You may recall that operant conditioning is when learning occurs through the association of consequences to behaviors. Operant conditioning is concerned with what happens after and as a result of a person's actions, that makes it more or less likely for them to repeat that action later.
Reinforcement is anything that follows a behavior and makes it more likely for a response to be repeated.
Reinforcement is grouped into two different categories: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. It is important not to think of “positive” and “negative” as good and bad. Rather, these terms refer to the effects or the consequences that change behaviors; thus, one isn't better than the other.
Positive reinforcement is anything that is presented or given to the subject that makes it more likely for the response to be repeated.
EXAMPLEExamples of positive reinforcement would include such things as candy, stickers, a high five, or even verbal praise, given to a child after they do a good job on a math test, for instance. In turn, the child is more likely to perform well in math later, because they received that positive reinforcement.
In contrast, negative reinforcement is anything that is taken away from a subject that makes it more likely for a response to be repeated. Remember, reinforcement is all about making it more likely for something to occur; therefore, negative reinforcement is generally taking away something that is unpleasant to compel someone to want to perform an action more.
EXAMPLESuppose there is an annoying sound in your room, and it can be turned off by pushing a button. The negative reinforcement is the annoying sound, which makes you more likely to perform the behavior of pushing the button. Similarly, you may perform a chore so that you don't get grounded. Or, if you're grounded, you can avoid that grounding, or that negative reinforcement, by doing the chore. In either case, you're more likely to do what you're supposed to be doing.
Punishment or punishers follows a response and makes it less likely for a behavior to be repeated.
In other words, punishments are trying to suppress a behavior. There has been much research, particularly in the field of childhood development and education, that has shown how effective punishment is.
Under punishment, there is also positive and negative reinforcement:
Punishment, as well as negative reinforcement, is what is known as an aversive consequence. This means that it is something following an action that is painful or uncomfortable, that somebody doesn't like.
The difference between these two types of aversive consequences is that negative reinforcement makes it more likely for a behavior to repeat, whereas punishment makes it less likely for the behavior to repeat. Both of these concepts deal with unpleasant things, but the consequences, or results, are different.
Punishment can be more powerful than reinforcement, especially in the short term. It is possible to change somebody's behavior rather quickly as a result of punishment, but it can have some negative or unwanted results.
For instance, when you're using punishment, you don't teach a person to be positive, or to learn pro-social kinds of behaviors. Generally, you're simply teaching them either escape learning or avoidance learning, which are ways to end an aversive stimulus quickly.
Escape learning is learning to respond in a way that ends an aversive stimulus quickly, by trying to get away from the aversive stimulus. Avoidance learning, similarly, is learning to respond in a way that postpones or prevents an aversive stimulus from happening.
Instead of learning to deal with problems, like bullying, for example, a child instead learns to escape or avoid. This, in turn, rewards them with some relief so that they feel better about the situation. This makes them more likely to escape or avoid again. Therefore, punishment isn't necessarily teaching somebody in the best possible way.
There are a few other notable issues or problems with punishment:
Source: THIS WORK IS ADAPTED FROM SOPHIA AUTHOR ERICK TAGGART.