Positive Punishment: Understanding the Concept, Effects and Alternatives

Firstly, it’s important to clarify that positive punishment is not synonymous with “good” punishment. Rather, it refers to a specific type of punishment that aims to decrease the probability of a behaviour by presenting an aversive stimulus.

Definition and Types of Positive Punishment

Positive punishment involves adding an unpleasant consequence to discourage a behaviour. This is different from negative punishment, which involves taking away a positive stimulus to decrease a behaviour.

There are several types of positive punishment, including:

  • Verbal reprimands or scolding
  • Time-outs or isolation
  • Physical punishment, such as spanking

It’s important to note that while physical punishment may be a common form of positive punishment, it is not considered an appropriate or ethical disciplinary strategy.

Effects of Positive Punishment

While positive punishment may seem like an effective way to stop unwanted behaviour, it can have negative effects on both the punisher and the punished. Research has shown that positive punishment can lead to:

  • Fear and anxiety
  • Aggression and hostility
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Increased likelihood of lying or hiding behaviour

Additionally, positive punishment may only be effective in the short-term, as individuals may simply learn to avoid the punishment rather than changing the behaviour itself. It can also damage the relationship between the punisher and the punished, leading to resentment and loss of trust.

Alternatives to Positive Punishment

Instead of relying on positive punishment, there are a variety of alternative strategies that can effectively promote positive behaviour without the negative effects. Some possible alternatives include:

  • Positive reinforcement: reinforcing desired behaviour with positive consequences, such as praise, rewards or privileges.
  • Consistent consequences: consistently applying a consequence for a particular behaviour, such as a time-out for aggressive behaviour.
  • Teaching new skills: teaching the individual new skills that can replace the unwanted behaviour, such as problem-solving or communication.
  • Modelling positive behaviour: modelling the desired behaviour and reinforcing it when it is demonstrated.

It’s important to note that finding the appropriate disciplinary strategy will depend on the individual, their age, and the specific behaviour in question. It’s also important to note that no disciplinary strategy is fool-proof or guaranteed for success, and it’s important to remain flexible and open to alternative strategies.


While positive punishment may seem like an effective way to control behaviour, the negative effects on both the punisher and the punished make it an inappropriate and unethical disciplinary strategy. Instead, alternatives such as positive reinforcement, consistent consequences, teaching new skills and modelling positive behaviour can promote positive behaviour without damaging relationships or causing fear and anxiety.

Ultimately, the key to effective discipline is focusing on promoting positive behaviour rather than simply punishing negative behaviour. By promoting positive behaviour, individuals can learn important life skills and build strong relationships based on mutual trust and respect.


FAQs About Positive Punishment

1. What is positive punishment and how does it differ from negative reinforcement?

Positive punishment is when an aversive stimulus, such as a scolding or a slap on the wrist, is introduced after a behavior in order to decrease the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, involves removing an aversive stimulus in order to increase the likelihood of a behavior being repeated. The key difference is that positive punishment adds something unpleasant while negative reinforcement takes something unpleasant away.

2. Is positive punishment an effective way to modify behavior?

Although positive punishment may seem like a straightforward way to stop unwanted behaviors, it is generally not considered the most effective method. It can create a fear response in the subject and cause a lack of trust or resentment towards the person administering the punishment. In some cases, it may even reinforce the undesired behavior by providing attention or other rewards. It is recommended to exhaust other positive reinforcement methods before resorting to positive punishment.

3. Can positive punishment be harmful?

If positive punishment is used excessively or inappropriately, it can have negative effects on the subject. The fear response caused by punishment can lead to increased stress and anxiety, which can manifest in physical and emotional ways. It can also damage the trust and relationship between the person administering the punishment and the subject. It is important to use positive punishment carefully and sparingly, and to always consider the potential consequences.


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