Behavior 101 is an ongoing series about the principles underlying human behavior, and how to apply those to changing problem behavior in children, teaching children skills and maintaining positive behaviors. This installment: reinforcement and punishment.
When we learn how to behave, we do so based on consequences. When we do things for which we get rewarded, the odds are that we will keep doing them. (We don’t even have to get rewarded for them every time — that’s how casinos stay in business — but that’s a more complicated concept for another time.)
Likewise, when we do things for which we suffer negative consequences, we are less likely to repeat them. This is the old “hot stove” situation, in which we learn stoves are hot at young age by making the mistake of touching one, then spend the rest of our lives trying to avoid repeating the experience — most often, to varying degrees of failure.
(This ties into the basic functions of behavior we discussed last week: all people seek to get things that are “good” and avoid things that are “bad.”)
In behaviorism, we divide these consequences into two basic types: reinforcement and punishment. These both have positive and negative dimensions, making a total of 4 different kinds of consequences:
I realize that’s a lot, and the terms are repetitive, and it can be a bit confusing. To make it easier to summarize and grasp, just remember:
Without always realizing it, we are subject to these consequences every day. We also make use of them when trying to teach children new behaviors or get rid of old ones.
For example, when Salvador and Yoshi argue over what to watch on TV or whose turn it is to choose, they lose the privilege of watching TV. That’s negative punishment. When Yoshi makes a proper request by asking for what he wants and saying “please” — something he and I have been working on a lot — he (usually) gets what he asked for. That’s positive reinforcement.
What kinds of consequences — whether punishment or reinforcement — do you use with your kids?
Next time on Behavior 101, we’ll start talking about what makes a consequence effective.
(Image credit: stevendepolo’s flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)