Behavioral Psychology

Giving Up

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We want to discuss yet another reason for staying away from using negative reinforcements during training, as if there weren’t enough already. This reason is that the likelihood of your subject deciding to quit goes up dramatically when negative reinforcements are in the picture.

Like we have said, negative reinforcements are so good at eliciting desired behaviors because your subject really wants to avoid the embedded aversives, aversives like disapproving glares, harsh words, or physical punishments. The way to avoid these aversives is performing the desired behavior.

But there is another way to avoid them, a much easier route than all the time and effort it takes to master a skill, and this way is simply giving up. Disengaging from the training process avoids aversives just as surely as performing behaviors up to the desired level.

When you use negative reinforcements, you always run the risk of your subject quitting on you, and the really sad part is that it’s highly unlikely he or she will ever try the activity again because it will always be associated with negative feelings. Do you actively seek out activities that are unpleasant to you?

But it’s not always the activity itself that is unpleasant, rather the way it’s taught, a distinction most people aren’t able to consciously appreciate. When we stick to positive reinforcements, we give our subjects a chance to explore, to cultivate joy in what they’re doing, to start to feel really good about themselves as they build upon their skills, increasing their sense of efficacy and raising their self-esteem as they grow towards mastery.