Behavioural psychology is something that greatly interests me, and so today I wanted to blog on the use, types and effectiveness of positive reinforcement in education.
Firstly, I want to briefly talk about Classical conditioning and the other aspects of Operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning is learning through association, and was demonstrated through Pavlov and his dogs (Pavlov, 1927). As this isn’t what I want to base my blog solely on, I’m not going to go into too much detail, but please feel free to read up on it yourself if you’re not familiar with it (http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/classcond.htm). At it’s most basic level, Pavlov showed his dogs food, and rang a bell at the same time. The food caused the dogs to salivate. Eventually, the dogs associated the sound of the bell with the food, and so salivated when they heard it, regardless of there being any food in sight.
This isn’t used as a technique in a classroom often, but can still be seen. As in the case of little Albert (Watson & Rayner, 1920), students could also learn to fear a classroom or a teacher. A wrong answer or an embarrassing situation could lead to a negative emotion that the student associates with the classroom, teacher or school itself.
Operant conditioning is learning through consequences and was developed by Skinner (1938). Operant conditioning consists of four components: negative and positive punishment and negative and positive reinforcement.
Punishment = reduces the likelihood of a behaviour reoccurring.
Reinforcement = increases the likelihood of a behaviour reoccurring.
Positive = Adding something in.
Negative = Removing something.
Positive Reinforcment = Giving a child a sweet if they have done all their homework (the sweet is added to make the behaviour more likely to occur again).
Negative Reinforcement = Removing a TV ban for a child who completes all their homework (the ban is removed to make the behaviour more likely to occur again).
Positive Punishment = Making a child wash the dishes for a month after they swore (Having to do the dishes is added to make the behaviour less likely to occur again).
Negative Punishment = Telling a child they can’t play on their game because they stayed out too late (the game is removed to make the behaviour less likely to occur again).
In contrast to Classical conditioning, it is commonly applied to educational settings.
Positive reinforcement in the classroom
Positive reinforcement can help teachers to modify undesirable behaviour in their classroom, by giving a student something to make their desirable behaviour occur more often.
There have been many studies into how effective operant conditioning techniques are in changing behaviour in a classroom setting. Harris, Wolf and Baer (1964) showed the effectiveness of contingent teacher attention (that is, attention from the teacher which is given if a condition has been met) in changing undesirable behaviour. An example of this could be, a child getting attention if they raise their hand to answer a question, instead of shouting. The condition is that the child raise their hand, but this is also an example of positive reinforcement – attention is given so that the desirable behaviour is more likely to reoccur.
The effectiveness of this in special classrooms has also been shown in research. For example, Hall and Broden (1967), Patterson (1965), Rabb and Hewett (1967), and Zimmerman and Zimmerman (1962).
Further evidence of the effectiveness of positive reinforcement in a regular primary school classroom can be seen from research conducted by Becker, Madsen, Arnold, and Thomas (1967), Hall, Lund, and Jackson (1968), and Madsen, Becker, and Thomas (1968).
As I said at the end of my last blog, there is so so much more to this topic and not enough words for me to go into them: the different ways to use this and the other types of punishments/reinforcements, the effectiveness of these, combinations (which it has been suggested work best), ages at which conditioning is most effective, pros and cons etc.
I may talk about a different aspect of operant conditioning next week if people want to hear about them. As always, comments, opinions, arguments and expansions are welcome🙂
Becker, W. C., Madsen, C. H., Jr., Arnold, C. R., & Thomas, D. R. (1967). The contingent use of teacher attention and praise in reducing classroom behaviour problems. Journal of Special Education, 1, 287-307.
Hall, R. V. & Broden, M. (1967). Behavior changes in brain-injured children through social reinforcement. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 5, 463-479.
Hall, R. V., Lund, D., & Jackson, D. (1968). Effects of teacher attention on study behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 1-12.
Harris, F. R., Wolf, M. M., & Baer, D. M. (1964). Effects of adult social reinforcement on child behavior. Young Children, 20, 8-17.
Madsen, C. H., Becker, W. C., & Thomas, D. R.( 1968). Rules, praise and ignoring: elements of elementary classroom control. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 139-150.
Patterson, G. R. (1966). An application of conditioning techniques to the control of a hyperactive child. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Pavlov, I.P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. London: Oxford University Press.
Rabb, E. & Hewett, F. M. (1967). Developing appropriate classroom behaviors in a severely disturbed group of institutionalized kindergarten-primary children utilizing a behaviour modification model. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 37, 313-314.
Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1-14.
Zimmerman, E. H. & Zimmerman, J. (1962). The alteration of behavior in a special classroom situation. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 5, 59-60.