Operant Learning: Decreasing Behavior
Quite often there is an implied meaning, or negative connotation, to the word consequence (e.g., “If you engage in dangerous behaviors there will be terrible consequences!”);however, in operant learning theory sometimes the opposite is true. For the Discussion this week you learned that reinforcers are consequences that can be enjoyable (e.g., praise, money, an “A” on an exam).
Similarly, the word punishment carries a negative association and usually refers to a form of retribution or “payback.” This is not always the case in operant learning theory. B. F. Skinner used the term punishment in his writings to describe the decrease in a behavioral response, and any consequence that decreases the probability of a response (weakens it) is defined as a punisher.
Examples of punishers: Reprimand, frown, sarcasm, scream, slap, etc.
It is important to keep in mind that punishers, like reinforcers, are defined at the level of the individual. That is, what may be a reinforcer to you might not be a reinforcer to your friend—and in fact it could be just the opposite—a punisher!
Example: If a reprimand from your employer causes an increase in your work productivity then it can be defined as reinforcer. However, if instead, the reprimand from your employer upsets you then it may actually diminish, or decrease, your productivity at work—if so, then the reprimand is a punisher.
The same variables that you read about in Chapter 5 that affect reinforcers also affect punishers and include establishing operations, contingency, and the intensity of the punisher.
There are two primary kinds of punishment procedures presented in Chapter 8: Positive punishment and negative punishment. B. F. Skinner did not use the terms “positive” and “negative” in his discussions of punishment—he used the terms “punishment by application” and “punishment by removal,” however, it has become customary to present the concept of punishment as positive and negative in order to help try to differentiate between the two procedures. Similar to what you learned about the two reinforcement procedures, in punishment procedures the term positive refers only to the addition (+) of a consequence (the punisher), and the term negative is the removal (–) of a consequence, to decrease or weaken a behavior response rate.
Example of positive punishment: You shout “NO!” when you see a child reaching to touch a hot stove top. You are adding (+) a consequence (NO!), and this startles the child who quickly withdraws her hand from the hot stove top, and decreases the likelihood she will touch the hot stove in the future.
Example of negative punishment: Your teenage son was out past curfew. As a consequence, you take away (–) his car keys for three months to try to decrease his breaking curfew in the future.
Although the use of punishment is sometimes necessary in reducing problematic behavior, the use of punishment can also sometimes produce unwanted side-effects such as escape, aggression, apathy, abuse, and imitation of the punisher (e.g., imitating parents and teachers). Some alternatives to punishment include response prevention and extinction, and various forms of differential reinforcement. These procedures are effective and are less likely to have adverse effects than some forms of punishment.
In this Assignment, you will focus on techniques designed to reduce the frequency of a problem behavior. You will examine punishment techniques as well as differential reinforcement approaches to accompany punishment procedures.
To prepare for this Assignment:
- Review again Chapter 5 in your course text.
- Read Chapter 8 of your course text to gain an understanding of decreasing behavior through the use of punishers and punishment, and the alternatives to punishment such as extinction and the use of various differential reinforcement techniques (DRA, DRI, DRL).
- Read the Little, Akin-Little, & Cook (2009) article. Little, S. G., Akin-Little, A., & Cook, C. (2009). Classroom application of reductive procedures: A positive approach. In A. Akin-Little, S. G. Little, M. Bray, & T. Kehle (Eds.), Behavioral interventions in schools: Evidence-based positive strategies (pp. 171–188). Washington, DC: APA Books. doi:10.1037/11886-011 (access from the library)
- Think about instances in your own childhood when your parents attempted to reduce a problematic behavior in which you were engaging, and what you think was effective and not effective.
The Assignment (1–2 pages):
Complete the following:
- Briefly explain why it is important to reinforce alternatives to problem behavior when using a punishment procedure.
- Give one example of the use of both a punishment procedure combined with a compatible differential reinforcement technique (DRA, DRI, or DRL) for an ongoing problematic behavior observed for a child or adolescent. Some examples of problematic behavior to focus on in your example could include refusal to keep his or her room tidy, refusal to eat or behave appropriately at meal times, cursing, aggression, temper tantrums, etc.
- Discuss one potential advantage of the punishment procedure or the differential reinforcement technique applied to your example.
- Discuss one potential limitation of the punishment procedure or the differential reinforcement technique applied to your example.
Support your Assignment with evidence from the assigned Learning Resources. Provide a reference list for resources you used for this Assignment.