A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, March 21, 2011

Behaviorism & Positive Reinforcement Study

Behaviorism and Positive Reinforcement

Daniel Kurland
Psych 231
Dr. ***

March 21, 2011

What is Behaviorism?

                Behaviorism, also known as Learning Theory, involves a “step by step” process by which enduring habits are formed. (Berger, 39) The case of how one father attempts to stop his child’s tantrum in a store by giving him candy offers a great illustration of the predictive value of behaviorism, plus the appeal of a revision called Social Learning Theory (Bandura).

Operant Conditioning and Reinforcement?

            Operant conditioning explains that animals are likely to repeat behaviors that lead to pleasure and avoid behaviors that lead to pain (Skinner). (Berger, 39) Negative reinforcement teaches a child what to avoid, eg., placing a hand on a hot stove leads to pain. Often, negative attention becomes its own reward, which is why behaviorists prefer the term negative reinforcement instead of punishment. (Berger, 39) Positive reinforcement can be used to teach children social norms such as we do not throw tantrums in stores.

The Predictive Value of Behaviorism:

            The father, Bill, uses positive reinforcement in a way that only encourages negative behavior. Jess learns that throwing a tantrum is a great way to get candy! Winning! The theory predicts that, since Jess receives a pleasurable response for negative behavior, he is likely to repeat the behavior the next time he is in the store. Bill might habitually offer, in advance, a cookie in exchange for a promise of good behavior, which might encourage more effective compliance, but what would be the underlying message, that manipulation works? An overreliance on “positive reinforcement” tools by overly controlling parents can weaken a child’s sense of his own self efficacy (Bandura). (Berger, 43) Instead, Bill might model patience while habitually engaging his child in more shared experiences.


Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the lifespan. New York: Worth.