Punishment Doesn’t Teach Behavior

Punishment - mild, severe, abusive - changes behavior only at the moment it is delivered. 

There’s a huge myth that punishment changes behavior.  As it turns out, punishment - mild, severe, abusive - changes behavior only at the moment it is delivered.  It doesn’t change the overall level or rate of the behavior.  So if you have a child that is doing something horrible and you smack them, it’ll stop it for the moment, but it won’t decrease the number of times they do the horrible thing.  


And so we’ve learned from years of human work, animal work, that punishment doesn’t teach behavior.  It doesn’t even get rid of behavior.  So there’s an alternative.  You have to decide what behavior you want, sometimes called the positive opposite, and then you make sure that you praise and encourage that.  That makes the negative behavior drop out.  You can actually eliminate a behavior by rewarding or praising the opposite behavior.  Punishment won’t do it.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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