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Punished by Rewards
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|PART ONE The Case
1 Skinner-Boxed: The Legacy of Behaviorism
2 Is It Right to Reward?
3 Is It Effective to Reward?
4 The Trouble with Carrots: Four Reasons Rewards Fail
5 Cutting the Interest Rate: The Fifth Reason Rewards Fail
6 The Praise Problem
PART TWO Rewards
PART THREE Beyond
I came very close to failing
Introduction to Psychology, This wasat a school, you
should understand, where the word psychology meant
"the experimental study of animal physiology and
behavior," and the only thing we students were
required to do, apart from sitting through lectures, was
to train caged rats to press a little bar. We reinforced
them with Rice Krispies for doing this, and since they
had been starved to 80 percent of normal bodyweight, they
would have done almost anything for a little cereal.
In retrospect, I think it
can fairly be said that I did not take well to
behaviorism when first introduced to it. Nor did it grow
on me as the years went by. By the time I had moved to
Cambridge, home of B. F. Skinner, I decided it was time
to ask him some of the questions that I had furiously
scrawled in my copies of his books. I invited him to come
speak to a class I was teaching and, to my
1. SKINNER-BOXED: The Legacy of
For the anthropomorphic view of the rat, American psychology substituted a rattomorphicview of man.
Arthur Koestler, //,e Act of Creatton
THF:~ IS A T~ to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to uslike plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea~ it has us
This book is about an idea that has attained just such a status in
our society, The idea is that the best way to get something done is
to provide a reward to people when they act the way we want them
to Scholars have debated the meaning and traced the development
of the intellectual tradition known as behaviorism. What interests
me, though, is the popular (or pop) incarnation of this doctrine, the
version that lives in our collective consciousness and affects what
we do every day.
The core of pop behaviorism is "Do this and you'll get that "
The wisdom of this technique is very rarely held up for inspection;,
all that is open to question is what exactly people will receive and
under what circumstances it will be promised and delivered We
take for granted that this is the logical way to raise children, teach
students, and manage employees We promise bubble gum to a
five-year-old if he keeps quiet in the supermarket, We dangle an A
before a teenager to get her to study harder. We hold out the
possibility of a Hawaiian vacation for a salesman who sells enough
of the company's product.
It will not take more than a few paragraphs to make the casethat we are deeply committed to this way of thinking and behavingBut my aim is considerably more ambitious I want to argue thatthere is something profoundly wrong-headed about thisdoctrine-that its assumptions are misleading and the practices itgenerates are both intrinsically objectionable andcounterproductive, This last contention in particular, that from apurely pragmatic point of view pop behaviorism usually fails toproduce the consequences we intended, takes up most of the pagesthat follow.
To offer such an indictment is not to suggest that there is something wrong with most of the things that are used as rewards. It is not bubble gum itself that is the problem, nor money, nor love and attention. The rewards themselves are in some cases innocuous and in other cases indispensable. What concerns me is the practice of using these things as rewards. To take what people want or need and offer it on a contingent basis in order to control how they act - this is where the trouble lies. Our attention is properly focused, in other words, not on "that" (the thing desired) but on the requirement that one must do this in order to get that.
My premise here is that rewarding people for their compliance is not "the way the world works," as many insist. It is not a fundamental law of human nature. It is but one way of thinking and speaking, of organizing our experience and dealing with others It may seem natural to us, but it actually reflects a particularideology that can be questioned. I believe that it is long past time
I see an unfinished file when I turn on the pc - it reminds me of maslow and his journal that was published after he died.
"keep a journal" - my thought for teens or anyone who wants to / needs to make a difference in the world.