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Study: Punishment Is the Most Effective Discipline Technique

The Short of It

A new study by psychologists at Washington University's School of Medicine may prove that punishment is far more effective than offering rewards or other modern parenting techniques.

The Lowdown

In a simple experiment, the researchers gave study participants either a reward or a penalty after making a choice to see which had a stronger effect on whether they would choose to repeat that choice or not. The study found that when the participants were given a reward, they tended to repeat the previous choice, and that effect grew stronger as the award increased. But, the participants who received a penalty were less likely to make the same choice again.

According to the researchers, the study may prove that responses to punishments are hardwired to the brain, so negative feedback may be more effective than positive feedback at modifying behavior.

"Our study showed that such feedback does not have to be harsh, since it appears that we tend to react in the same manner to any amount of negative feedback," said Dr. Jan Kubanek, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal "Cognition." "From an evolutionary perspective, people tend to avoid punishments or dangerous situations. Rewards, on the other hand, have less of a life-threatening impact."

"Objectively, you'd think that winning 25 cents would have the same magnitude of effect as losing 25 cents, but that's not what we find," Dr. Kubanek added.

The Upshot

While this study may show the overall effectiveness of negative feedback or punishment over postive feedback or offering rewards, there's still no one size fits all approach for parenting. Each child and situation requires different techniques, and as parents, the goal isn't always just to get a desired behavior. Punishment might not teach the life lesson we want them to learn in the long run. After all, our job as parents is to shepherd our kids into becoming good adults.

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