Psychology Punishment and Reward

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Punishment and Reward
Kathryn Brady
September 12, 2010
Jacqueline Peterson

How behavior is selected, reinforced, and motivated is an essential question in psychology. What makes a behavior more likely than a different behavior? There is a lack of agreement among psychologists as to what processes create behavior. The descriptions of motivation are varied and the process by which motivation is created is firmly rooted in two distinct camps: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. “The concept of intrinsic motivation is distinctively illustrated by… a well-demonstrated experiential state of ecstasy, pleasure, or satisfaction that occurs during the performance of tasks that represent the matching of demand and skill “ (Marr, para

4, 2000). According to Alfie Kohn in 1995,
Rewards and punishments are both ways of manipulating behavior. They are two forms of doing things to students. And to that extent, all of the research that says it's counterproductive to say to students, "Do this or here is what I'm going to do to you," also applies to saying, "Do this and you'll get that." (Brandt, 1995, p.1).

Mr. Kohn believes that rewarding students for learning things that they are inherently interested in learning on their own is counterproductive to the learning experience. “The more kids are induced to do something for a reward, whether tangible or verbal, the more you see a diminution of interest the next time they do it” (Brandt, 1995, p.1). By using the things that students love as “levers” to get them to perform –much like pets which we train to be obedient with treats- the enjoyment of the reward diminishes and serves as a manipulative tool. Mr. Kohn is not alone in his opinion about rewards working more as punishment to the intrinsic motivation we all possess to satisfy our curiosity and expand our knowledge-base as people.

According to Hall (2009), using rewards as motivation for behavior does nothing to change the moral intent or understanding of a student. In his article, “Beyond Rewards,” he claims there is a better way. Studies have shown, according to Hall, that a token-reward system for learning causes a slight, temporary increase in student achievement among students who are capable of doing the work and just lack an incentive to complete assignments. The increase is short-lived and even impossible to attain for the child with learning disabilities. The child with a learning challenge may not ever earn the reward, causing him or her to give up on learning or even to gain answers from friends, when what is truly needed is the basic understanding of how to complete the work expected.

Perhaps even more on the mark is Hall’s belief that “Humans are certainly rewarded for learning, but they do not need systematically given rewards in order to learn” (2009, p. 50). While affirmations and rewards may provide a role, rewards don’t produce any learning on their own. Instead, providing sufficient and necessary conditions that children need are more important and have longer-lasting results. However, the conditions for optimal learning can be different for every child. These conditions are not always obvious or even easy to create, but according to Hall, there is no room for failing to provide optimal conditions or falling back on easily applied but ineffective reward systems. When children are repeatedly given rewards for engaging in expected, appropriate behavior, they become conditioned to expect those rewards and may even create scenarios in which they engage in inappropriate behavior just so that they may bargain for a reward. This manipulation of the system comes as no surprise to Hall or to this writer. After all, most reward-systems have taught students how to be manipulative by manipulating their behavior through elementary and middle school.

Instead, says Hall, teachers and parents should implement logical consequences to curb inappropriate behavior....
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