Positive Punishment

Punishment is a fundamental concept used in the theory of Operant conditioning. The main objective of a punishment is to decrease the rate of certain undesired behavior from occurring again. Among the two kinds of punishment, Positive and Negativewe are going to discuss Positive punishment in this article.

a boy being scolded

Positive punishment is the part of punishment, which also focuses on decreasing the rate of any specific undesired behavior from an individual. The concept works by presenting a certain negative consequence to the individual once an undesired behavior has been exhibited. When any individual is subjected to negative consequence, the individual is less likely to repeat the same behavior in the future.

There might also be a question of how a punishment can be positive. To put in simpler terms, any punishment which means addition of a consequence is called positive punishment.


  • Consider a scenario where a student receives a phone call in the classroom, and he picks up the call and starts talking in front of the whole class, causing the lecture to abrupt. The teacher then reprimands him in front of the whole class and adds his homework to be twice more than the rest of the students. The consequence or punishment of receiving a phone call discourages him from repeating the action again.
  • An employee who’s been lazing around at work gets criticized by his boss in front of the whole office.
    It is highly likely that after the criticism, the employee starts being more attentive at work, to save himself from any future embarrassment.

Here, the negligent student and the lazy employees are the individuals who receive positive punishments. And, the reprimand of the teacher and the lecture of the boss are two positive punishments that cause the individuals to stop their undesirable behavior.

Is Positive Punishment Effective?

While Positive punishment can be highly effective, Skinner and other researchers throughout the course of history have suggested that there are a couple of factors that come into play when it comes to the success of positive punishment.

The factors are:

  • It should be immediately followed by a response.
  • Positive Punishment is applied consistently.

If positive punishment is not immediate or consistent, then the chances of any particular behavior being seized automatically dips. In the above examples, the student might start being careless during lecture, or the lazy employee might resume his carelessness at work, once the effect of punishment wears off.

Punished behaviors often resurfaces because the consequences are withdrawn, which is the major drawback of the concept. Another reason for why positive punishment needs to be consistent or immediate is because the punishment does not actually offer any information about more appropriate behaviors. Simply learning to not perform certain actions and not learning about any appropriate behaviors also leads the individual to go back to his old ways.

Positive punishment does not work every time. Take prison for example. Convicts who have been sent away often resume their past dealings once they are set free.