Advantages of the Use of Punishment to Shape Behavior

There are advantages of the use of punishment to shape behavior. Punishment can be thought of as a consequence that occurs after an operant response, which reduces the tendency of that response from happening in the future. An operant response is defined as a kind of behavior that can be modified by its consequences, according to the University of Iowa. Punishment can either be positive punishment, or it can be negative punishment.

Stopping Behavior

One advantage of the use of punishment to shape behavior is that it can stop behavior from happening in the future, according to Shannon Wolf, M.Ed. This depends on punishment being delivered in the proper way. If it is delivered properly, behavior that is unwanted can be removed almost absolutely by using the punishment. Punishment is an easier alternative to other behavior modification like positive behavior modification, where the effects are not seen instantly and where a lot of energy and time has to be expended before results occur.

Learning Opportunity

Another advantage of the use of punishment to shape behavior is that it can stimulate learning, according to Wolf. When you use a punisher, also called an averse stimulus, you are presenting a clear distinction between behavior that's acceptable or unacceptable or between behavior that's dangerous or safe. For instance, a child that is slapped across the face for going into the street without checking for traffic will learn not to do it the next time. The importance of this learning opportunity is to teach it to kids the first time around.

Example to Others

Other children can also benefit from the use of punishment to shape behavior. If you use a punisher against a child for any kind of improper behavior when other children can witness it, that can shape the behavior of the others. The other children will be made aware of the consequences of engaging in undesirable behavior, according to Wolf. As a result, the other children are going to be less likely to commit that sort of behavior themselves.


Deterrence is used in death penalty cases to shape the behavior of other people who are thinking of killing a fellow human being. The increased incidence of the death penalty in the United States from 1993 to 1999 coincided with a significant drop in the homicide rate in those same years, according to Capital Punishment UK 1. In 1993, there were 24,526 homicides, while in 1999, there were only 15,522 homicides reported. The homicide rate is based on the inclusion of non-negligent manslaughter as well as murder.

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