Cognition, Creativity, and Behavior: Selected Essays

By Robert Epstein | Go to book overview

27
THE POSITIVE SIDE EFFECTS OF REINFORCEMENT

Summary. Reinforcement and punishment are said to be symmetrical in their effects. Unfortunately, this assertion has led to simplistic characterizations of each procedure. Both have multiple effects, and either can be misused. Reinforcement, properly utilized, is the preferred intervention because it involves less risk.

Skinner was convinced by some of his earliest research that punishment was not very effective. He found, for example, that when lever pressing in rats had been suppressed by mild punishment and the punishment was then removed, the rate of pressing increased to such an extent that the total number of presses after some time had passed was about the same as it would have been had punishment never been presented ( Skinner, 1938, p. 154).1

Skinner ( 1953) also noted some "unfortunate by-products" of punishment: It produces a tendency to attack the individual who has dispensed the punisher. It may produce pathological behavior (for example, stuttering) as a result of conflict it sets up between the punished behavior and behavior that avoids punishment. It may produce debilitating emotional reactions. He suggested various alternatives to punishment: waiting for time to pass according to some "developmental schedule" (p. 191), reinforcing incompatible behavior, extinguishing the behavior, and so on. It is a mark of civilization, he argued, that we turn to alternatives to punishment.

Subsequent developments have generally complemented Skinner's early views. The list of alternative ways to suppress behavior has grown tremendously, as he predicted it would. An examination of some recent texts on behavior analysis and therapy suggests at least 15 others, including time-out, modeling, instructions, differential reinforcement of any other behavior (as opposed simply to specific behaviors that are incompatible with the target behavior), differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior (as opposed to one that may be incompatible with the target behavior), differential reinforcement of low rate, sudden stimulus presentation (for example, a loud noise), adaptation, physical restraint, restitution, positive practice, fixed-time and variable-time schedules of

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