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Understanding Reinforcement Psychology

In: Philosophy and Psychology

Submitted By tommy1588
Words 1642
Pages 7
Punishment is a component of operant conditioning used to decrease the probability of a behavior or response by causing a change in the environment (Singer, B.F. 1970). This essay will discuss aspects of punishment such as methodology, effectiveness and its effects on behavior. It will review the effectiveness of punishment methodology by studying the variables such as age, gender, socio-economic status and exposure to crime. In the direct context of speeding, contemporary punishment includes ‘positive punishment’ whereby giving the offender a fine and ‘negative punishment’ by suspension of their license. This essay will also assess the effectiveness of punishment.
Attempts to neutralize the issue of speeding include implementing warnings showing the severity and consequences of speeding. However, many young irresponsible drivers cannot relate to the seriousness by influence of their peers whom they value higher than authority figures of the law. Golias, J., Kanellaidis, G., & Zarifopoulos. K. (1995) shows that the major reason for speeding is the belief that speed limits are unreliable with a mean grade of 6.67 thus; this supports the idea that people do not perceive road authorities as an influential figure. At a younger age, influential figures are not ones that are necessarily responsible, but they appeal to them in anintrinsic way. In many cultures, speeding is acceptable; growing with this idea leads many drivers to have a habit of speeding (Blincoe, K.M., Jones, A.P., Sauerzapf, V., Haynes, R. 2006).
In the essay’s context, the aim of legal sanctions is for the subject to associate punishment with the unwanted behavior of speeding. (Stafford, M. C., & Warr, M. 1993) suggests although punishment may suppress actions temporarily; it may not completely abolish it. According to studies of operant conditioning’s studies of association and frequency; when individuals are punished for speeding, it is likely for their speeding nature to recur if punishment is not persistently reinforced. Furthermore, for consistency to take place, punishment needs to be in form of a variable ratio or interval, fixed variables and intervals only reinforces behavior when the individual already figured out the pattern and behaves accordingly when necessary.

