It seems that a lack of response to punishment is often considered useful in diagnosing conditions or symptoms. A good example of this may be in diagnosing psychopathy, in which a lack of response to punishment seems to be a defining characteristics. For example:

Their behavior does not reform in response to punishment; they will impulsively commit crimes despite knowing the consequences they will likely face. They are among the worst of repeat offenders.”

It seems odd to me that punishment is considered significant, since in many cases a person we consider capable of making their own decisions may not agree that they have done something wrong, in which case why would the punishment be expected to have any effect?

My question is, how is observing a lack of response to punishment useful in diagnosing any kind of psychological condition? Is the assumption that most people will respond in an expected way to punishment? If so, what is that based on?

  • $\begingroup$ significant to what? I would try to rephrase the whole question in terms of diagnosing psychopathy or similar conditions and avoid vague words like 'significant'. I also retagged your question, cognitive-psychology is not a catch-all tag. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Mar 11 '12 at 0:31
  • $\begingroup$ @ArtemKaznatcheev I am asking about punishment and the normal response, and why a deviation is considered significant. Why punishment is used at all for measuring or diagnosing. Asking why it is significant covers all of those question without being too general. I don't see something that applies to everybody being abnormal psychology. What I am asking certainly comes under psychology. I don't know how to make the question clearer and don't understand the downvote. $\endgroup$ – Sonny Ordell Mar 11 '12 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ How is cognitive psychology a relevant tag? $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Mar 11 '12 at 1:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ArtemKaznatcheev How is it not? How is abnormal psychology relevant? I am asking why a lack of response to punishment is considered significant. It seems to be the norm/baseline that people will respond to punishment, so abnormal psychology doesn't make sense to me. Going by the tag description for cognitive psychology, it seems fitting. Why do you disagree? $\endgroup$ – Sonny Ordell Mar 11 '12 at 13:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "It seems odd to me since in many cases a person we consider capable of making their own decision may not agree with a punishment, in which case why would the punishment be expected to have any effect?" - Even if you don't agree with the reason the punishment is given, you might still change your behavior accordingly. That is, if I'm punished for playing the piano, even if I don't agree with the reasons for this, I'll probably stop playing it to avoid future punishment. Could you include some solid (i.e. Links? Journals?) references so we can analyse the statements you give further? $\endgroup$ – Speldosa Mar 14 '12 at 10:53

In response to your first inquiry, lack of response to punishment, in some cases, may suggest the lack of conscience/fear. Many are diagnosed or have the symptoms of a sociopath; being that they think themselves as untouchable, greater than anything/anyone outside of themselves; they don't feel fear the way "norms" do, nor do they feel remorse for what they inflict on others. Therefor, they will find "reason" for any and all wrongdoing they inflict. So far as your second question, it is not so much that it is "assumed" that most people will respond in an "expected" way to punishment. Rather, the individual that has been tested in the same arena as a diagnosed sociopath vs. the majority of people who feel remorse, exude morals and personal responsibility.


"The Sociopath Next Door"- Martha Stout

I hope this is some semblance of an answer for you.

Update: In your words, sociopathy and psychopathy are speculative. All science, on the other hand is proven by trial and error. Subjects being tested and who bear on the "normal" end of the spectrum, is named so by the trial and error which is performed and proven from past subjects. Moving on, I will say that, speculatively, the majority of people will not hold up a bank, steal money from petty cash at their place of employment, or commit murder, due to their morals, conscience, or fear of getting caught due to the punishment they may receive. However, if there is NO fear, NO morals, NO conscience, there may be room for diagnosis. A person may feel they have done nothing wrong and that their actions are justified. Everyone has reasons for doing what they do. But the majority of people tend to feel remorse when they cause others undue comfort, cheated anotherin an extreme circumstance, or was the cause of a terrible negative outcome. For a person to feel they have done nothing wrong and that their punishment is unjust, happens every day. But it's the one who does NOT feel, nor take personal responsibility(the blame is never theirs) who may, over repeated instances, be diagnosed with a form of psychosis.

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Hi, thanks. I don't feel that answer really helps though, as I had read the same papers and books you reference, which is where my question came from. The work in sociopathy and psychopathy seems highly speculative. Perhaps you could clarify your answer to indicate why a lack of response to punishment would suggest a lack of conscience or fear, as opposed to simply feeling they didn't do anything wrong and that the punishment is unjust? $\endgroup$ – Sonny Ordell Dec 9 '13 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think the answer to your update is flawed, because it spreads the FUD that someone with no morals will do "bad" things for that very reason, when that is pure speculation and has very little science to back it up. Such speculative opinion masquerading as science has no place in a true academic discussion, IMO. $\endgroup$ – Sonny Ordell Dec 13 '13 at 22:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.