Encyclopedia > Punishment

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Punishment is the practice of imposing something unpleasant on a wrongdoer. Most notably, criminals are punished by fines or prison. Children are also punished by their parents, guardians[?], or teachers.

In operant conditioning, punishment is the presentation of a stimulus contingent on a response which results in a decrease in response strength (as evidenced by an decrease in the frequency of response). The effectiveness of punishment in suppressing the response depends on many factors, including the intensity of the stimulus and the consistency with which the stimulus is presented when the response occurs. In parenting, additional factors that increase the effectiveness of punishment include a verbal explanation of the reason for the punishment and a good relationship between the parent and the child.

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Possible reasons for punishment See also: Criminal justice


Deterrence means dissuading someone from future wrongdoing, by making the punishment severe enough that the benefit gained from the offense is outweighed by the cost (and probability) of the punishment.

Deterrence is a very common reason given for why someone should be punished.


Some punishment includes work to reform the wrongdoer so that they will not commit the offense again. This is different from deterrence, in that the goal here is to change the offender's attitude to what they have done, and make them come to accept that their behaviour was wrong.


In the prison system, punishment has the effect of incapacitating the prisoner, and physically preventing him from committing crimes against those outside. The most dangerous criminals may be sentenced to life imprisonment for this reason.

The death sentence also may be invoked for this reason.


Retribution is the practice of "getting even" with a wrongdoer - the suffering of the wrongdoer is seen as good in itself, even if it has no other benefits.

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