Unconditioned Vs. Conditioned Punishment

Having trouble identifying which type of punishment is used in a given scenario? Don’t do that again… #punishment. Let the bitches explain Unconditioned Vs. Conditioned Punishment to you SNABA style.

Punishment: when a stimulus is added (#positive) or removed (#negative) contingent on a response that decreases the future likelihood that a response will occur in similar situations.

Real World Example
You are enjoying your ride into work and jamming to some good tunes. You don’t even realize that you are well above the speed limit until you see those red and blues behind you! You get pulled over and given a ticket. Nothing to even argue about, you broke the speed limit. You pay the fine and in the future, monitor your speed on the way to work.

image from superbad

Clinical Example
After trying several different interventions, a BCBA, Kim meets with a family to discuss using a punishment intervention for throwing items. The behavior has gotten quite dangerous as the child throws heavy objects, sometimes leaving cuts and bruises on other children and staff. After using a multi-element experimental design, Kim discovers that requiring the child to clean up after throwing and then wipe down the entire room is successful in decreasing throwing (restitutional overcorrection).

Unconditioned Punisher: A stimulus that works as a punisher without previous pairing with any other punishers. These are often acquired through the evolutionary process of a species (phylogeny).

Real World Example
You are walking into your bedroom to look for your favorite hoodie. It’s really chilly outside and you know the red one will be perfect. You are also rushing because, like typical days, you are running late. You quickly walk around your bed and hit the edge of the frame. You scream in pain and literally think that your toe just might fall off.
In the future, when rushing through your room, you no longer speed around the corner of your bed. You take your time because you want to save your toes.

Clinical Example
With the consent from a parent, Macy, a BCBA decides it’s time to increase their efforts for nail biting for a current client. With Mom’s permission, Macy applies a bitter tasting nail polish to the client’s nails. After the client tries to bite their nails with the polish, the behavior decreases immediately but only if the client’s nails are painted with that specific polish.

Conditioned Punisher: A stimulus that works as a punisher and has acquired its punishing capabilities by being paired with other punishers, both unconditioned and conditioned. These are often specific to the individual learning history (ontogeny).

Real World Example
You drank a little too much of a very specific alcoholic beverage. So much so that you vomit and feel sick all night and into the morning. In the future, when you see that drink, you will decrease the frequency at which you drink it… possibly for a long time. The beverage (previously neutral stimulus) was paired with vomiting (unconditioned stimulus) which in turn created a conditioned punisher. Casamigos anyone?

Clinical Example
John, a BCBA explains to his supervisee that they are going to implement a punishment procedure with one of their older kids. The kid has started to engage in inappropriate comments and reinforcing appropriate comments is not making progress as quickly as they would like for it to. Instead, younger kids within the clinic are picking up on the language that the older kid is using and echoing it. John tells the supervisee that they are going to remove all tokens on the client’s token board if they engage in inappropriate comments. After experiencing the contingency twice, inappropriate comments reduced drastically.


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