NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS
It has been clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that punishment can very effectively be used to control behavior.
So, why do behaviorists usually warn against using it? Simply because we can almost always control behavior just as
effectively by using reinforcement as by using punishment, and without having to put up with the problems and
negative side effects of punishment. If we wish to stop a behavior that is already occurring, we can usually do so by simply eliminating the reinforcement for the behavior — a process we call extinction.
The following is only a partial list of the problems and negative side effects resulting from the use of punishment to
control behavior. Others could easily be added.
The following most directly apply to corporal punishment, but should also be considered when contemplating other forms of punishment.
PUNISHMENT OFTEN FAILS TO STOP, AND CAN EVEN INCREASE THE OCCURRENCE OF,
THE UNDESIRED RESPONSE.
Since attention is one of the most potent rewards available, and since it is difficult to punish without paying
attention to the offender, punishing may serve more as a reward than as a punishment.
PUNISHMENT AROUSES STRONG EMOTIONAL RESPONSES THAT MAY GENERALIZE. Pavlovian conditioning fear
Once the strong emotional responses are aroused the degree and direction of generalization is largely
uncontrollable. The result may be excessive anxiety, apprehension, guilt, and self-punishment.
USING PUNISHMENT MODELS AGGRESSION.
The meaning of "social power is exemplified.
INTERNAL CONTROL OF BEHAVIOR IS NOT LEARNED.
The offender may learn to inhibit the punished response during surveillance, but once surveillance ends there is no
internal control mechanism to continue inhibiting the behavior.
PUNISHMENT CAN EASILY BECOME ABUSE.
Most parents who abuse children do not intend to do the damage they inflict. Most of the damage and injury
occurs when the parent loses control, and goes beyond the boundaries of reasonable behavior.
PAIN IS STRONGLY ASSOCIATED WITH AGGRESSION.
The pain of punishment often leads to a display of aggression against either the source of the pain or, in some
cases, an innocent scapegoat.
PUNISHMENT WORKS BEST WHEN IT OCCURS EVERY TIME.
While reward works best when given on an intermittent basis, punishment works best when a continuous basis.
The degree of vigilance required to constantly monitor behavior so that every occurrence of the undesired
behavior can be punished is rarely possible. The undesired behavior is, therefore, intermittently reinforced when it
is not punished, and the behavior continues.
Punishment: Consequences that Weaken Responses
8. Consistency: .5 problems
Side effects of Punishment
Even though punishment weakens responses, it can have
unintended side effects:
general suppression of behavior
strong emotional responses
moral: 'tis better to reinforce desirable behavior than
punish undesirable behavior.
Corporal Punishment in Schools
The use of corporal punishment has been declining in U.S. schools. Waning public acceptance, increased litigation
against school boards and educators regarding its use and legislative bans have led to the decline. More than half
of the states ban its use. In states where it is allowed, many school boards voluntarily prohibit it. Yet, almost a half
million children are being hit yearly in public schools with a disproportionate number being minority children and
children with disabilities. Corporal punishment is any intervention which is designed to or likely to cause physical
pain in order to stop or change behavior. In the United States, the most typical form of school corporal
punishment is the striking of a student s buttocks with a wooden paddle by a school authority because the
authority believes the student has disobeyed a rule.
Alternatives to Corporal Punishment
Alternatives for changing student behavior:
Help students achieve academic success through identification of academic and behavioral deficiencies and
strengths and help get them appropriate instruction
Use behavioral contracting Encourage positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior
Use individual and group counseling
Encourage disciplinary consequences which are meaningful to students and have an instructional and/or
Provide social skills training
Alternatives for changing the school and classroom environment:
Encourage programs that emphasize early diagnosis and intervention for school problems including
problems of staff and problems of students
Encourage programs that emphasize values, school pride and personal responsibility and support the mental
health needs of children
Encourage development of fair, reasonable and consistent rules
Support strong parent/school and community/school communications and ties
Alternatives for educating and supporting teachers (as preventive measures):
Provide information on effective discipline programs and resources
If and when:
Making Punishment More Effective
Apply punishment swiftly.
Use punishment just severe enough to be effective.
Explain the punishment.
Make an alternative response available and reinforce it.
Minimize dependence on physical punishment.
Statement by the National Association of School Psychologist: http://alcorenv.com/~ptave/nasp2.htm
Final Summary: http://www.cba.neu.edu/~ewertheim/indiv/learn.htm