Punishment insensitivity and parenting: Temperament and learning as interacting risks for antisocial behavior

Mark R. Dadds*, Karen Salmon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

140 Citations (Scopus)


We review ideas about individual differences in sensitivity or responsiveness to common disciplinary behaviors parents use to correct aggressive and antisocial behavior in children. At extremes, children may be seen as "punishment-insensitive," an heuristic with some value relevant to models of the development of antisocial and aggressive behavior disorders. Literature from diverse fields, such as psychopathy, child temperament, socialization and the development of moral conscience, conditioning theory, and personality theory, have all utilized the idea that humans differ in their sensitivity to aversive stimuli and the cues that signal their occurrence, as well as their ability to inhibit reward-driven behavior, in the presence of punishment cues. Contemporary thinking places these dispositions squarely as basic biological aspects of temperament that moderate the effects of the environment (e.g., parenting) on outcomes (e.g., mental health). We review a largely forgotten literature that shows clearly that sensitivity to punishment is also reliably influenced by the environment itself. An attempt is then made to model the interactional processes by which parenting and punishment sensitivities in children magnify or diminish each other's progress toward healthy or antisocial development. Implications for parenting of children with low responsiveness to punishment strategies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-86
Number of pages18
JournalClinical Child and Family Psychology Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Antisocial behavior
  • Learning processes
  • Psychopathy
  • Punishment
  • Temperament


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