exercise, bike ride, game of tennis, etc." The steps above emphasize
When trying to change someone else's behavior, bribes are often
confused with positive reinforcement. Bribes are promised payoffs for
someone else's future behavior; they are offered a reward before the
briber's desired target behavior occurs. If you think about it, the offer
of a bribe often actually reinforces unwanted behavior, not the desired
actions. Example: a parent says "you can watch the ball game now, if
you promise to do your homework right after supper." That is a bribe.
Rewards are offered before the homework is done. What does the
offer of a bribe actually reinforce? Watching TV! Putting off studying!
And making promises! Reinforcement follows the target behavior. If a
parent said, "After you do your homework, you can watch an hour of
TV," that would not be a bribe; it is an antecedent that describes the
conditions under which Junior can get a reinforcement.
Sometimes a person feels that extraneous rewards should not be
given for desirable behavior because they aren't deserved. For
example, "students should study without being paid for it" or "my
spouse should give me attention without any extra reward." Such a
viewpoint is understandable but unrealistic. For a while, extrinsic
rewards may be necessary until the desired behavior becomes a habit
and/or the intrinsic rewards can take over.
B. F. Skinner argued that self-reinforcement requires self-
deprivation first (until time to give the reward). This "punishment"
could be associated with the desired behavior and, therefore, interfere
with self-control rather than enhance it. That seldom seems to occur.
People realize why they are delaying their own self-reinforcement. The
much more common problem is cheating--taking the reward without
doing the behavior.
Effectiveness, advantages and dangers
Massive research with behavior modification (of others), especially
token economies, indicates that reinforcement works well in many
situations (not all) but the behavior does not continue long after the
rewards are discontinued nor does the rewarded behavior transfer
readily to new, non-reinforced situations. Both these limitations make
sense as long as people are performing the behavior strictly for a
reward decided on and given by someone else. But, what about our
own behaviors we want to change or feel we morally need to change?
In partial answer to that question, Bellack and Hersen (1977) conclude
that self-reinforcement methods are as effective as therapist controlled
methods, sometimes better. We can always monitor and reward our
own behavior, even if we move into different circumstances.
Much about self-reward is still unclear, however. Some researchers
(O'Leary & Dubey, 1979) say self-reinforcement is "one of the most
powerful self-control procedures;" others (Brigham, 1982) say there is
little evidence of its effectiveness, thus far. Most studies are therapist-