In man’s everyday life, reinforcement is absolutely vital. In psychology, this reinforcement refers to anything that strengthens or adds to the probability of a certain action to take place. This is very evident in human relationships ranging from family to office or corporate relationships. For example, a child who is still growing up needs to be reinforced by the parents so that he/she would have a proper behavior in life. In terms of corporate setting, the managers and bosses need to reinforce their subordinates and other employees so that these individuals may know what to do and may act accordingly. Now the discipline of psychology has categorized this reinforcement into four types: positive, negative, punishment, and extinction. However, this paper will only on one type of reinforcement which is punishment.
Psychology refers to punishment as the introduction of an aversive stimulus or the removal of the reinforcing stimulus after an action takes place, resulting to the weakening or the suppression of the action itself (Nevid, 2012). Depending on the context of the implementation of such reinforcement, certain advantages and disadvantages result as punishment is applied. Force instance, in the context of a corporate human resource management, punishment is a convenient thing to do especially when it comes to administrative purposes. Punishment is one reason why demotions happen at work. Any organization must impose punishment like demotion when serious violation of code of conduct or of terms and conditions occurred (Durai, 2010). When it comes to serious matters, punishment should always be implemented so as to have desirable outcomes. First, this act allows other individuals to seriously consider complying with the rules and regulations of a particular organization. If a person who committed a ‘destructive’ violation is left unpunished, other people will also have even the slightest conception of doing the same thing, since it is possible to get excused from the required punishment. There are certain issues where punishment is justifiable in the eyes of many (Andrews & Bonta, 2010). For instance, criminals should be punished with accordance to the law. Serious crimes like murder, robbery, rape, and the likes should indeed require serious punishment. This leads to the second point of punishment, which suggests that punishment is justifiable when the response/action is obviously and deliberately done in opposition to the rules established. For instance, the government is serious with jaywalking in roads and highways. Thus, they place [usually] large signboards that call the attention of every person who is nearby. When one violates such rule, punishment is absolutely justifiable. The reason is simply that it has been clear that such action is forbidden, yet that violator deliberately insisted to do it. Just take the law for instance; every individual has an inherent consciousness to what is right and what is wrong. Everybody knows that murder is an immoral and unlawful thing to do. So it is with rape, corruption, robbery, etc. What matters is whether people will decide to follow it or not. In fact, this is manifested even in simple scenario. Suppose a person roams around a facility and notices a box on a wall with a sign that reads “Warning! High Voltage Equipment” If he/she still insisted on touching that equipment, it is certain that the punishment for such violation will take place. Thus, it should be clear that in a context of serious and deliberate violations, punishment in various degrees is definitely justifiable. Indeed, punishment in this way will allow other individuals to refrain from doing the same action/response done by the violator and this will most likely make the violator seriously consider not doing the same thing over again.
However, there is another issue within the context of using punishment as a means of reinforcement. There is what psychologists categorize as effective and non-effective punishment. In some sense, this points that there is a form of positive implementation of punishment and there is that which is negative. Now it should first be noted that punishment may lead to a negative result. When talking about corporal punishment, Elizabeth Gershoff indicated that the only positive outcome of corporal punishment was immediate compliance, but it “was associated with less long-term compliance” (Ehlers, 2010, p. 267). Using demotion as a punishment is not even encouragement by many strongly because of its psychological effects upon the individuals (Durai, 2010). This form of negative effect happens mostly on children at home and students. It is determined that punishment is associated with other negative outcomes. For instance, this may result to an increased rate of aggression. It is mostly common that when parents punish their children more than taking care of them or to attending to their needs the children will most likely rebel when he/she grows up into adulthood. In a sense, punishment implants a thought in a person that time will come when revenge will be done. In fact, this form of effect implies that the relationship between the offender and the punisher has not developed at all. A teacher wanting to change a negative behavior of a student through punishment may only result to a greater problem in their relationship. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) even states that ‘negative’ punishment adversely affects the social, psychological, and developmental factors of an individual (Ehlers, 2010). This will only worsen and widen the range of the problem. Research and statistics even confirms that the more a child is spanked, the more they will negatively respond in the future; they will more like be spanking their own children, hurting their spouses, and being tyrant to their subordinates and other employees. Besides, criminal punishment seemed to be a failure since “criminals are punished again and again” (Berg, 1945).
Guthrie (1886-1959), a renowned psychology professor at the University of Washington advises that if a teacher wishes to decline the frequency and intensity of an undesired behavior of a student, “an attempt to discover the cues to leading to that behavior should be made” (Curzon, 2004, p. 51). Offense or violation may indeed require punishment, but the reinforcement act should not stop at that. Parents, teachers, bosses, and others should not merely implement punishment upon violators but should also find the way to change the behavior by telling the violators what has to be done and by helping them as they do it. This is skillful and ‘positive’ use of punishment. Mere punishment may be able to keep the negative behavior from happening again, but it doesn’t change it. Discipline is good for the development of everyone, but the right way should be made known as well. Through punishment, a child may be kept from hazardous things like sharp pointed knives in the kitchen. But the parents should let the child discern the rightful use of knives; the child must know that they are use for the kitchen and not for playing. Otherwise, when the child grows up, he may not be touching/using any knives at all – though he will be needed to. Moreover, ‘negative’ punishment also represents a form of inappropriate modeling to others (Nevid, 2012). By using this form of ‘positive’ punishment in the school or at home, for instance, the children will know that they are loved. They will understand that what they did is wrong and the reason they have to be punished is for them to be corrected appropriately and be knowledgeable of what is right, sensible, honorable, and good. In so doing, better – if not the best – results will definitely occur. The negative action/behavior is refrained and the right behavior is implemented. Thus, both the one who disciplines and the one who is disciplined gained development and good results.
As a conclusion, punishment should always be implemented according to the context of the degree of the violation committed. It allows everyone to seriously comply with the rules set as standards. However, when using punishment as a reinforcing stimulus, one should not merely implement punishment. Instead, as one punishes a violator, he/she should also impart the rightful thing to be done in the mind and heart of that violator. In so doing, the negative behavior will be replaced with the right behavior as well.
Andrews, D.A., & Bonta, J. (2010). The psychology of criminal conduct. New Providence, NJ: Matthew Bender & Company.
Berg, C. (1945). The psychology of punishment. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 20 (3), 295-313.
Curzon, L.B. (2004). Teaching in further education: An outline of principles and practice. New York, NY: Continuum.
Durai, P. (2010). Human resource management. New Delhi, IND: Dorling Kindersley.
Ehlers, C.C. (2010). Encyclopedia of cross-cultural school psychology. NY: Springer.
Nevid, J. (2012). Psychology: Concepts and applications. Belmont, CA: Cengage.