How many times have you looked at a someone’s behaviour, and thought “I just wish he/she wouldn’t do that!!” Yeah, me too. As a dedicated student of behavioural analysis (studying behaviour… it’s more exciting than it sounds), I present to you behaviourism for beginners!
You have probably heard the words “reinforcement” and “punishment”, but what do they actually mean?
In a nutshell:
Reinforcement = recipient likes it!
Punishment = not so much…
Both of these impact on our future behaviour. But research suggests that punishment has short term impacts, but that effect doesn’t last long. However, the effects of reinforcement have long lasting effects. Basically, when you reward someone, they will do that behaviour again, even when you are not there. If you punish someone, they won’t do it while you are standing there, but… weeellll… when you aren’t?
Now there is a second step. Positive and Negative. “Pfft. I got dis!” I hear you say. Weeeeelll. Hang on a sec. You see in behaviourism, Positive doesn’t mean good and Negative mean bad (I know, right!?!).
Positive = you get something
Negative = I take something away.
With me so far?
Right. So. It’s the final nutshell!!
Positive Reinforcement = You do something I like; I give you something that you like
Negative Reinforcement = You do something I like; I take away something you don’t like
Positive Punishment = You do something I don’t like; I give you something you don’t like
Negative Punishment = You do something I don’t like; I take away something you like.
Positive Reinforcement = you were good, have a cookie
Negative Reinforcement = you were good, let me take away that annoying loud noise
Positive Punishment = You were bad, I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap
Negative Punishment = You were bad, no computer time for a month
Got it. Awesome. Great. But… what does this all mean? It means if you provide an outcome the person enjoys, you are more likely to get an outcome you enjoy. I underline more likely, as you can never control or predict how someone acts, merely encourage, and make outcomes more likely.
OK. So how would that look? How it can look is “When, Then”. “When you clean your room, then you can have some computer time”. “When you lower your voice and talk to me rather than yell, then I will help you get what you would like”. And, here is the important bit. DO NOT give them the Then, without the When.
Now all of this is obviously theory, and I’m not going to pretend that it is as easy as I have just suggested. I’m a dad, not an idiot. Often the first step, and it can be enough to get the ball rolling, is to ask yourself – why? Why is the behaviour happening. What do they want, or not want? Even if you can’t work out an answer, you are heading toward Reinforcement from simply considering their objective…