Q&A- Positive Reinforcement

Susan S. Woods, Ph.D.question and answer with Dr. Susan S. Woods

Q: How can we motivate ourselves more effectively through reinforcement?

A: Everyone knows that reinforcement works.  If a person’s action is followed by positive reinforcement, then that action is more likely to be repeated.  Getting an “A” on a paper after working hard on it, promising to reward a child’s good behavior with an ice cream cone or a new pair of jeans is almost always a sure winner. Nevertheless, it is often harder to motivate ourselves to write that paper, or do the things that are important, but not that fun.  It is possible, however, to motivate ourselves with the thought of a satisfying bonus at the end of our labors.  Getting around to cleaning out a closet and throwing away our old or unworn clothes may seem more palatable if purchasing a new outfit will be the self-given reward at its completion.  Avoiding that slice of pie is rewarded by watching the pounds go down on the scale the next day.

The theory of Operent Conditioning was originated by B.F. Skinner, American psychologist and behaviorist (1904-1990) who fundamentally believed that all human behavior is a result of reinforcements, and not “free will” therefore casting a shadow on the concept of benevolence as a result of subtle or not so subtle reinforcements and not just kindheartedness.  In other words, no one does anything for nothing.

Susan S. Woods, Ph.D.

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