B. F. Skinner’s Evolving Views of Punishment: I. 1930-1940

Bruna Colombo dos Santos, Marcus Bentes de Carvalho Neto


Punishment is a controversial topic. In the theoretical field, there are two definitions of punishment that correspond to two theories: one that considers punishment as asymmetric to reinforcement and the other that considers it symmetric. One of authors that defended an asymmetric view was B. F. Skinner. Citations of Skinner’s position on punishment most often rely on what he described in Science and Human Behavior. The objective of this review was to present the historical development of the concept of punishment in work of B. F. Skinner, in the early years of his career, from the 1930s. We consider the definition, explanatory mechanisms, concepts related to punishment and the notion of symmetry and asymmetry. The term used in the 1930s to refer to punishment was negative reinforcement/conditioning. Skinner talked about punishment for the first time in 1935, considering it a process that decreased operant strength. In 1938, he began questioning this punishment effect, culminating in a change in definition in the latter year.  The possible reasons for this change were the development of the concept of reserve and Konorski and Miller’s (1937) criticisms.


punishment, behavior analysis, B. F. Skinner, history

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5514/rmac.v45.i2.75561

Editor in Chief:

Dr. Carlos J. Flores-Aguirre


ISSN: 0185-4534

ISSN Electrónico: 2007-0802