July 7, 2012

Golden Rule of Reinforcement! Rewards received outweighs the costs incurred!

Understand this principle and maximize likelihood of success. Simply identifying what the child likes is not necessarily going to mean the child will work for it. Whether an event is reinforcing will depend on the formula weighing the rewards received vs. costs incurred. The more the positive characteristics of the even...t outweigh the time, effort, and "boringness" of performing the desired behavior, the more likely that item/event will increase that behavior. So, we have to be very careful in balancing the rewarding value of the reinforcement to the effort it takes to perform the desired behavior.

For example, let's say your son loves to watch "Thomas the Train". You purchase the series of videos. You decide to use watching these videos contingent upon the child doing a variety of tasks at home. You may find that the child will make his bed, take a bath, help with laundry, or sweep the driveway to watch one video, but will not do his homework, clean his room, or clean the toilet to watch Thomas the Train. More than likely the amount of time, effort, or "boringness" of these tasks are too great for the positive value of watching Thomas the Train.

Now let's look at one task, doing homework. It may be the child will do his reading homework, but not his math homework, to watch the video. More than likely the reading is either easier for him, or more interesting, than doing the math. Or, we may find out that the child will do homework for 15 minutes to watch the video, but will not work for 30 minutes to get the video. Simply speaking, the effort to do the homework for 30 minutes is too strong for the rewards recieved.

The reinforcer can lose it's reinforcing values if used to frequently. You may find that the child did homework for 20 minutes the last five nights in a row, to watch the Thomas the Train video. Now, on the sixth day the child refuses to do his homework. Assuming that the homework was equal each day, it could be that the positive value of watching the video was weaker, since he already watched the videos the last five nights, and is not interested any longer. Just like I like pizza, but after eating it three nights in a row, I will not be interested in eating pizza for a while.

If you are using a token system, we often have a variety of tasks that the child can earn tokens for, as well as a variety of reinforcers the child can purchase. Now the secret of a good token system is identifying how many tokens each task will be worth, depending on how much effort the task requires (hanging up coat, compared to mowing the lawn). Also, how many tokens each reinforcer will cost the child, based on the value of the event/item for him (going out to eat, as compared to having a cookie). If the tokens earned do not outweigh the cost of doing the task, the child may not do it.

So, whether an event will be reinforcing will depend on the time, effort, and degree of interest (boringness) of what you are asking the child to do. When the rewards recieved outweigh the costs incurred, the child will likely do the desired response. However, this balance can vary from day to day, and from task to task. Finding the balance is the key.

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