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Punishment conditioning

Punishment conditioning

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Punishment conditioning infographic
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Punishment conditioning is a technique from behavioral psychology that can help you to stop unhealthy behavior. However, punishment seems to be less effective than rewarding positive behavior [1] and has potential side effects [2].

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How to Do It

There are two ways to punish unhealthy behavior. You can add an unpleasant consequence to bad behavior (i.e. 50 push-ups), or you can remove a pleasant experience as a consequence for bad habits (i.e. no TV at night).

Try to make the punishment actually good for you like doing an exercise or donating to a charity.

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May reduce the frequency of unhealthy behavior

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Time Commitment

10-15 minutes for punishment

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Why it works

By punishing unhealthy behavior, we learn to associate this same behavior with an unpleasant consequence which makes us less likely to engage in it in the future.

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Suggested Frequency

Every time you engage in unhealthy behavior

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Supporting Studies and Articles

  1. Strohacker, K., Galarraga, O., & Williams, D. M. (2014). The Impact of Incentives on Exercise Behavior: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Annals of Behavioral Medicine : A Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 48(1), 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-013-9577-4
  2. Cohn, M., Popma, A., van den Brink, W., Pape, L., Kindt, M., Domburgh, L., … Veltman, D. (2013). Fear conditioning, persistence of disruptive behavior and psychopathic traits: An fMRI study. Translational Psychiatry, 3, e319. https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2013.89
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Side Effects

  • May lead to self-aggression
  • May lead to the suppression of the same behavior in a healthy context
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Required Equipment


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Potentially bad habit

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Category Health/Productivity/Focus:

  • Health
  • Productivity
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Suggested Time of Day

Any time

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  • Consider rewarding yourself for not engaging in unhealthy behavior instead of punishing bad behavior to achieve longer lasting change
  • Combine with reward conditioning for an amplified result
  • You can also make challenges with your friends to abstain from a bad behavior and pay each other every time you mess up. For example agree to give your friend $10 everytime you eat junk food
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 Happiness  Productivity  Focus  Motivation
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