Article Review of the “DETERRENCE” Hypothesis

Mary Kuchta

South Dakota State University

The deterrence hypothesis predicts that the introduction of a penalty that leaves everything else unchanged will reduce the occurrence of the behavior subject to a penalty. Deterrence theory justifies punishment as deterring future crimes on the assumption that a higher expected punishment produces lower levels of criminal behavior (Gneezy & Rustichini, January 2000).

This hypothesis was tested by Gneezy and Rustichini on day-care centers in Israel. They studied the effect of fines on the frequency with which parents arrive late to collect their child from day-care centers. Their data included observations of 10 day-care centers over a period of 20 weeks. In the first 4 weeks they simple observed the number of parents who arrived late. At the beginning of the fifth week they introduced a fine in six of the 10 day-care centers. The fine was imposed on parents who arrived more than 10 minutes late. No fine was introduced on parents in the four other day-care centers, which served as a control group. The fine was then removed at the beginning fo the seventeenth week. Observations about how many parents continued to arrive late were made in the following four weeks (Gneezy & Rustichini, January 2000).

The experiment was done on ten private day-care centers in the city of Haifa from January to June of 1998. All of the day-care centers were located in the same part of the town and there was no significant difference between them. In the day-care centers had age groups from the ages of 1 to 4 and were allowed to hold a maximum of 35 children. The fee for each child was about NIS 1400, which is equivalent to about $380, per month (Gneezy & Rustichini, January 2000).

The study lasted 20 weeks. In the first 4 weeks they recorded the number of parents who arrived late each week. At the beginning of the fifth week, they introduced a fine of NIS 10 per child for a delay of ten minutes or more. This was implemented in six of the 10 day-care centers. These centers were selected randomly. At the end of each month, the parent would pay the principle the fine, not the teacher that was on duty when they picked up their children. The remaining day-care centers did not have a fine for parents who arrived late and were considered the control group. At the beginning of the seventeenth week, the fine was removed with no explanation. Observations were then made about how many parents continued to pick their kids up late (Gneezy & Rustichini, January 2000).

Results showed that at the beginning of the experiment all the daycares had a similar number of parents that picked their kids up late each week. Once the fine got introduced to six of the day-care centers, the number of parents that picked their kids up late increased. The number of parents that picked their kids up late in the other four day-care centers without the fine stayed about the same. After the seventeenth week, the fine was taken off. The day-care centers did not see a decrease or an increase in the number of parents that picked their kids up late (Gneezy & Rustichini, January 2000).

This experiment shed a lot of light on things when talking about fines, punishment, and reward. Fines are used every day. When people don’t pay their electric bill on time, or they are speeding, there is a fine that they have to pay. A person would think that the number people speeding or not paying their bills on time would diminish to almost nothing. But, we see that this isn’t true. I come home from work and at least once a week and I see someone pulled over on the side of the road receiving a speeding ticket. So, if fines are used to discourage a certain behavior, then why doesn’t it work?

This experiment posed some of the same questions. It was surprising to see how the number of parents that picked up their kids late almost doubled when the fine was introduced. While the daycare centers with no punishment didn&srquo;t increase in the number of parents that picked up their kids late. One reason most parents showed up on time is that they had a relationship with the teachers and wanted to treat them fairly. But the threat of a fine shifted the parents’ decision from a partly moral obligation of being fair to the teachers, to a pure money transaction. So, therefore by adding the fine, the punishment didn’t promote good behavior, it blocked it out (Pink, 2009).

This idea can be seen in the classroom when it comes to homework completion. Being docked points on homework that is handed in late is a hot topic among teachers. Will students be more motivated to do their homework if for any late assignments they would receive full credit, no credit, or partial credit? This question relates directly to the results of this study. In the beginning of the study, every daycare had parents that picked their kids up late, just like every classroom has certain students that don’t hand in their assignments. There are some students that just refuse to do any assignments at all. As educators we need to keep working with these students, but we also don’t want students that originally do their homework begin to stop doing their homework. I implement a partial credit policy in my classroom when it comes to late homework, but after reading the study, I question that policy. Will I have more students that don&squo;t hand in their homework or more students that will hand in their homework if there is no punishment for late work? Homework is supposed to be deliberate practice. Homework should add value to a lesson. It should ready a student for new learning, provide repetition and application of knowledge and skills, review material learned earlier, and allow them to revise their work (Cushman, 2010). Since homework is supposed to be deliberate practice, is giving partial credit to students for not understanding the material the first time teaching them how to become life-long learners, or is it teaching them that homework is just a job and there is no value to it?

This would be a great study that I could do in my own classroom. I have six different classes in a day. I could have two of the classes be my control group and not have punishment for late homework assignments, but rather have them focus more on quality than on quantity. I could have two other classes have a partial credit policy for homework, and the last two classes have a zero tolerance for late homework. I could start a semester with all six classes having no punishment for late work. After about two weeks, I could enforce the other two policies in the other classes. I could do this for a few weeks, and then go back to no punishment. I could then see how homework completion and homework quality would be affected. Based on the results of the study done by Gneezy and Rustinchini, my hypothesis would be that homework quality would diminish if there were consequences placed on late homework. I also would hypothesize that the number of students that choose not to hand in their homework would also increase if punishment is added.


Cushman, K. (2010). Fires in the mind: What kids can tell us about motivation and mastery. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gneezy, U., & Rustichini, A. (January 2000). A fine is a price. Journal of Legal Studies, XXIX, doi: 0047-2530/2000/2901-0001$01.50

Pink, D. (2009). Drive: The suprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.