 Punishment
o Poorly understood
o Frequently misapplied
o Controversial
Many recommendations for punishment are derived from
basic research conducted more than 40 years ago.
Azrin and Holz, Campbell and Church,
See Van Houten
As a principle of behavior, punishment is not about
punishing the person.
Punishment is a:
contingency suppresses the future frequency of a behavior
or response.
Is a procedure
Occurs when a response is followed by a stimulus
that decreases the future frequency of similar
Is not defined by the actions of the delivery device or
Is not defined by the nature of the consequence.
A decrease in the behavior must be observed before
a consequence-based intervention qualifies as
Positive: Presentation of a stimulus (or an increase
in the intensity of an already present stimulus)
immediately following a response that results in a
decrease in the frequency of the response
Negative: The termination / removal of an stimulus (or
a decrease in the intensity of an already present
stimulus) immediately following a response that
results in a decrease in the future frequency of the
Discriminative Effects of Punishment
The 3 term contingency for punishment
(1) In a particular stimulus situation (S), (2) some
kinds of behavior (R), when followed immediately
by (3) certain stimulus changes (SP), show a
decreased future frequency of occurrence in the
same or in similar situations.
Discriminative Effects of Punishment
If punishment occurs only in some stimulus
conditions and not in others, the suppressive
effects of punishment will be most prevalent under
those conditions.
Discriminative stimulus for punishment is SDp.
Two options:
 Suppression under punishment conditions
When punishment is discontinued responding
Response rate may briefly exceed the level
which it was occurring prior to punishment
Total suppression
Permanent of the response.
Unconditioned and Conditioned Punishers
A punisher is a stimulus change that immediately
follows the occurrence of a behavior and reduces
the future frequency of that type of behavior.
Unconditioned and Conditioned Punishers
An unconditioned punisher is a stimulus whose
presentation functions as punishment without having been
paired with any other punishers.
Product of the evolutionary history of a species (phylogeny);
all biologically intact members of a species are more or less
susceptible to punishment by the same unconditioned
Factors That Influence the Effectiveness of Punishment
Severity or Intensity of punishment
Manner of Introduction
Availability of reinforcement for the target behavior
Availability of reinforcement for an alternative behavior.
Intensity refers to the physical parameters of the stimulus.
Severity refers to the degree of suppression achieved.
Very intense punisher that produces minimal suppression is
a mild punisher.
Low intensity stimuli that produce complete suppression
are severe punishers.
Sudden introduction of punishment produces much greater
response suppression than if the punishment intensity is
gradually increased.
o Don’t begin with mild punishers and make more intense.
If use gradual small punishers and increase the intensity, it
takes a more intense punisher to suppress the unwanted
behavior than if had given the full amount immediately.
Is problematic for Human Rights Organizations and Criminal
Justice System.
If you give intense punisher first, often times milder
punishers that had no effect before now become effective.
Gradual low intensity punishers lead to temporary
Moderate intensity punishers lead to partial suppression.
Intense punishers lead to total suppression.
E.g., $200 ticket for speeding
Bill Gates
It will impact you more.
Public Whipping,
May affect you both the same.
In general, the longer the delay between the response and
the punisher, the less effective the punisher becomes.
Immediate punishment is no more effective than stimulus
delivery within the first hour.
After the first hour, effectiveness continues to decrease.
Can have high intensity.
Can have good immediacy.
But will be ineffective if there is low certainty.
The greater the certainty of receiving the punishing
stimulus, the greater the response suppression.
If have high intensity but low certainty of apprehension, you
will usually perform the behavior.
Rob a Bank get 10 million dollars.
Get caught you get executed.
1/10 million chance of apprehension.
Vs 1/1000 chance of apprehension.
What is the probability of being caught if I do a behavior.
The higher the odds of success, the more likely the
probability of engaging in the behavior.
Occurs even when severity is high.
General Deterrence
o Prevents you from engaging in the act in the first place.
Specific Deterrence
o Relates to preventing you from repeating the behavior after being
Even low intensity punishers can be effective when an
alternative unpunished behavior is available that produces
With no alternatives, need higher intensity.
Punishers are more effective when punished behavior is no
longer reinforced.
The more reinforcement for the behavior, the less effective
the punisher becomes.
Also, depends on the intensity.
Kid in class shoots a spit wad.
