What is Positive and Negative Punishment?
Positive and negative punishment are typically used as a last resort, or for dangerous behaviors, in applied behavior analysis. However, punishment can be an effective tool in any situation when used properly. BCBAs and BCaBAs must know how to use overcorrection, response cost, and time-out properly and effectively to pass the BCBA exam. This blog post will cover each type of punishment in detail while providing examples that you can use to help you remember each term.
What is punishment?
Before we get to the types of punishment, let’s review what punishment is and is not. Punishment is not always what we consider “traditional technologies.” A reprimand, a spanking, or a removal from a setting. We identify punishment based on the effect it has on behavior. Applied behavior analysis considers punishment as any addition or removal of a stimulus that reduces future occurrences of a behavior. Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement which increases behavior. The future occurrences is the key here. Punishment does not impact current behavior.
What is Time-out in ABA?
Time-out might be the most well-known type of punishment, and also the most misunderstood. Just because we send someone to “time out” does not automatically mean we are punishing them. Consider a student who is sent to the principal’s office when they misbehave. If that student misbehaves intentionally so that they can visit the principal, than you are really reinforcing that behavior. Always consider the impact on behavior. In ABA there are two different types of time-out: exclusionary, non-exclusionary each with their own subset of interventions.
When exclusionary time-out is used, the learner is removed from the environment and is not longer allowed to even observe the environment. Exclusionary timeout may include a time-out room or a partition time-out. It is essential that all access to reinforcement is blocked and/or removed while in exclusionary timeout. Ethically, it is important to remember the laws and ethics behind exclusion. Many states have laws regarding isolation and leaving children alone. Remember, we are not abandoning the child, we are just removing access.
Non-exclusion timeout is exactly what it sounds like. The child remains in environment, but reinforcement is removed. Non-exclusion timeout includes planned ignoring, contingent observation, and time-out ribbons. Removing a specific reinforcer is also considered a time-out in some instances. Typically you want to focus on a set time when running non-exclusionary timeouts. You also want to make sure the child is safe if you are ever conducting any planned ignoring. Remember, don’t ignore the child, ignore the behavior.
What is Response cost?
Response cost is a punishment procedure commonly associated with token economies. A response cost procedure calls for the removal of a previously earned or obtained reinforcer in response to maladaptive behavior. For instance, if a child earns 3 tokens, but loses one token for engaging in a maladaptive response, then a response cost procedure has been implemented. This is typically considered negative reinforcement. Response cost is very powerful when used correctly.
What is Overcorrection in ABA?
Finally, overcorrection is a type of punishment that involves the learner repeating a behavior, or fixing the environment. Positive practice overcorrection, negative practice overcorrection, and restitution overcorrection are the three types of overcorrection we will examine.
Positive Practice Overcorrection
Positive practice overcorrection calls for the learner to repeat the correct response over and over again. For instance, if the learner is supposed to throw garbage in the trash can, then the learner would throw garbage in the trash can 10 times in a row (for example). This type of overcorrection relies on engaging in the correct behavior repeatedly.
Negative Practice Overcorrection
Negative practice overcorrection is the opposite of positive practice. The learner repeats the wrong behavior over and over again. If the learner threw his food on the ground, then the learner would throw his food on the ground 10 times in a row (for example). Negative practice relies on engaging in the incorrect behavior repeatedly.
Restitutional overcorrection calls for the learner to repair an environment that they destroyed, and repair that environment to a better condition than it was before. If the learner throws a tantrum, and knocks over the book shelf, the learner would clean up the books, and then vacuum the carpet.
Using Punishment Effectively
Knowing when to use punishment, and how to use punishment effectively, is a critical skill for any BCBA or BCaBA. RBTs typically learn the difference between reinforcement and punishment, but rely on their supervisors to guide them on proper implementation. Punishment, combined with reinforcement, is sometimes used to teach verbal behavior. For more on reinforcement and punishment, see the video below. Experimental designs are useful for identifying effective punishment interventions.
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