Punishment motivation

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Motivation is the reason, incentive, or interest in something that causes us to perform a certain action or move towards a specific goal. Without motivation, there is no driving force pushing you to lose weight, complete a remodeling project, or finish your degree, and anything else.

There are many different types of motivation. One type of motivation is punishment motivation.

What is punishment motivation?
Many type of motivators are reinforcers; that is, they encourage a specific behavior or action and have a positive effect. For example, a reward for completing homework on time would be a positive motivator.

Punishment motivation actually has the opposite effect and is designed to decrease a behavior rather than increase it. Not only that, but punishment motivation has a negative effect on a person. For example, if you put your child in time-out for hitting his sister, the negative feeling of being isolated will motivate him not to hit his sister again. If your boss calls you in and reprimands you for being late to work, the embarrassment and worry you feel from that will motivate you not to be late to work again.

Does punishment motivation work?
Punishment motivation is an effective way to deter certain behaviors, especially when it is done quickly and consistently.

But unless it is handled carefully, punishment motivation can evoke fear and breed hostility. For example, if your boss yells at you in front of your entire department whenever you are late to work, chances are you won't be late again. However, you will probably lose respect for your boss.
Punishment may also not bring out the desired effect. For example, if a teacher punishes a student for not turning work in on time, rather than be motivated to complete the work, the student might cut school or be afraid to ask for help.

Unlike other types of motivators, punishment is also considered a poor choice for motivation because it occurs after the behavior occurs. For example, if you discover your dog has made a mess on the carpet and find him and then punish him for it, he may not be able to connect the punishment with what he did wrong. It's also an ineffective motivator because the person being punished is unable to change whatever it is they did wrong. If you punish your child for coloring on the walls, that still doesn't change the fact that there are now crayon marks all over the walls. Making him stay in and clean it up rather than go outside and play would be a more effective deterrent.

Are there ways to make punishment motivation work?

In order for punishment motivation to be effective, several things need to happen. If you plan on using punishments as a form of motivation, consider the following:

  • The punishment must be something that is feared. For example, a child who is afraid of being spanked or an employee who is afraid of being fired.

  • The punishment must be consistent. The person has to know the punisher will follow through.

  • The person being punished has to know what they are being punished for.

  • Punishment motivation shouldn't be used for something a person has no control over or something accidental (for example, a child accidentally spilling his juice in the car is not worthy of punishment.)

Punishment motivation is not the most effective form of motivation as long as certain conditions are followed.

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