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Reinforcement is a process that focuses on increasing or strengthening a response to fulfil a task. In behavioural psychology, this method is studied to reach the desired behaviour, either by supporting


Reinforcement is a process that focuses on increasing or strengthening a response to fulfil a task. In behavioural psychology, this method is studied to reach the desired behaviour, either by supporting a response or by opposing a response. It includes all those things that contribute to the likelihood of behaviour; for instance, events that take place during reinforcement, situations in which the method applies, or circumstances of the event. On the other hand, punishment focuses on penalizing or seizing something valuable to prevent a behaviour unacceptable by law, rules or regulation of a place. Punishment, in the general sense, is a type of social control that helps society maintain its rules and regulations and the peace of its inhabitants’ lives. As a result, if wrongdoing is not controlled, it will create problems within society and in people’s lives. Reinforcement and punishment are the two methods that control an individual’s behaviour that could lead to different outcomes, depending upon the respective responses. The mode of punishment can be a little harsh for petty offenders whose actions can be prevented by changing their behaviour through the inclusion of other stimuli, such as rewards, changing of circumstances and so on.


In the legal arena, section 53 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, deals with the concept of punishment. It reads, “the punishment to which offenders are liable under the provisions of this code are-

  • Death penalty;
  • Imprisonment of life;
  • Punishment is of two descriptions, namely:
  1. Rigorous, that is, with hard labour;
  2. Simple;
  • Forfeiture of property;

These are the types of punishment that could be inflicted upon a criminal, depending upon the nature of the crime but punishment is not defined anywhere in the IPC. In simpler terms, punishment means inflicting some pain or fine on a person who did any act that is in contravention of the rules and regulations of a place, so that the offender could realise his mistake, and set up an example for society to be aware them of the consequences of the same act.

The abovementioned definition deals with the legal aspect of forbidden acts against the state. On the other hand, various organisations and institutions have their own rules and regulations whose infringement attracts punishments prescribed by those organisations or institutions. In general terms, punishment is a procedure in which responses are followed by either removal of a positive reinforcer or the presentation of a negative reinforcer and decreases the responding pattern.

There are multiple theories of punishment that deal with procedures for dealing with an offender. These theories include deterrent theory which focuses on the prevention of crimes by opting for harsh punishment even for petty offences to set an example in society so that the crime could not be repeated. The retributive theory of punishment is based on the theory of an eye for an eye. The believers of this theory advocate that the offender should suffer just as the victim to serve justice. Preventive theory prevents the offender from being a part of society. The reformative theory does not focus on inflicting pain on a person but on rehabilitating the person through proper counselling, education and reinforcement.


Reinforcement, a part of behavioural psychology, is a consequence to strengthen an individual’s behaviour. In a general sense, reinforcement is divided into two categories:

  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Negative Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement means adding a factor to increase the likelihood of the desired behaviour. In this method, the emphasis is on completing an act by using a reward system or influencing an individual for the same. For instance, asking a mischievous person to maintain the decorum of the court to get an appreciation for maintaining discipline from people present there. Following this method may help in fixing petty offences by just strengthening the behaviour of a person.

Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, means removing a factor to increase the likelihood of desired behaviour. For instance, ordering a mischievous person to not attend the proceedings of the court to avoid interruption in the proceedings. It will prevent disturbance in the court and the consequences of the same to the mischievous person in the form of fines or punishment.

Further, it can be inferred from both types of reinforcement that the desired outcome can be achieved through positive and simple procedures by reinforcement.


As of now, there is no direct reference to reinforcement existing in the legislation and the law of our country but in the reformative theory of punishment, we can find its inference. The fundamental aspect of this theory is that, unlike others, it focuses on the criminal rather than the crime and seeks to change the offender’s attitude in order to rehabilitate him as a law-abiding member of society.  According to this theory, crime is linked to the offenders’ existing psychological or physical characteristics, as well as the society’s environment and circumstances. As a result, the criminal is treated as a patient rather than a criminal. When it is possible to change a person’s attitude through some mechanisms, reinforcement is the convenient method to treat a person, if a crime is committed, or to stop some small offences from taking place.


Reinforcement focuses on the mental condition of an individual to change his behaviour and by taking preventive measures, as mentioned in the examples, the workload of the courts and overpopulation of the prisons can be reduced. Punishment is the last measure that must be adopted only in exceptional cases. In the landmark judgement of State of Rajasthan v. Balchand alias Baliya, the supreme court stated that “bail is the rule and jail is the exception.” By adopting the methods of reinforcement, it is possible to stop small guilty events from happening and even the condition of bail will not be required. The methods of punishment are also needed to deal with heinous offences but petty offences can be prevented or dealt with by the other methods as well by not involving proceedings in the same.

Author(s) Name: Tushar Choubey (Faculty of Law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal)