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OTHER PEOPLE’S HABITS Thanks for downloading this excerpt Chapter 7: The Nature of Positive Reinforcement If it is true that knowledge is power, then knowledge of the laws of human behavior must be the most powerful information a person can possess. This chapter explains how, whether at home, at work, or at play, positive reinforcement sustains desired behavior—your own or someone else’s. It will lead you to a better understanding of how you can help yourself and others make changes for the better. To learn more about this book visit us at www.aubreydaniels.com/other-peoples-habits © 2013 ADI. Please enjoy this excerpt for your personal use only. OTHER PEOPLE’S HABITS How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Bring Out the Best in People Around You Aubrey C. Daniels Pe r formance Management Publications 3353 Pe a c h t ree Road NE, Suite 920 A t l a n t a , Georgia 30326 678.904.6140 w w w. P M a n a g e m e n t P u b s . c o m DANFM.QXD 9/21/06 1:10 PM Page iii Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Daniels, Aubrey C. Other people’s habits : how to use positive reinforcement to bring out the best in people around you / Aubrey Daniels. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-937100-09-9 (alk. paper) 1. Behavior modification. 2. Reinforcement (Psychology) I. Title. BF637.B4 D34 2000 158.2—dc21 00-060925 Copyright © 2006 by Performance Management Publications. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. ISBN 0-937100-09-9 (HC) This book is printed on acid-free paper. DANFM.QXD 9/21/06 1:10 PM Page iv CONTENTS Preface i x Acknowledgments x i 1 A Better Way 1 2 Turning Behavior Inside Out 7 3 Barriers to Changing Behavior 14 4 The Death of Common Sense 24 5 Relearning Your ABCs 32 6 The Other Three Consequences 44 7 The Nature of Positive Reinforcement: How Positive Reinforcement Sustains Behavior 55 8 Everybody Thinks They’re Doing It 67 9 Contingency: Behavior Followed by Reinforcement 77 10 Timing Is Everything: Understanding Reinforcement, Recognition, and Reward 89 11 Too Much of a Good Thing? 98 vii DANFM.QXD 9/21/06 1:10 PM Page vii 12 PMF (Pinpoint–Measure–Feedback) 110 13 Make Haste Slowly 124 14 Dos and Don’ts of Delivering Positive Reinforcement 133 15 Receiving Reinforcement: What to Do When You Get It and What to Do When You Don’t 141 16 Deliberate Acts of Reinforcement 153 Appendix 160 Endnotes 186 Index 191 C O N T E N T S viii DANFM.QXD 9/21/06 1:10 PM Page viii 7 I can live for two months on a good compliment. —MARK TWAIN BEHAVIOR GOES WHERE REINFORCEMENT FLOWS Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to change any behav- ior—your own or someone else’s. It is the most desirable consequence to use to change behavior, and for many reasons. It doesn’t cost any- thing, and so you don’t need a budget to use it. You don’t need author- ity or permission to put it into action. People enjoy receiving it, and it gives the best results on a continuing basis, producing cooperation, cre- ativity, and high productivity. It is effective, easy to use, and fun to give and receive. It’s also the consequence of choice because it changes behavior with less risk of creating anger, hard feelings, and negative fall- out. In short, of all the behavior change processes, positive reinforce- ment is the most powerful, the most desirable, and the least risky. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT DEFINED A positive reinforcer is any consequence that follows a behavior and results in an increase in that behavior. Positive reinforcement is the pro- THE NATURE OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT How Positive Reinforcement Sustains Behavior 55 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 55 cedure of delivering a positive reinforcer. These are technical defini- tions; to use positive reinforcement efficiently and effectively, it is important to understand these concepts in this way. When you understand positive reinforcement in this way, you real- ize that common practices such as a pat on the back, an atta-boy, an annual bonus, and an employee-of-the-month award do not necessar- ily qualify as positive reinforcers. While a compliment was obviously a positive reinforcer for Mark Twain’s behavior and for that of many others, it is not for everyone. What you do to someone does not define pos - itive reinforcement; it is defined by what happens to the person’s behavior after you do it. Positive reinforcement always works. That is, it always increases behavior. If the behavior does not increase after an attempt at rein- forcement, the attempt wasn’t a reinforcer or wasn’t delivered correctly. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS EVERYWHERE Positive reinforcement occurs every time you do something that pro- duces an effect in your environment that you like. When it is defined in this way, you can see that everybody gets thousands of positive rein- forcers every day. The TV coming on positively reinforces pushing the power button on the remote control. Receiving a candy bar positively reinforces putting money in a vending machine and pushing a button. Hitting a golf ball is reinforced by seeing it land on the green close to the hole. POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT EQUALS “EASY” AND “USER-FRIENDLY” Things that are easy to do are more reinforcing than are things that are hard to do. The concept of being “user-friendly” is really the process of building positive reinforcers into using a computer or another device. CHAPTER SEVEN 56 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 56 For instance, every time you move successfully from one program to another, the commands you use that get you where you want to go pro- vide you with positive reinforcement. Computer games are designed to produce many positive reinforcers per minute. Every time a player pushes a button and the characters move in the desired direction, the player gets reinforced. In most computer games this kind of reinforce- ment can occur at a rate of more than 100 per minute! This is why peo- ple become so engrossed in playing these games. New versions of the games are successful when they produce more reinforcers than the old ones do. Keep in mind that positive reinforcers are not limited to what people say and do to others. Most reinforcement results from normal interaction with our environment. GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH Positive reinforcement can unintentionally increase an undesired behavior just as it increases a desired behavior. Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you tried to solve a problem, the worse it got? If “worse” means that the negative behavior is occurring more often, the things you were doing to solve the problem were actually positive reinforcers for the undesired behavior. For example, it has been demonstrated many times in elementary classrooms that the more times a teacher tells some students to sit down, the more they stand up. What this should indicate to the teacher is that saying “Sit down” is actually a positive reinforcer for standing up. Having the teacher spend time with the children who are seated while ignoring those who are standing until they are seated typically solves the problem. Spending time with the “misbehaving” students once they are doing work at their desks will maintain the desirable behavior. In my clinical practice I saw a young female patient who had started pulling out her eyelashes and eyebrows. The problem got so bad that she had practically no eyebrows or eyelashes left. When her parents would see her pulling on her lashes or eyebrows, they would tell her to THE NATURE OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT 57 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 57 stop it. I had them collect some data on their behavior, and they dis- covered to their amazement that saying “Stop it” was actually a rein- forcer for pulling out her lashes and eyebrows. The more they said “Stop it,” the more she pulled out her eyelashes and eyebrows. The attention her parents gave to the undesired behavior actually reinforced it, and so it increased. C o n ve r s e l y, we sometimes do things we think are re i n f o rcers and d i s c over later that they we re actually punishers. A supervisor in a label- making plant heard about how effective performance feedback was in i m p roving performance and started giving feedback to perf o r m e r s d a i l y. He would go up to them and tell them how many labels they had run the previous day. Fo rt u n a t e l y, he kept data because the number of labels produced dropped dramatically. The supervisor could not understand that what he had done was negative. Maybe it was the a b rupt way he gave the workers the information or the fact that they we re n’t used to having him communicate with them. Maybe they thought he was keeping track of their performance to get evidence for firing them. W h a t e ver the reason, the performance data told him that his behavior was not positively re i n f o rcing because the desirable behav- ior decre a s e d . DO UNTO OTHERS AS THEY WOULD HAVE YOU DO UNTO THEM The concept that most people have of positive reinforcement is limited to what are called social and tangible reinforcers. While they constitute only a small proportion of the reinforcers a person gets every day, tan- gible and social reinforcers play a vital role in developing and main- taining effective habits. Social and tangible reinforcers generally are defined as the things a person wants or likes. While this is not a scientific definition, it is use- ful in understanding and using the concept. This definition is broad enough to include making money, liking chocolate, wanting to please CHAPTER SEVEN 58 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 58 someone, and wanting to make someone angry. Probably the thing that differentiates one person from another more than anything else is that we all like and dislike different things. There are no two people, not even identical twins, who like exactly the same things all the time. The best way to understand what another person really likes is to watch how that person spends his or her discretionary time and money. Looking only at what people say they like and value can often distract you from what they really value. A good way to appreciate the infinite variety of positive reinforcers is to discover people’s hobbies. There seems to be no end to what peo- ple will collect or spend free time doing. Think of all the things people hunt and collect. There is a group of people, a society, that collects “dated railroad nails.” Imagine finding pleasure walking down old rail- road tracks. As a man told me once, “I must have walked 500 miles of railroad tracks this year.” He was eager to show me his collection and offered to give me a “starter set.” You probably know people whose hobby is work. That results from the fact that they have received more reinforcement there than in any other place or activity. BOREDOM EQUALS LACK OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT What a person finds reinforcing has little to do with the behavior involved. Repetition has often been thought of as the problem in most jobs. Academics have chided business because many jobs are repetitious and boring. Boredom is not caused by repetition; it is caused by lack of positive reinforcement for repeated behaviors. The behaviors in most sports and other leisure activities are often very repetitious. Sewing, cooking, and gardening can all be said to be repetitious. However, that repetition leads to frequent reinforcers, and that is precisely why people enjoy them. Attempts to “enrich” jobs by changing what people do have not been effective. It is not what people do that determines job satis - faction; it is what happens to them when they do it. THE NATURE OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT 59 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 59 During my college years I was a disc jockey in the summers and school holidays at a local radio station. I made more money on that job than I thought I would ever make as an adult. I had almost total c o n t rol of how I ran the programs. But after only 2 years I became ve ry disenchanted with the job. I remember thinking that I would tear my hair out if I had to read one more commercial about the price of bacon at Piggly Wi g g l y. I was bored. Yet I had a job that many people w a n t e d . Because I had no training for the job, I made many mistakes. Na t- u r a l l y, there we re lots of negative consequences that undermined my self-confidence. Since I got few re i n f o rcers for what I did right and lots of punishers for what I did wrong, I decided that I didn’t really like that kind of job after all. By the way, I got lots of re i n f o rcers from lis- teners. But because I was learning, my most important re i n f o rc e r s we re those from management, and I got ve ry few. I re a l i ze now that if management had responded differe n t l y, I probably would have made a career in radio. As it was, I quit the job and changed my major to p s yc h o l o g y. I’ve seen people excited about their jobs in a research lab, and I’ve seen people bored with janitorial jobs. Conversely, I’ve seen people fired up about janitorial jobs and people bored with research jobs. I cannot think of a job that cannot be made into something that people hate to do. No matter what behaviors are involved in a job, increasing the frequency of positive reinforcement associated with those behaviors can increase the meaning and enjoyment of the job. MEANING DOES NOT RESIDE IN BEHAVIOR; IT RESIDES IN CONSEQUENCES While we might say that reading is a positive re i n f o rcer to a part i c u l a r person, turning the pages and looking at the words on a page are not the re i n f o rcers. It is experiencing the suspense of a mystery, the ro m a n t i c i s m CHAPTER SEVEN 60 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 60 of a love story, the adve n t u re of learning about new places, or learning h ow and why things work that provides the actual re i n f o rc e m e n t . The game of golf is probably the best example of how meaning is not found in behavior and how the problem of boredom and meaning- less work is not caused by repetition. Millions of people worldwide pay to do the same thing over and over every chance they get. I am person- ally crazy about the game. I hate cold weather, and the only thing I will voluntarily do in the cold is play golf. But what do I do when I play? Hit it and try to find it. Hit it and try to find it. Knock it in the hole and start all over again. If I live to be 90, I hope I will still be able to get out and do those things over and over again. It is possible that some people reading this believe that golf is a waste of time. Golf is a stupid waste of time only to those who have never experienced the positive reinforcement associated with a long straight drive, a shot that lands within a foot of the hole, and the sight and sound of a long putt falling into the cup. In addition, I probably receive more social reinforcement in a round of golf than the average person receives at work in several months. Mark Twain stated it well: “There is probably no pleasure equal to the pleasure of climbing a dan- gerous Alp; but it is a pleasure which is confined strictly to people who find pleasure in it!”1 As with golf, the behaviors involved in the vast majority of hobbies are not dramatic or exotic. People who love golf are people who have received lots of reinforcement for hitting the ball and trying to find it. People who love needlework are people who have had a lot of rein- forcement making hundreds of thousands of stitches. Any hobby is the same. A hobby is simply an activity for which the hobbyist receives a lot of positive reinforcement. “I have never been to a professional baseball game or seen an episode of Dallas, Geraldo, or Oprah,” said the columnist William F. Buckley. “So I waste my time and find my pleasures in other ways.” Find how people “waste their time” and you will have discovered what is reinforcing to them. THE NATURE OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT 61 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 61 R+ KEEPS BEHAVIOR ALIVE Po s i t i ve re i n f o rcement is the lifeblood of efficiency and effective n e s s . Without it, behavior withers and dies. Sustaining behavior is simply a matter of making sure that it re c e i ves enough re i n f o rcement to keep it going. If a behavior decreases over time, that probably has occurre d because the amount of re i n f o rcement is not sufficient to keep the behav- ior going at a high and steady rate. The technical term for the with- drawal or re m oval of positive re i n f o rcement from a pre v i o u s l y re i n f o rced behavior is e x t i n c t i o n . It is a ve ry important concept in under- standing how to sustain behavior, because a lot of the problems people experience at work and at home result from inadve rtent extinction. EXTINCTION—STOPPING BEHAVIOR BY DOING NOTHING Extinction occurs when behavior that previously was re i n f o rced is no longer re i n f o rced. Extinction occurs eve ry day. Behaviors that don’t work for us, that is, don’t get us what we want, eventually stop. Eve ry day behaviors are strengthened and weakened. Behaviors that work are s t rengthened; those that don’t are weakened. Extinction is a good thing because without it, we would still have eve ry bad habit we ever had. The problem with extinction is that the process is not directly observable. Since extinction is a passive process, you may not notice anything happening immediately, but, slowly you will see behavior changing. Every time you do something and nothing happens, that behavior is weakened. This brings up two practical issues related to the use of extinction to eliminate undesirable behavior. One is making sure that behavior we want to continue is not extinguished accidentally, and the other is mak- ing sure that behavior we want to extinguish doesn’t get reinforced acci- dentally. In the first situation we must make sure that behaviors which are desirable from a personal and societal point of view get at least some CHAPTER SEVEN 62 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 62 occasional reinforcement. When reinforcement becomes too infre- quent, extinction will occur. Deliberately removing or withholding reinforcement is difficult for most people to do. The most common example of deliberate extinction is ignoring. Ignoring, like breaking up, is hard to do. In the mental health facility where I worked as a young therapist, we taught the staff members how to ignore behavior because we discovered that while most of them thought they were ignoring, they weren’t. When you ignore, it is as though the behavior was not happening or did not exist. You don’t ignore by staring at someone or looking sternly with your hands on your hips. You simply go about your business as though it was not happening. Since we have been re i n f o rced all our lives for looking at people and listening to what they say, it is hard to selectively ignore. It may seem easy, but it is not. If yo u’ve ever said that someone has a way of “hitting my hot button.” “getting on my nerves,” or “getting under my skin,” this usually means that that person has done something that c a n’t be ignored. Anybody who has raised children understands this. C h i l d ren won’t be ignored. They are experts at getting their pare n t s’ attention whether the parents want to give it to them or not, and often they get it with inappropriate behavior such as crying, nagging, or a n g e r. Not only do parents have a hard time ignoring this type of negative behavior, our whole society does. If society could ignore weird, antiso- cial, counterproductive behavior, many of the problems that plague the world would soon disappear.Think about all the crazy things people do to get attention. Teenagers don’t put earrings through their tongues because it feels good. If no one else knew it or saw it, would they do it? The truth is that for some people negative attention is better than no attention at all. The recent tragic shootings in several U.S. high schools can be attributed in part to a craving for attention. Dio Chrysostom, a Greek philosopher, said, “Most men are so completely corrupted by opinion that they would rather be notorious for the greatest calamities than suffer no ill and be unknown.”2 THE NATURE OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT 63 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 63 In situations where behavior is undergoing extinction (not re c e i v- ing the usual re i n f o rcement) several things happen. The first is that the old behavior increases in an effort to get re i n f o rcement. This is called an extinction burst. One might say that when a person is not get- ting re i n f o rcement as he or she used to, that person tries hard e r. A child who gets his way by kicking and screaming may kick faster and s c ream louder when his parents begin to ignore it. Many parents make the mistake of thinking that ignoring the behavior isn’t work i n g because the behavior is getting worse. Ac t u a l l y, the opposite is tru e . The increase in the behavior tells the parents that the child is not get- ting re i n f o rcement and is trying harder for it. Un f o rt u n a t e l y, at this point many parents give in and respond to the child, which puts the behavior on intermittent re i n f o rcement, increasing resistance to extinction in the future and making the behavior harder to eliminate. I ’ve seen this happen in labor negotiations where management would not respond to labor’s demands until there was violence, at which time it would find a way to settle. The second thing you can expect after the onset of extinction is emotional behavior. This is the situation where you kick the vending machine, curse the company, or blame your spouse or where a child holds her breath and “turns blue.” This is a natural response to the loss of reinforcement and should be expected. Grief is a response to the loss of reinforcement. The cure for grief is to find other sources of rein- forcement. When a romantic relationship breaks up, the length of grief is directly related to how quickly the parties find other sources of rein- forcement. The best thing you can do to help people in situations where they have lost a loved one through death or divorce is to get them to be active so that they are likely to find new sources of rein- forcement. One final aspect of extinction is called resurgence. Resurgence refers to a well-known phenomenon in which an old behavior disappears for a period of time and then, for no apparent reason, pops up again. Dr. Robert Epstein, a prominent behavioral researcher, discovered that this is basically the result of inadequate reinforcement for the new behav- CHAPTER SEVEN 64 DANCH07.QXD 9/20/06 12:35 PM Page 64

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