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Punishment And Behavior Essay, Research Paper

Punishment and Behavior

The amount of crime in America has been constantly increasing over the years. At the same time, in order to deter this crime punishment enforced by the government has also increased. This is what compels me to argue against the notion that if a society wishes to change its citizens’ behavior, a system based on punishments will be much more effective than a reward based system.

First of all, there seems to be a very strong relationship between punishment and violence. The main source of this data is 3300 kids and 6000 couples who took part in the National Family Violence Survey (Straus 134). In this study physical punishment is defined as ” a legally permissible physical attack on children” (Straus 134). This study reported that in this 1975 National Family Violence survey, it was found that children who were physically punished that year were three times more likely to ” severely and repeatedly” assault one of their siblings three or more times over the rest of the year (Straus 136). This same survey also showed that both men and women who had more physical punishment as a child were more likely to assault their spouse during that year (Straus 142). This study also found a rise in street crime with increasing amounts of physical punishment. A 1972 study of 385 college students which were punished as children were more likely to be involved in violent and property crime (Straus 145). A final interesting statistic showed that for 1980 schools that used a greater amount of physical punishment also had a greater homicide rate (Straus 146).

According to Gault et. Al increasing the intensity of punishment has been found to better suppress or change a person’s behavior (159). They also found that complete suppression is only achieved by extreme, almost inhumane punishment (Gualt, Gridley, et al 159). They also found that no matter how intense the punishment given, once it is stopped, the undesirable behavior has been found to return in most cases (Gault, Gridley, et al 159).

According to a recent study by Strassberg, Dodge, Pettit and Bates (1994) the occurrence of parental spanking, regardless of frequency, or whether the punishment was given by the father or the mother, increased the child’s aggression (Gualt, Gridley, et al 160). Another interesting statistic given by the American Psychological Association is that about seventy percent of men who came through the criminal justice system were abused or neglected children (Gualt, Gridley, et al 161). Finally, Penelope Leach, who is a “well known writer on child development”, has also found punishing children leads to higher levels of aggression (Gualt, Gridley, et al 160).

Just as there are apparent links between punishment and violent or undesirable behavior in American society, Ihanus has found similar links between punishment and behavior in Russian society. According to this article “hard discipline with violent punishments” has been a part of Russian life for some time now (Ihanus 260). This starts when a child is young and is considered a part of a person’s education (Ihanus 260). Ihanus says, “…one is not educated if one has not been beaten, in effect, one is a ‘fool’” (260). Because of this, the children of Russia develop certain defense tactics which include absolute control of personal desires through, “frozenness and ossification” (Ihanus 261). It can be argued that this traumatization teaches the children to feel helpless, which carries over into many aspects of their lives, including political and economic attitudes (Ihanus 261). Several surveys of Russian people show that over fifty percent of people do not support a political party and did not give any response concerning their political attitudes (Ihanus 261).

There is obviously some kind of link between physical punishment and violence. There are a number of surveys and statistics which show this. Unfortunately, there is not really a way to know for sure if the people from these surveys were punished because they were behaving violently. In other words, it’s hard to say whether the punishment caused the violence, or the violence caused the punishment. Also, there is not a way to test this situation under fixed conditions because it would be unethical to punish people for research purposes. Although it has not been proven that punishment causes violence, evidence supports the notion that punishment is not a good way to the behavior of a person or a society. There is a strong correlation between the punishment of an individual and some kind of violence. There is also evidence that punishment only effective in changing a person’s behavior during the time that they are being punished, and the behavior will return after the punishment is discontinued. Finally, in Russian society the unusual amount of economic and political apathy is thought to be a result of the way Russians punish their children. It might be hard to tell whether or not punishment is an effective way to change citizens’ behavior if only one of these relationships between behavior and punishment existed, but with all of these examples relating punishment to bad behavior , it is evident that punishing citizens is not an effective way to change their behavior. Comparing punishment to rewards was not really possible with the information that I have collected, but using what I already know about the effectiveness of rewards I would say that a rewards-based system is at least as effective, if not more, at changing the behavior of citizens. I say this because people tend to respond positively to rewards, while there is an abundance of information that show people do not respond positively to punishment.


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