Teacher – Stand in the corner
Kid gets lots of attention from other kids
Behavior increases
Drug selling behavior by juveniles
Get caught – slap on the wrist
Also, kid gets lots of attention.
Punishment is more effective when it is delivered before the
behavior is reinforced.
Early studies found it was more effective.
Today it is not so clear cut.
Relates to immediacy vs. delayed consequences for a
Several Types
Small Immed. Pos
o Smoke Cig
Small Immed. Neg
o See Dentist
Small Immed. Pos
o Save Money
Small Immed. Neg
o Meet new People
Delayed Lg. Neg
Cancer, Death
Delayed Lg. Neg
Get Root Canal
Delayed Lg. Pos
Buy a boat or car
Delayed Lg. Pos
Fall in love
Generally, immediate consequences have a greater impact
than delayed consequences.
The greater the proportion of responses that are followed by
the punisher is the greater the response reduction.
Continuous Punishment (FR-1) Schedule = Gives maximal
response suppression, but allows for rapid recovery when
the punishment contingency is removed.
Ignore behaviors that should be punished.
o Puts persons on a random schedule
Don’t start early.
o Usually wait until misbehavior persists or becomes more
o Wait until class is over before sending to principal’s office
Don’t reinforce alternative “good” behavior.
May be a general decrease in all behavior
 Kids who are punished may not talk as much – can become
May cause emotional outbursts.
May generate hostility toward the source or the person giving the
Escape and Avoidance
Increased rate of the problem behavior under nonpunishment
Modeling undesirable behavior
Not teaching the learner what to do
Yelling, acting out, fear
Physical punishment is highly correlated with aggressive
behavior in kids.
Lots of physical punishment increases aggression in kids.
Negative Reinforcement of the Punishing Agent’s Behavior
o Punishment tends to terminate the punished behavior quickly.
The deliver’s behavior is negatively reinforced by the immediate
cessation of the punished behavior.
Response Blocking
Contingent Exercise
Electrical Stimulation
The delivery of verbal reprimands following the occurrence
of misbehavior is an example of attempted positive
Reprimands given repeatedly may lead to the subject
habituating to the stimulus
Are expressions of disapproval.
Does not include body language or intensity.
Is a problem for teachers.
o Usually give more reprimands (usually ineffectively as well) than
Examined students in grades 1-12.
o After grade two, in every class, reprimands excluded praise.
o Teachers gave at least one reprimand every two minutes.
o Often teachers gave more reprimands to students in “low ability
classes” than “high ability classes.”
Verbal and non-verbal behavior
Verbal content
Firmness of voice
Backup punishers
Praise for alternative behaviors.
Verbal content can have an effect.
Using eye contact grasping the arm or shoulder markedly
increases the effectiveness.
o Depends on the setting and age of the person
• School
• Home
Don’t need to yell – use your normal voice.
Using verbal alone takes 4-7 times for a behavior change.
Verbal + non-verbal only takes 1-2 times for behavior
Specifically Define the Target Behavior.
Johnny or Susie stop that = poor.
Johnny or Susie stop talking = better.
Johnny or Susie stop talking and work on your math = best.
Closer you are when giving the reprimand, the greater the
decrease in the behavior.
1 yard vs. 10 yards.
The faster the reprimand is given following the response,
the greater the response suppression.
o If reprimanding all the time – organisms go on extinction.
More intense the reprimand (loudness), the more effective
the suppression.
Note: Reprimands do not need to be loud to be effective.
Use a “I Mean Business” tone.
Firmness is very important.
When paired with backup punishers, reprimands can be
very effective.
When you use praise for alternative behaviors, reprimands
become more effective.
Physically intervening as soon as the person begins to emit
the problem behavior to prevent or “block” the completion
of the response
Has been show to be effective in reducing the frequency of
some problem behaviors.
Suppressive effects of response blocking may be due to
punishment or to extinction.
Must be approached with great care.
Can get side effects such as aggression and resistance
An intervention in which a person is required to perform a
response that is not topographically related to the problem
The learner is required to engage in effortful behavior that
is directly or logically related to the problem.
2 Forms:
Positive Practice
The learner is required to repair or return the environment
to its original state
Then to engage in additional behavior to bring the
environment to a condition vastly better than it was in prior
to the misbehavior.
The learner is required to repeat a correct form of the
behavior, or a behavior incompatible with the problem, a
specified number of times.
