Psychological Self-Help

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motivating us? This has been a controversy for decades. We still don't
know. Perhaps all three processes are involved; that's my guess. Let's
look at some of the complexity. 
Behaviorists have a specific definition for a reinforcer: a reinforcer
is anything (like food) that is produced by an operant behavior (like
pressing a bar) which increases the likelihood that the behavior will
occur again in the future. Ordinarily, this is called a payoff or a reward
(I often use reinforcer, payoff, and reward interchangeably), but you
should realize that a reinforcer, on rare occasions, acts differently from
a reward. For example, if your Dad makes a dessert every night but on
one particular night announces that you get dessert that night because
you studied before supper, this "reward" will probably have no effect
on your studying (and, thus, isn't a reinforcer) because it really isn't
meaningfully connected to or contingent on your studying. You get
dessert anyway. Another example: if a teacher criticizes your hand
writing, encouraging you to be more careful, and it results in your
writing more neatly, then these reprimands function like reinforcers for
better writing (or were they punishment for sloppy writing?). Certainly,
rewards don't always work and produce the desired behavior, but, by
definition, reinforcement always increases the strength of the
preceding behavior. 
There are some other problems with the above definition of a
reinforcer. It implies that reinforcers only influence behaviors. But
there is reason to suppose that emotional reactions, thoughts,
attitudes, and physiological processes are also affected by reinforcers.
Also, the above definition may imply that only extrinsic material
rewards (in the environment) are reinforcers, but, as we will see,
simply our belief that others are impressed with us may be rewarding,
and feeling proud or excited may be a reinforcement. Certainly love,
hate, and addictions "increase the likelihood of certain behaviors" but
are they "produced by operant behaviors?" These emotions and needs
precede the behavior and seem to motivate certain behaviors which
will lead to desired pay offs (including feeling better which is negative
reinforcement). Perhaps a need (like hunger) exists before there can
be a reinforcer (food), but the drive or need is not ordinarily
considered part of the reward. Again, the point is that needs,
reinforcements, and rewards are related but somewhat different
It may also surprise you but rewards will, strangely enough,
sometimes reduce the frequency of the preceding behavior, i.e. have
the effects of punishment. Extrinsic rewards are, in some
circumstances, harmful, e.g. rewards (like "pay") may turn fun into
"work," lower our motivation to do the "work," and reduce the amount
of innovativeness or thinking we do about the "work" at hand, thus,
making our behavior more automated and stereotyped. Warnings
about when not to use material rewards are given later in the section
on intrinsic motivation. Other examples of harmful rewards: giving
concrete rewards (money, car use) for good grades results in lower
grades! Threatening and pressuring students to do better is harmful
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