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Punishment is the authoritative imposition of something negative or unpleasant on a person or animal in response to behavior deemed wrong by an individual or group.[1][2][3][4][5] The authority may be either a group or a single person, and punishment may be carried out formally under a system of law or informally in other kinds of social settings such as within a family.[2] Negative consequences that are not authorized or that are administered without a breach of rules are not considered to be punishment as defined here.[4]

Four fundamental justifications for punishment include: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitations such as isolation in order to prevent the wrongdoer's having contact with potential victims,[6] though only retribution is central to the concept and none of the other justifications are guaranteed outcomes.[4]

If only some of the conditions inherent in punishment are present, it is generally not regarded as a situation in which it would be accurate to use the term "punishment". Inflicting something negative, or unpleasant, on a person or animal, without authority is considered either spite or revenge rather than punishment. In addition, the word "punishment" is used as a metaphor, as when a boxer experiences "punishment" during a fight. In other situations breaking the rules may be rewarded, and is therefore without negative consequences, and so cannot be considered punishment. Finally the condition of breaking (or breaching) the rules must be satisfied to be considered punisment.

Punishments differ in the degree of severity of their unpleasantness, and may include sanctions such as reprimands, deprivations of privileges or liberty, fines, incarcerations, ostracism, the infliction of pain, and the death penalty. Corporal punishment refers to punishments in which pain is intended to be inflicted upon the transgressor. Punishments may be judged as fair or unfair in terms of their degree of reciprocity and proportionality.[3] Punishment can be an integral part of socialization, and punishing unwanted behaviour is often part of a system of pedagogy or behavioral modification which also includes rewards.[7]


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