B-6: Define and provide examples of positive and negative punishment contingencies ©

 Target Terms: Positive Punishment, Negative Punishment 

Positive Punishment 

Definition: The presentation of a stimulus (punishment) follows a response, which then results in a decrease in the future frequency of the behavior.  

Example in an everyday context: Your cat jumps up onto the counter which they are not supposed to do. You spray your cat with water from a spray bottle and say, “No!” You never see your cat jump up onto the counter again. The introduction of the spray bottle and saying “no” immediately following the behavior of jumping up on the counter resulted in a decrease in that behavior. 

Example in clinical context: During an art activity, a client becomes aggressive toward a staff member on the unit. The staff member physically restrains the client and takes them to the seclusion room. The presentation of the restraint and seclusion procedure decreased the future frequency of the client engaging in aggression during art time, which indicates that restraint/seclusion functioned as punishment.

Example in supervision context: A supervisor conducts an observation of a teacher in their classroom. The supervisor tells the teacher that their instructional methods were “horrible” and heavily criticized their performance. The teacher no longer uses those instructional methods. The presentation of the verbal reprimand decreased the future frequency of the teacher using those instructional methods. 

Why it matters: Positive punishment should be used as a last resort (i.e., reinforcement-based interventions have been or are likely to be ineffective ) when designing intervention and treatment. It is extremely important to understand that punishment may yield to unwanted side effects, such as avoidance of the person delivering punishment, as well as emotional and aggressive responding beyond what was previously seen. It is also important to be thoroughly familiar with federal and state laws regarding the use of aversives, restraints, and seclusion procedures.

Negative Punishment 

Definition: The removal of a stimulus (punishment) follows a response, which then results in a decrease in the future frequency of the behavior.  

Example in everyday context: You are at a restaurant by yourself and eating at a table. You get up to use the restroom. While you are gone, your server removes your plate of food. You return from the restroom to find that your plate of food is gone. In the future, you will be less likely to leave your food before you are done. 

Example in clinical context: A client really likes country music and is permitted to listen to it during leisure time. The client is working on keeping their hands in a respectful place (away from their crotch) when in common areas of the milieu. Staff members turn off the music (remove stimulus) when the client puts their hands on their crotch, which decreases the frequency of that behavior in the future.

Why it matters: Some considerations regarding positive punishment also apply to negative punishment. One additional consideration when using negative punishment is that the client should also have plenty of opportunities to earn reinforcers, because otherwise it can become relatively easy to “take things away” until there is nothing left to lose.

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