46 studies have demonstrated that contingent electric
stimulation can be a safe and highly effective method for
suppressing chronic and life- threatening self-injurious
behavior (SIB).
Self-Injurious Behavior Inhibiting System (SIBIS)
One of the most rigorously researched and carefully applied
procedures for implementing punishment by electric
stimulation for self-inflicted blows to the head or face.
When the person is emitting the response, spray them with a
water mist
Gets over the problems with electric shock
Can be very effective
Use the same principles as Electric shock
Punishment as part of a behavior change program has
nothing to do with retribution.
1. Punishment is not about threats.
2. When punishers are threatened and not delivered, the
child learns that your verbal threats are not associated with
the actual punishing behavior.
Select Effective and Appropriate Punishers
Conduct Punisher Assessments
Parallel process to a reinforcer assessment (Ch. 11).
1. The sooner an effective punisher can be identified, the sooner it can
be applied to treat the problem behavior.
2. Data from punisher assessments might reveal the magnitude or
intensity of punisher necessary for behavioral suppression.
Allows practitioner to determine the smallest intensity of punisher
that is still affective.
Consider Using Varied Punishers
Varying the form of the punishing stimulus enhanced the
punishing effect.
It appears that by presenting a varied format of commonly
used punishers, inappropriate behaviors may further
decrease without the use of more intrusive punishment
Use the Least Intensity of Punishment That is Effective
Ethical guidelines and the doctrine of the least restrictive alternative
demand that the most effective, but least intrusive, form of punishment
be used initially.
Questions to answer when deciding on a form of punishment:
Will this form of punishment suppress the behavior?
Will this form of punishment be controlled from application to
Experience the Punishment Personally
Practitioners should experience any punisher personally
before the treatment begins
Doing to reminds the practitioner that the technique
produces physical discomfort.
Deliver the Punishment Immediately
Every instance of the inappropriate behavior should be
Punishment affects most the behavior that immediately
precedes the onset of punishment.
Deliver the Punishment at the Beginning of the Response Chain
As much as practical, punishment should occur early in the
behavioral sequence rather than later.
Deliver the Punishment Unemotionally
Punishment should be delivered in a business-like, matterof-fact manner.
Resist statement such as, “I told you so.” “Now, you’ve gone
and done i.” and “What do you have to say for yourself?”
All you want to do is modify behavior, not make people
atone for their sins.
Punish Each Instance of the Behavior
Punishment is most effective when the punisher follows
each instance of the behavior.
Provide Response Prompts and Reinforcement for Alternative
Punishment is most effective when the learner can make
other responses for reinforcement.
The more reinforcement the learner obtains by emitting
appropriate behavior, the less motivate he will be to emit
the problem behavior.
Watch for Side Effects of Punishment
The suppression of one inappropriate behavior may lead to
the increased expression of another or the complete
suppression of all other behaviors.
Decreasing episodes of self-injurious behavior bay produce
increased levels of verbal noncompliance
Expand observations to include collateral or parallel
Record, Graph and Evaluate Data Daily
Data collection in the first session or two of a punishment based
intervention is especially critical.
Graphing the frequency of the target behavior before, during, and after
the presentation of the punisher establishes the effectiveness of
Use Reinforcement Techniques.
Reinforce good behavior and extinguish or punish bad
Right to Safe and Humane Treatment
The first ethical canon and responsibility for any human
services program is to do no harm.
Least Restrictive Alternative
The less intrusive procedures should be tried and found to
be ineffective before more intrusive procedures are
Interventions can be viewed as falling along a continuum of
restrictiveness from least to most.
Least Restrictive Alternative
A procedure’s overall level of restrictiveness is a combined
function of its absolute level of restrictiveness, the amount
of time required to produce a clinically acceptable outcome,
and the consequences associated with delayed
Right to Effective Treatment
Failing to use a punishment procedure that research has
show to suppress self-destructive behavior similar to the
client’s is unethical because it withholds a potentially
effective treatment and may maintain a dangerous or
uncomfortable state for the person.
Developing and Using a Punishment Policy can Procedural
Follow a written policy statement.
Consult local, state, or professional association policy
statement regarding the use of punishment.
Recognizing Punishment's Natural and Necessary Role in
Behavior analysts should not shy away from punishment.
Positive and negative punishment contingencies naturally
as a part of everyday life.
Positive Punishment can be very effective
Must be done within the context of an Applied Behavior
Analysis perspective

Punishment - University of Idaho