Shocking Action: Facilitative Effects of Punishing Electric Shocks on Action Control

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Four experiments examined motivational effects of response-contingent electric shocks on action initiation. Although the shock was unambiguously aversive for the individual in line with subjective and functional criteria, results showed that the shock-producing action was initiated faster relative to a response producing no shock. However, no facilitation effect was found when strong shocks were delivered, ruling out increased emotional arousal as an explanation. The action was initiated faster even when the response discontinued to generate a shock. Furthermore, a control experiment with affectively neutral vibrotactile stimulations at homologous sites showed an analogous response facilitation effect. Overall, the results contradict the widespread belief that a contingency with a punishing response effect is sufficient for a response suppression. Instead, the results suggest that punishing action effects can facilitate action initiation via anticipatory feedback processes. Implications for theories and applications of punishment are discussed.

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