The Principles Of Effective Punishment

There are 14 principles of effective punishment listed by Drs. Azrin and Holtz (1966). Since this time, repeated research studies have been conducted to support these principles. Of these are six principles which are considered to be the most relevant when using procedures as punishment.

Principle I: There Must Exist a Behavioral Contingency The first basic principle of punishment is one that should be obvious but at times can be mistaken by subjectivity or incorrect use of consequences. A behavioral contingency is the relationship between a behavior an event that follows it reliably, known as a consequence. The link between the behavior and the consequence has to exist to punishment to occur but it must also decrease the behavior. Behavioral contingencies have been used as the foundation for studying what causes behavior to change. Additionally, they provide the scientific proof of the effectiveness of consequences.

Behavior analysis is a field strengthened and reliant on scientific evidence for treatment compared to physiological fields based on theories. Punishment was developed and proven by research data in proving its effectiveness to decrease rate of behavior. Cipani explains, behavioral contingencies of how to increase or decrease behavior are better when simple. When considering a behavior and its factors, cut the “extra baggage” of anything that does not contribute to the behavior of interest. “Simple is better.” Often times parents believe they are providing their children with consequences, such as time-out, for misbehavior. The issue with this is the lack of behavioral contingency. The parent is providing a time-out after misbehavior but misbehavior is not a specific behavior. Consequences to either increase or decrease behavior must follow the particular behavior of interest. If we put Sally on time-out after hitting the dog in the morning and then put Sally on time-out for drawing on the walls in the evening, Sally’s behavior(s) will likely not decrease. Resorting to behavior modification as a way to change undesirable behavior of children “all in one shot” is considered a haphazard use of consequences. Trying to alter multiple undesirable behaviors by using consequences is lacking behavioral contingency as it is too broad and will likely produce more problems. If Sally’s parents decide the most important behavior to target is Sally’s aggression toward the family dog, then they can place Sally in time-out following every instance of aggression towards their furry companion. The behavioral contingency between hitting and time-out will decrease Sally’s behavior when implemented correctly.

Principle II: Be Consistent Consistency is key to see results. Whether it is becoming more fit by consistently exercising 5 days a week or preventing gingivitis by consistently flossing your teeth every day. This applies to behavior as well. Many would agree consistency is key in nearly every aspect of life without hesitation but in actuality they are not being consistent. Doing a behavior 5 out of 10 times is not consistent. Neither is 6, 7, or 8 times. 10 out of 10 times is consistent. Further, 100% of the time is consistent. When considering the previous time-out contingency, one must consistency put the child in time-out following the target behavior of hitting. After every occurrence of hitting follows the time-out punishment procedure. That is consistency. If one is not consistent with the consequence procedure then the behavioral contingency loses its ability to change the target behavior. Failure to follow through with the intended consequence of the target behavior will lessen the chance of successfully decreasing the target behavior. The immediacy of the consequence is important in behavioral contingencies. Pairing a verbal warning with the delivery of the punisher when a child is reaching to touch something potentially dangerous makes a punishing consequence effective. Eventually, the verbal warning alone, when the child is looking at or near the potentially dangerous item, can be used once the punishing event is reduced. Another point to the consistency of these principles is if the contingency can be delivered as it is intended to be. This often happens to parents that “give in” to the pouty sad faces of their children, the never-ending cries, or the repetitive apologies for their behavior. When the parent is not consistent with the punishing consequence, the children are escaping. This not only weakens the effect of the punishing consequence, but also teaches children they can successfully escape punishment. While this may be the case under ones roof, this is not the case in the real world.

Principle III: The “Even Swap” Rule The “even swap” rule is to reinforce desirable behaviors while also using punishing consequences on undesirable behavior. Cipani explains “the punishers that involve a removal of reinforcement for target behavior inherently take advantage of reinforcement.” This makes the reduction of a problem behavior more likely by building a behavior to replace it, such as an “even swap.” For example, if Teddy does not complete one page of math homework, he will not have access to TV that evening. If Teddy completes one page of math homework, he will have access to TV at the completion of the work. This is an even swap. When the function of an undesirable target behavior is attention, it may be more complicated to eliminate the behavior. Any consequences that are planned must override the received social attention from the target behavior.

Principle IV: Remove Competing Consequences If a competing consequence is occurring while implementing a punishing consequence procedure, there is likely to be a minimal effect on the target behavior. For example, when a student is talking to his peers in class and the teacher moves the student’s seat to the opposite side of class. If the teacher just so happens to seat the student next to their crush, this would be a competing consequence. Time-out procedures may provide a competing contingency if the function of the individuals behavior is escape. Principle V: Be Specific It is of the upmost importance that behavior change plans be specified in order to accurately and effectively provide treatment for target behavior. As a behavior interventionist, I have seen first-hand how difficult it is to be effective as well as record accurate data if operational definitions are not listed or the behavior is not specified in its entirety. It leaves the interventionist unsure of how or when to provide consequences as well as to which function of behavior the procedure is to be implemented towards. The specification of the consequence procedures should be described before the start of implementation. If the start of the behavioral program has begun and the specifications are not listed, it can often leave negative effects towards the target behavior as there may be a lacking of consistency. It is necessary to avoid ambiguity in all behavior contingencies.

Principle VI: Prove It Works. The basic principles of punishment were conceived from years of research in animals prior to the work of children and adults. All theory and application of these principles come from these research findings. Additionally, the replication of experimental research supports this principle by verifying the effectiveness of the research and it’s procedures.

13 January 2020
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