Positive punishment is a concept used in B. F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning. The goal of punishment is to decrease the behavior that it follows. In the case of positive punishment, it involves presenting an unfavorable outcome or event following an undesirable behavior.
The concept of positive punishment can difficult to remember, especially because it seems like a contradiction. How can punishment be positive? The easiest way to remember this concept is to note that it involves an aversive stimulus that is added to the situation. For this reason, positive punishment is sometimes referred to as punishment by application. (Gershoff, E. T. 539-579)
For example, you wear your favorite baseball cap to class, but are reprimanded by your instructor for violating your school’s dress code. You’re late to work one morning, you drive over the speed limit through a school zone. As a result, you get pulled over by a police officer and receive a ticket. Your cell phone rings in the middle of a class lecture, and you are scolded by your teacher for not turning your phone off prior to class.
Can you identify the examples of positive punishment? The teacher reprimanding you for breaking the dress code, the officer issuing the speeding ticket and the teacher scolding you for not turning off your cell phone are all examples of positive punishment. They represent aversive stimuli that are meant to decrease the behavior that they follow. (Hockenbury, D., & Hockenbury, S. E.)