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Negative punishments work to decrease the likelihood of an undesirable behavior reoccurring by taking something favorable away. Learn more about negative punishments through examples in this lesson, and then test your knowledge with a short quiz.

Defining Negative Punishment

Suppose that you are a teenager who just got your learner’s permit. A friend invites you to a party on Saturday. Since you are the only one with a learner’s permit, your friends suggest that you drive.

Although you know that you are not supposed to drive the car without a parent or guardian present, you give in to peer pressure and decide to drive your friends to the party.You tell your parents that another friend is driving so you don’t get into trouble. You make it home safely afterward, but your parents find out. As a result, your parents revoke all of your driving privileges. This is an example of negative punishment, which is something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by subtracting something desirable after the behavior.

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B.F.

Skinner’s Theory of Operant Conditioning

B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist, is the originator of operant conditioning, a method of learning in which human behaviors can be modified by its consequences.

Reinforcement and punishment are the tools used to change behavior.A reinforcement is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur or make the behavior stronger. An example of reinforcement is receiving $100 from your parents (reinforcement) for completing your chores for the week (behavior). The purpose of your parent’s giving you money is so that it can motivate you to keep completing your chores.

A punishment is something that suppresses or decreases the likelihood that you will repeat an undesirable behavior. An example of a punishment is when a parent takes away your cell phone (punishment) for going over your allowed phone time (behavior). The purpose of taking away the cell phone is to decrease the likelihood that you will go over your permitted phone time again. There are two types of punishments: positive and negative.

Positive and Negative Punishment

You are probably wondering how a punishment could be positive.

The ‘positive’ in positive punishment does not refer to something that is pleasant. It refers to the addition of something. The ‘negative’ in negative punishment refers to taking something away.It follows that a positive punishment is something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by adding an undesirable outcome or consequence after the behavior. A negative punishment is something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by subtracting something desirable after the behavior.

Receiving extra chores after you fail a math test is an example of a positive punishment. Your parents added extra chores to those you normally do in order to decrease the likelihood that you would fail another math test. Losing your allowance after you fail a math test is an example of negative punishment. Here, your parents took away something desirable (your allowance) in order to decrease the likelihood that you would fail another math test.Some other examples of negative punishments are:

  • Getting your car repossessed after you have missed a payment
  • Losing your driver’s license after you have accumulated too many unpaid tickets
  • Losing your ability to go out with friends because you stayed out past curfew

It is important to note that negative punishment is most effective when it is applied consistently and immediately following the undesirable behavior.

Also, punishments do not always have to be planned. There are some punishments that occur naturally without any outside assistance. For example, a natural consequence of eating too many sweets is losing your teeth. Therefore, we watch how many sugary foods we eat so that we don’t lose our teeth.

Lesson Summary

Operant conditioning uses reinforcement and punishment as ways to modify behavior. Reinforcements aim to increase desirable behaviors, while punishments aim to decrease undesirable behaviors.

Positive punishments add something and negative punishments take something away.

Negative Punishment Terms ; Definitions

negpunish
Terms Definitions
Negative punishment something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by subtracting something desirable after the behavior
Operant conditioning method of learning in which human behaviors can be modified by its consequences
Reinforcement anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur or make the behavior stronger
Punishment something that suppresses or decreases the likelihood that you will repeat an undesirable behavior
Positive punishment something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by adding an undesirable outcome or consequence after the behavior.
Negative punishment something that decreases or suppresses behaviors by subtracting something desirable after the behavior

Learning Outcomes

When finished with this lesson, students should know how to:

  • Describe negative punishment
  • Identify the types of punishment or reinforcement
  • Give examples of these types

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