REWARD IN CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT:
A BEHAVIORAL APPROACH
This research describes the concept of reward as a motivator for children’s education and development, more effective than a system of punishment. Such a system should be recognized on the basis of the relative impact of reward and punishment, i.e.. reward is powerful because of its connection with authority symbols, such as parents, and the reinforcement of attitudes in desirable and functional behavioral repertoires of development. Punishment has a contrary tendency to teach the behaviors that are punished, not to extinguish them.
Skinnerian logic on rewards is that it assists learning through reinforcing effective communication by which the acquisition of knowledge or information is enhanced. These are well-established social measures formulated as contingent relations between behavior and its consequences as cause and effect. That is, the effects of reinforced learning include feelings and actions whose connection with reinforcers is an important consideration in operant conditioning.
This is an extremely complex situation in which reinforcing consequences are contingent upon both behavior and the setting in which learning occurs. Rewards play an important role in regard to these reinforced contingencies including the process of behavior modification. Reward is an example of these reinforcers in that it is a positive reinforcer in behavior modification, i.e., the effective contingencies of reinforcement.
It has always been the task of formal education to set up or modify behavior which would prove useful or enjoyable later in a student’s life. Punitive methods (punishments) do not merit the same value in learning as positive reinforcement (rewards) in a future context. The positive consequences that generate a useful behavioral repertoire need not be any more explicitly relevant to the future than were the punitive consequences of the past. The student needs current rewards to satisfy educational goals now rather than contrived reinforcers, or arrangements to assure future, appropriate behavior. It is the teacher’s function to contrive conditions under which the student learns, and the relevance of such conditions to future usefulness need not be obvious for positive reinforcement (reward) to support learning, here and now.
This is a difficult task. It is sometimes called “contingency management in the classroom.” If the teacher can make such a change from punishment to reward in responding to a student’s successes instead of his failures, he can point up right behavior instead of reinforcing wrong behavior in education through contrived or negative reinforcement. A good educational program takes this fact into consideration, for example, in the administration of a system of token economy in supporting competence and love rather than incompetence and aggression. Skinner concludes that programmed instruction is most successful in attacking punitive methods by allowing students to move at their own pace and in personalized ways that enhance individual freedom by means of reward rather than controls that are reinforced through punishment.
In recent studies, group systems using rewards rather than punishments to reflect the traditional family love system has demonstrated noncompetitive behavior is more adaptive and reinforcing than the old system of punishment, or aversive conditioning.
As a result of rewards there have been observed cases of extensive and consistent reinforcement of children’s cooperative behavior within the group. Such gains can best succeed if behaviors that are reinforced in the school are also reinforced at home. It is necessary to obtain more data on children’s behavior in different settings, but it is clear that access to activities is a useful reinforcer of appropriate cooperative behaviors. Reward plays a key role in this process.
Training children by rewards rather than punishments requires a major behavioral change through the introduction of activities into children’s repertoires that can permanently change the reinforcing capacities of their environments and promote enduring behavioral change. Parents should be aware of this because children’s natural desire is to expand and experiment. Children want to stop being dependent on their parents and start being autonomous. So, children’s conflict in personality development and basic motivations is caused by frustration of their need to grow. A balanced introduction of rewards can enhance development if reinforced at critical periods.
Motivating children to learn through reward rather than punishment requires attention and praise from adults as effective methods of establishing reinforcement of stimuli. Such stimuli are important because adults acquire and maintain authority cues as rewarding reinforcers in various natural environments instead of substituting punishing authority cues in those environments.
Stimuli associated with reinforcing events can acquire the cues of positive reinforcement (reward) in a natural setting if training transfers positive cues from home to school. Adequate use of environmental cues frequently signals that mediating influences are at work. That is, rewards functions as contingencies of behavior depending on the associations the child develops with those rewards at home and brings to school. Studies show that such a transfer is not automatic but reinforced through training skills in the school setting. It is a process of linking positive cues with motivation for learning.
This philosophy reflects an Eastern rather than a Western attitude towards education. However, it is beginning to impact Western thought. That is, Westerners have long emphasized correcting disease symptoms, such as in neurosis, where Eastern disciplines have emphasized change in the consciousness of normal or healthy people. Eastern psychotherapies discovered long ago that it is not enough to restore health. One must liberate the normal or healthy behavior through creativity, form of positive reinforcement of emotion. Inappropriate symptoms or learned behaviors cease when the ego’s strengths are fortified rather than the ego’s weaknesses dissolved. This idea is now reflected in such learning theories as the positive reinforcement philosophy of behaviorism.
The idea of rewarding positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior is a revolutionary concept in Western educational philosophy. It enhances positive growth by shifting the emphasis towards reward of the appropriate instead of punishment of the inappropriate. It is a powerful tool for behavior change.
This concept represents a break with the past. Hullian and other classical conditioning theories based on reinforcement schedules, such as number and frequency and magnitude of electric shocks, led to the belief that rewards were a conditioning process. This was very deterministic and mechanistic. However, paradoxes such as spontaneous recovery led researchers to question the validity of such approaches and to revise such theories.
So, behaviorists in the past two decades or more have evaluated different types of reinforcers, or rewards. Current literature now demonstrates consistently that the effects of negative or aversive classical conditioning were conditional upon operant-schedule parameters. As questions of how reward works became prevalent among theorists, it became useful to look at the cognitive school of learning theory to straighten out the problem.
Reward allows “elaborative rehearsal” of newly-organized behaviors. This is more than habit formation or forced memorization although positive mental pictures can be reinforced. As new information is acquired, picture-like codes can be stored in memory and cognitive interconnections between nonverbal and verbal information can occur, for example in verbal and visual codes. this rehearsal through encoding is reinforced by rewards in the environment.
Understanding this framework of theory, we can better comprehend the reality of reward as a function of reinforcement.
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B.F. Skinner, Reflections on Behaviorism and Society (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1978), pp. 34-35. ↑
Ibid., pp. 40-41. ↑
Ibid., p. 145. ↑
Robert R. Sears, Eleanor E. Maccoby and Harry Levin, Patterns of Childbearing (Evanston, Ill. and White Plains, NY: Row, Peterson and Co., 1957). ↑
John W. Atkinson and David Birch, Introduction to Motivation 2nd ed. (New York: D. Van Nostrand and Company, 1978), p. 84. ↑
Barbara Engler, Personality Theories: An Introduction (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), pp. 440-441. ↑
Wendon W. Henton and Iver H. Iverson, Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning, A Response Pattern Analysis (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1978), pp. 29-73. ↑
Ibid., p. 47. ↑
Lyle E. Bourne, Jr., Roger L. Dominowski, and Elizabeth F. Loftus, Cognitive Processes (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979), p. 55 ↑