but giving praise, offering to help, and giving encouragement is helpful
(Brown, 1990). Repeatedly rewarding the student for completing easy
tasks results in the student feeling less able and being less motivated.
Even rewarding excellence with honor rolls and status may be
detrimental if students restrict their interests or avoid hard courses to
keep their GPA high. There are no simple rules that all wise people
know. It is important to know some of the complexities (see Kohn,
1993, for an excellent practical summary).
To further complicate matters, the effectiveness of a reinforcer
(reward), of course, depends on the individual. Listening to loud music
is a great reward for some people; it's punishment for others.
Accumulating a lot of money is critical for some and rather
meaningless for others. Likewise, failure affects us differently. If you
are success-oriented, a failure experience seems to increase your drive
to succeed and you will try again to accomplish the task. If
personality-wise you focus primarily on avoiding failure, a failure is too
punishing and you lose interest in the task; you won't try it again. You
have to find your own reinforcers (see method #16 in chapter 11).
Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. This is easy for the
success-oriented, hard for the person trying to avoid failing.
Also, while it seems logical, experimentalists didn't point out until
recently that the effects of a reinforcer depends on the context, i.e. a
reward has much more impact on behavior if it is powerful relative to
the other rewards available in the environment. Likewise, a reinforcer
received in an environment rich with many other wonderful, freely
available rewards, is not going to have much impact on behavior
(remember John?). Thus, the payoff for argumentative-rebellious
behavior could be reduced by increasing the rewards obtained from
completely different behaviors, such as studying, doing the dishes,
getting a job, etc. Perhaps just being in a supportive, reassuring group
would reduce the reinforcement gotten from arguing or fighting.
Likewise, a weak reward in a rich environment can be strengthened by
reducing the free reinforcement available or by making some of the
other reinforcers also contingent on the desired behavior (McDowell,
1982). Example: The satisfaction of cleaning your room may be
overwhelmed by the other pleasures in the room--TV, electronic
games, clothes, friends on the phone, food, etc. Self-helpers need to
consider the context of their self-reinforcement.