VR: Variable Ratio FR: Fixed Ratio
VI: Variable Interval FI: Fixed Interval
However, from a vicarious learning perspective, learning occurs from observing others; education by traffic authorities for drivers starts approximately at age 15 through vicarious learning. Individuals who speed without experiencing accidents, may never understand the serious consequences. Witnessing accidents through reports have little effect on young individuals, rather, it seems effective once they themselves or someone close to them experience an accident. Furthermore, the initial step of ‘attention processing’ component of vicarious learning. At 15, an individual’s mind may not be mature enough to take driving seriously (Paus, T. 2005). Young drivers are prone to mixed media influences, peers and even role models. For vicarious learning to work effectively, education must be interesting enough for the individual to take educational rescores in consideration through to the ‘motivational processes’ stage where they will act accordingly as advised (Manz, C.C., & Sims Jr, H.P., 1981).
This leads onto the conquest of deterrence amongst speeding drivers. Vicarious learning is advocated through social reinforcement by punishment. Punishment today is easily avoided; individuals who have experienced crime have a likelihood of avoiding punishment. Which increases the chance of recurring criminal behavior, in every day society it is very likely for people to witness others avoiding crimes Stafford, (M.C., & Warr, M. 1993). Re-conceptualization of this issue sparked ideas such as reforming conspicuousness of law enforcement and increasing the severity of classical punishments.
Concealing law enforcement can counter act individuals that are learned in the ways of the law habits adapt to avoiding punishment such as slowing down where they know where a speed camera is or if they see a patrol car (Blincoe, K.M., Jones, A.P., Sauerzapf, V., & Haynes, R. 2006). If the cameras and police were hidden, drivers would more likely behave differently as they are unaware of their presence. Increasing the severity of fines or suspension would have a slight impact but along with many cases, once an individual adapts to the change, it becomes less effective; this can be seen in the rising cost of living. Limitations of this involve law sanctions needing to be fair on this issue as their punishments cannot be ridiculously severe otherwise it may raise issues with fairness (Singer. B.F. 1970).
Delivery of punishment is also important, assessing if punishment should be given directly as they are caught which would factor in intimidation elements, or by using delayed punishment through mail without facial confrontation. If indirect, delayed punishment through notice is used, legal sanctions may contemplate the most effective form of punishment given by evaluating the variables of the offender (M.C., & Warr, M. 1993).
A categorical variable is gender; punishment is the same for speeding between the genders variable. Lynn, R. (1993) finds generally, males and females value money fairly equally, however they value social images differently. Schwartz, S.H., Sturch, N., Van Der Kloot, & W.A. (2001) find that females value friendship and social connections where as men value social status and power. This could be suggested that punishment would be more effective if it diminishes values upheld by both genders. Therefore, presenting a different form of punishment for the different variables may be appropriate in order to maximize effectiveness. These ideas of values seem commonly exercised amongst peers especially around school age where social forms of punishment are given to each other for poor behavior around cohorts. These methods become so severe sometimes leading to the case of suicide. However, in the scale of legal sanctions, it would be an unethical practice to diminish one’s social values.
A continuous variable to the effectiveness of punishment is age group. Punishment has different effects on different age groups; studies show that younger generations aged 18-30 respond more effectively to direct and harsh punishment as desirable habits want to be exercised as early as possible. Whereas the older age groups respond better to vicarious learning as they are generally mature and understand better. Therefore, legal sanctions may change the method of punishment given to different age groups for better effectiveness (Kramer, J., Steffensmeier, D., Ulmer, & Jeffery. 1998). Therefore, a simple fine or suspension of license can be criticized for the lack of empathy driven to all recipients; ultimately it would mostly affect poorer people. Suggestions of punishing the older cohort with driving-educational commitments may be more effective in the variable of age. Punishment that would be more effective to the younger cohort needs to include vigorous and tedious commitments for them to associate punishment with the unwanted behavior of speeding.
Having the knowledge of what is most effective in different age groups and different gender assists the evaluation of the most effective form of punishment. However, it would be difficult for legal sanctions to collapse the social circle of a female or the social status of a male through contemporary punishment, as fines and license suspensions are common. To some, these forms of punishment seem to be mere a nuisances to the individuals caught speeding. The major challenge for legal sanctions is to find a compromise between the severity of punishment and speeding, whilst taking ethics in consideration. A criminal record and prison time for speeding, although possibly effective, it would be extravagantly excessive by destroying social statuses and friendships would just be unethical where as a fine, although reasonable, it may barely be effective as a large cohort persistently speed after this punishment.
In conclusion, there are many loopholes around legal sanctions in the contemporary form. Even punishing after the account of speeding is a problem as the act of speeding has already occurred. From gathered information, effective punishment is difficult to implement and can be easily outgrown and avoided. Like many things it is a race between new forms of effective punishment and new ways to avoid it. However, suggestions of focusing on improvement in driving education rather than improved methods of punishment could be a better way of keeping roads safe.
REFERENCE LIST 1. Blincoe, K.M., Jones, A.P., Sauerzapf, V., Haynes, R. (2006) Speeding drivers’ attitudes and perceptions of speed cameras in rural England. Accident Analysis and Prevention 38(1), 378-378. DOI: 10.1016/j.aap.2005.10.008

2. Golias, J., Kanellaidis, G., Zarifopoulos. K. (1995), A survey of drivers’ attitudes towards speed limit violations. Journal of Safety Research 26(1), 31-40 DOI: 00224375(94)00025

3. Kramer, J., Steffensmeier, D., Ulmer, Jeffery. (1998), The interaction of race, gender, and age in criminal sentencing: The punishment of being young, black, and male. Journal of Criminology 36(4), 763 – 789 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.1998.tb01265.x

4. Lynn, R. (1993), Sex differences in competitiveness and valuation of money in twenty centuries. The Journal of Social Psychology 133(4), 507-511 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1993.9712175

5. Manz, C.C., Sims Jr, H.P. (1981), Vicarious learning: The influence of modeling on organizational behavior. The Academy of Management Review 6(1), 105-113. DOI:

6. Paus, T. (2005), Mapping brain maturation and cognitive development during adolescence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9(2). 60-67

7. Schwartz, S.H., Sturch, N., Van Der Kloot, W.A. (2001), Meanings of basic values for women and men: A cross-cultural analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28(16), 16-27 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.008

8. Singer, B.F. (1970), Psychological studies of punishment. California Law Review 58(2) 405-443 DOI:

9. Stafford, M.C., Warr, M. (1993). A reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence. Journal of Research in Crime Delinquency 30(1), 123-133. DOI: 10.1177/0022427893030002001

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