Punishment And Learning Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Learning, Criminal Justice, Punishment, Crime, Reward, Operant Conditioning, Brain, Behavior

Pages: 2

Words: 550

Published: 2020/11/01

Punishment, Reward, and Learning

Learning and punishment has been extensively studied in the laboratory. Beginning with the Skinner Box, operant conditioning was examined in rats and pigeons (uni.edu, 2010, internet). The basic premise of operant conditioning -- and instrumental conditioning -- is that people automatically learn to "associate behavior and its consequences" (uni.edu, 2010). In turn, learning takes place, which influences the likelihood of such behavior in the future. However, a debate from these studies has arisen about the whether positive reinforcement, i.e. reward, is a more effective way to reinforce learning -- the delivery of something good or the withdrawal of something good -- than negative reinforcement -- the withdrawal of reward or the delivery of something bad. It is a worthwhile endeavor to briefly examine which form of reinforcement is more effective in terms of learning.
According to Walker, Lungu, Liu, Willingham & Ashe (2009), only reward, as opposed to punishment, showed "implicit learning" of block sequences, as measured by the reaction time (RT) of 64 cohort subjects in a series of tests where they were rewarded with money (or punished by the loss of money) when contrasted to their criterion reaction times (cRT). The researchers studied procedural learning, and how this type of learning is influenced by cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes in terms of activity of neural substrates. This activity was measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) testing during the experimental trials (Walker, Lungu, et al., 2009).
What the researchers found on a neural level was intriguing. The research suggested that qualitative (as opposed to merely quantitative) differences were evident in different motivational systems. They found that structures of the brain -- such as the basal ganglia -- were an important neural substrate of procedural learning. They also found that a structure called the putamen was modulated by subject responses. The putamen, according to the researchers, is extensively connected to certain premotor areas of the brain. They propose that this effect improves motor learning by strengthening dopamine-induced areas of the striatum, particularly corticostriatal synapses in this location (Walker, Lungu et al., 2009). Thus, the mechanisms of reward are hard-wired into the brain, and shape human behavior at the neural level more effectively than punishment.
However, there is a wealth of research that shows that punishment modulates learning more effectively than reward. For example, when 18- to 25-year olds were given computer tasks that "expected" them to learn an "inferred rule", their performance improved when they received negative feedback instead of positive reinforcement. However, younger children showed better performance when they were rewarded (Belsky, 2008). The results indicated that the neural connections, particularly the areas where learning activity takes place, are radically different in young adults when compared to children. On a superficial level, this learning difference might take place, the researchers speculated, because learning which requires one to learn that they did something wrong requires more analysis on the part of younger adults -- cognitive processes that young children may lack. Thus, the behavior of young children, as measured by the ability to learn rules, is shaped more by punishment than reward. Thus, it is easier for them to learn by simply being rewarded. The researchers also speculated that, due to hormonal activity during puberty, certain brain structures and their connections with other structures, may change, affecting the way in which they learn. This research begs more questions about the role that puberty -- as well as age -- plays in learning with respect to the efficacy of punishment vs. reward in people (Belsky, 2008).
While much research used to state that punishment was far more effective in the reinforcement of learning, later research has indicated otherwise, showing that reward is much more effective at increasing the association between behavior and its consequences, when compared to punishment. However, the debate still continues, as other research has shown that learning as a result of punishment vs. reward differs with age.


Belsky, J. (25 Sep, 2008). Rewards are better than punishment: here's why. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/family-affair/200809/rewards- are-better-punishment-here-s-why
Thorndike's "Instrumental Conditioning" and B.F. Skinner's "Operant Conditioning." (n.p.) (2010). Retrieved from http://www.uni.edu/walsh/Operant.pdfWachter, T., Lungu, O.V., Liu, T., Willingham, D.T. & Ashe, J. (2009) Differential effect on reward and punishment on procedural learning. Journal of Neuroscience(29)2: 436-443. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2765863/

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Punishment And Learning Essays Examples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/punishment-and-learning-essays-examples/. Published Nov 01, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2022.

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