day 234: intermittent reinforcement

Living life with an expected schedule of reinforcement is good while we are learning to obey commandments and obey our parents.  We get an allowance if we clean our rooms and if we don't pinch our younger brothers (hypothetically).  It is a great system.

But the real shaping comes when we receive intermittent reinforcement.  We don't know when we might be observed following rules.  We do the best we can, because there is a chance that if we are caught doing right, we might really get the big pay off.  Imagine the power of knowing that if we are caught doing the speed limit, a policeman might pull us over and give us a hundred bucks. 

In my life this has become a very true principle.  I am never quite sure if or when there will be a payoff, but I try to live as if I am ready to be caught.  Caught doing something right.  This by no means should convince you that I am completely in control.  Puh-lease.  But I teach my children with the hope that there will be random opportunities for me to witness them being great adults, and great emerging adults.  This is an intermittent reinforcer.  At some unknown and unplanned place and time, #3 will stand up to someone and say, My mom taught me that I am worth something. 

That would be so cool, wouldn't it?  Where a regular schedule of reinforcement allows for training, intermittent reinforcement allows for living. 

ps I love special ed, where I am blessed enough to learn these principles.

9 comments

Dona | April 10, 2010 at 12:59 AM

"Catch them being good" is one of the phrases that has stuck in my head from my elementary ed. days. It is amazing how well that works for my children, for me and just about anyone else. Thanks for the reminder.

LisAway | April 10, 2010 at 1:34 AM

I think you've got something there with that positive reinforcement thing. The government should reward those of us obeying the law instead of punishing for not obeying it! Or they can do both, I guess, I'll just be sure I only deserve the rewards!

Luann | April 10, 2010 at 7:17 AM

I love your idea of a hundred bucks if caught driving under the speed limit. It makes me stop and think about what truly motivates me. You are right. Reward, even just the possibility of it, is much more powerful than fear of punishment.

gigi | April 10, 2010 at 7:35 AM

I love it and I can relate.

Connie | April 10, 2010 at 10:05 AM

There was an elementary teacher who felt the students should be "good for nothing!" Meaning, we should be good, not because we'll get a treat, but because it's the thing to do.
However, in the long, stretched out, eternal scheme of things, we will get rewarded. In the meantime...

Jenny | April 10, 2010 at 10:46 AM

I love working with my 504 students! It is fun to give out good student cards when I catch them doing something good for someone else or just fallowing the rules! It always inspires other students to stop & think about what they are doing.

wendy | April 10, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Well, I better shape up...I'd love to be caught doing something right.
or good
I mean, I do those things, but it is a good idea to be more concious of the things we do
and ask ourselves, I think I could have done that a little better..I will next time.
thank goodness for next times eh.

have a good weekend. The wind is blowing like crazy here and it saps the life right out of me

Rachel Cotterill | April 10, 2010 at 1:00 PM

That sounds fabulous, lovely idea :)

Amber | April 10, 2010 at 10:44 PM

Yes. Negative reinforcement is often put in place to the almost complete neglect of positive reinforcement. Think about this, as a parent how often do you say "no" versus "yes?" It is easy to fall into the "no" trap, especially with young children, while forgetting to reward their good behavior.

I am trying to use "yes" far more than I use "no." It isn't easy. That's for sure.