Behaviorism is a theory that focuses on shaping behavior through conditioning. It focuses on reinforcing appropriate or desired behavior through positive or negative reinforcement, as well as eliminating undesired behavior through punishment. It focuses only on behaviors that can be observed or measured. It does not include the study of emotions or motives. Review some behaviorism examples to learn more.
Positive reinforcement involves applying a desired stimulus following a desired response. The idea is that a person will continue to exhibit certain behaviors if they receive a reward for doing so. There are many examples of positive reinforcement.
- Four-year-old Emma has a chore chart that includes such behaviors as making her bed, getting dressed, brushing her teeth, and taking her breakfast plate to the sink. If she completes her chores, she earns a sticker on her chore chart. Once she has five stickers, she gets to pick what the family will have for dessert.
- Parents often use a reward system when potty training a toddler. Each time a child does a desirable behavior — for example, sitting on the potty, having a dry diaper in the morning, or going to the bathroom on the potty — the parent gives the child a reward, such as a sticker or piece of candy. The hope is that the child will continue to exhibit the desired behavior because of the reward until it eventually becomes a habit.
- Companies often offer pay raises to employees who exhibit excellent performances. The hope of a raise can serve as motivation for employees to do their jobs well.
- Mrs. Smith's second-grade class is behaving poorly. She develops a behavior management system in hopes of motivating them to behave better. At the end of each hour, if the students have followed the rules at an acceptable level, she puts a mark on the board. At the end of the day, if there are more than five marks, she draws a star on the board. Once there are ten stars, the class will get a pizza party. She hopes that the incentive of a pizza party will motivate them to follow the rules.
- A customer writes a letter of appreciation praising a team member. The boss praises the employee the letter was about in the staff meeting and adds a $50 bonus to the employee's paycheck. This is positive reinforcement for exceeding customer expectations.
- A person who contributes an idea is praised for doing so, even if the idea isn't one that is feasible. Because the person knows his or her efforts were appreciated, the individual gladly continues contributing suggestions and ideas.
Negative reinforcement is also a tool for reinforcing desired behaviors, but it involves the removal of an undesired stimulus. The idea is that a person is likely to continue certain desired behaviors if doing so means that the individual is able to avoid a consequence that he or she does not want. There are many behavioral perspective examples of negative reinforcement.
- Steve's mother gets angry and yells at him when he forgets to do his chores. He doesn't want to get yelled at, so he makes a point of remembering to complete his chores.
- Employees who don't meet their weekly sales quota are required to submit a report explaining why they missed the quota and what they will do differently next week. An employee who dislikes writing reports may be motivated to work harder to make their quota to avoid having to write a report.
- Teachers who want students to do well on quizzes may encourage them to do so by assigning homework they only have to complete if their in-class quiz grade is below a certain level. Students may study harder for the quiz so they don't have to do homework.
- A patient doesn't want her doctor to fuss at her about her weight when she goes in for a checkup. To keep this from happening, the patient eats healthy food, counts calories and exercises regularly.
- A person who dislikes going to the dentist realizes that the best way to avoid the need for painful and expensive dental treatments is to go in for teeth cleanings every six months.
- Jill really doesn't like working out, but she knows that her bones and joints will ache if she doesn't exercise regularly. She continues exercising regularly to keep from experiencing this undesired consequence.
Punishment is about eliminating behaviors, not reinforcing them. This could involve taking away something the person wants, which is negative punishment. Or, it could involve administering a negative consequence, which is positive punishment. Ultimately, the individual should learn that they need to stop doing the behavior in order to prevent a consequence that they don't want.
- If a high school student is late to school more than three times in a marking period, he or she will earn a detention and have to stay after school. School officials hope that the possibility of having to serve time in detention will encourage students to arrive at school on time.
- Sarah is in the habit of speeding on her way to work. One morning, she gets stopped by a police officer and given a $275 speeding ticket. After that, she never speeds again. The fear of getting another ticket and having to pay even more of her hard-earned cash is enough of a deterrent to keep her from speeding again.
- Student-athletes are required to maintain at least a grade of a C in every class in order to participate in their various sports. If a grade drops below a C, the athlete will not be allowed to compete until he or she improves the grade. The punishment of having to sit out of games can motivate students to quickly do what is needed to improve his or her grade.
- What one person thinks is positive reinforcement might actually be viewed as punishment. A boss who seeks to reward top performers by taking them out to lunch needs to realize that employees might not want to go to lunch with her. Some employees could view this as punishment and so be motivated to underperform.
- If a team member who contributes ideas about a project is laughed at or otherwise berated, that is an example of punishment. The next time there is an opportunity to contribute ideas, the team member is not likely to speak up because of the negative consequence that was applied the last time he or she did so.
- When people try to break themselves of bad habits, they sometimes put a rubber band on their wrist and snap it whenever they catch themselves doing what they want to stop. If someone who swears a lot does this every time a term they shouldn't use comes out, it just might be punishment enough to stop the behavior.