›

Punishment has also been used to psychologically manipulate individuals to gain control over victims. It has also been used in scenarios where an abuser may try punishment in order to traumatically bond their victim with them. Stuttering therapy has also seen the use of punishment with effective results.

How do you use punishment correctly? ›

5 conditions for effective punishments
  1. The punishment has to be relative intense. The subject should feel it as a punishment)
  2. It has to be giving promptly. ...
  3. It should be given consistent. ...
  4. The punishment should not be associated with any kind of positive enforcement. ...
  5. It should not lead to escaping or avoidance behavior.
Feb 19, 2008

Is punishment a good idea? ›

Research shows that spanking, slapping and other forms of physical punishment don't work well to correct a child's behavior. The same holds true for yelling at or shaming a child. Beyond being ineffective, harsh physical and verbal punishments can also damage a child's long-term physical and mental health.

Why should punishment not be used? ›

Punishment creates more negative behavior, and it shifts a child's focus to avoiding punishment, often by getting more skilled at not getting caught, rather than making choices based on morals, respect, or love.

What is the best purpose of punishment? ›

There are five main underlying justifications of criminal punishment considered briefly here: retribution; incapacitation; deterrence; rehabilitation and reparation.

Why do we use punishment? ›

The utilization of punishment is justified in terms of deterrence, retribution, or incapacitation. The deterrence position maintains that if the offender is punished, not only the offender by also those who see his example are deterred from further offenses.

What are some of the problems with punishment psychology? ›

Punishment elicits aggression towards the punishing agents and others. Not only is there little evidence to show the effectiveness of punishment, but often it makes behavior worse. Skinner found pigeons and rats get more aggressive after being punished, and current research shows similar findings with children.

Is punishment the best way to modify behavior? ›

Punishment does not need be extreme. It is simply a stimulus that is used to discourage or decrease an undesirable behavior. Although punishment does not replace the negative behavior like reinforcement does, it is still a resourceful technique.

When can punishment works best? ›

Positive punishment can be effective when it immediately follows the unwanted behavior. It works best when applied consistently.

How can punishment be positive and negative? ›

Positive punishment involves adding an aversive consequence after an undesired behavior is emitted to decrease future responses. Negative punishment includes taking away a certain reinforcing item after the undesired behavior happens in order to decrease future responses.

What are the 4 dangers or the use of punishment? ›

Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.

Is punishment justified or not? ›

Consequentialist accounts contend that punishment is justified as a means to securing some valuable end—typically crime reduction, by deterring, incapacitating, or reforming offenders. Retributivism, by contrast, holds that punishment is an intrinsically appropriate (because deserved) response to criminal wrongdoing.

Is punishment ever justified? ›

If punishment is justified according to its beneficial consequences in maximising well-being or satisfaction by deterring crime and mitigating social insecurity, scapegoating acts of victimisation against non-offenders can be justified in the same way.

Does punishment help anyone improve? ›

In psychology, punishment is always effective in changing behavior, even when children don't feel punished. Not only is it possible for children's behavior to be punished without punishing children, it is possible for their behavior to be punished while at the same time being nice to them.

Why punishment is not good for students? ›

It results in more negative behaviour

Lots of students misbehave because they want attention. Punishing students gives them the attention that they want. The more you punish your students the more likely it is you'll see the same behaviour in the future. The more you use a punishment, the less effective it becomes.

Which theory of punishment is best? ›

Retribution is the most ancient justification for punishment. This theory insists that a person deserves punishment as he has done a wrongful deed. Also, this theory signifies that no person shall be arrested unless that person has broken the law.

Why is positive punishment? ›

Positive punishment is adding something to the mix that will result in an unpleasant consequence. The goal is to decrease the likelihood that the unwanted behavior will happen again in the future. This approach may be effective in certain circumstance, but it's only one part of the equation.

What is an example of positive punishment in psychology? ›

Positive punishment involves adding an aversive stimulus after an unwanted behavior to discourage a person from repeating the behavior. Spanking and chores are examples of this. On the other hand, negative punishment involves the removal of something desirable.

Why is effective punishment important? ›

Encourages Good Choices

Kids need to learn problem-solving skills, impulse control, and self-regulation skills from appropriate training. It is important to distinguish the difference between consequences and punishments. When kids are disciplined with appropriate consequences they learn from their mistakes.


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