As you may or may not know I am currently working my way towards a degree in Psychology. This has inevitably led me down the ear canal and into some odd cochlea.
Today I’d like to discuss a conclusion that has plagued my mind ever since my professor uttered it in class: Punishment is next to impossible outside of the laboratory.
I am not a father, nor am I a law enforcer, but I plan to be one of those things in the next decade- and anyone should be at least somewhat concerned about the state of their country’s criminal justice system, after all, it affects our lives. So we should all be somewhat concerned as to the effectiveness of discipline; no one wants a bratty child and no one wants murderers running around on the streets.
While it is true that the conservative mass incarceration does keep a massive portion of offenders off the streets (Pinker), this statistical fact says nothing on the real effectiveness of our criminal justice system. We as a society demand a working action-consequence algorithm, just like we as parents need a working disciplinary system.
While a simple definition for punishment would be the addition of a stimulus a subject would not like, it has two forms: Positive Punishment is akin to the above definition- the administration of a stimulus to decrease behavior. Negative Punishment is removing something that is desirable from a subject to decrease behavior. According to Gazzaniga, punishment must be “reasonable, unpleasant [i.e. intense], and immediate” to be effective (Gazzinga).
This is the heart of why it does not serve its purpose. Almost no form of punishment could possibly meet all of those demands at once. Take for example spanking. Many people my age remember being spanked as a kid- I definitely do, though it happened only once. It is a form of physical punishment that has been around for however long we’ve had kids- and the basic principle is that if you do something wrong you’re gonna get hit and since you don’t want that you won’t do the wrong thing again. Does it work? Not quite; spanking can be unpleasant and immediate- however is it reasonable? Our children appear not to think so.
In 2016 Gershoff and Grogan- Kaylor found that spanking was associated with increased aggression, mental health problems, and other forms of antisocial behavior (Gazzinga). Alternatives turn out to be far more effective at changing behavior because they are reasonable. Punishments that temporarily isolate a child, or require real-world consequences- like fines- make more sense. They are negative punishments that don’t feel like punishment so much as consequences.
The truth is, being more effective does not mean that it works every time.
Punishment at best is a temporary alteration of behavior under this terminology. Here’s an example from my life to attest to this. When I was in third grade, I decided not to do my homework for something like 2 months of the year. Life was far more interesting than subtraction and so those problems piled and piled. I regularly forged my father’s signature on my planner so that the teacher had no idea what was going on at home. But when the report cards came due, and I left it in my backpack for a couple of weeks, the teacher caught on.