Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Timothy A. Shahan


Timothy A. Shahan


Sarfaraz Serang


Gregory J. Madden


Katherine R. Brown


Timothy A. Slocum


Punishment is defined as a consequence that decreases the frequency of behavior that produces it and is an important behavior regulation mechanism for learning to stop engaging in maladaptive behavior. Punishment has implications for behavioral disorders and treatments and plays an important role in both programmed and natural contingencies. Despite the clear relevance of punishment for behavioral regulation, little is known about how punishment works. Furthermore, punishment research has been in evident decline, leaving important empirical and theoretical gaps in the literature. Therefore, the overall goal of the present set of studies is to fill in some of these gaps. The idea that punishment results in undesirable collateral effects is one of the major arguments against the use of punishment and has likely contributed to a reduction in research on the topic. Therefore, the first study (Chapter 2) re-examines some of these putative side effects and highlights the lack of strong empirical support for the notion that these potential side effects are necessarily ubiquitous, long-lasting, or specific to punishment. Furthermore, there is an evident need for a complete and robust quantitative model of punishment. Therefore, the following two studies (Chapters 3 and 4) focus on the effects of different punishment parameters on choice. More specifically, Chapter 3 investigates the effects of punishment intensity on response allocation and Chapter 4 investigates the effects of punishment rate on response allocation. Together, these studies aim to improve our understanding of punishment effects and underlying mechanisms and contribute to a more comprehensive theory of punishment that integrates punishment into more general theories of behavior.



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