Psychological Self-Help

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Considering all this complexity, some psychologists (Klein and
Mowrer, 1989) advocate giving up the word reinforcer because it is so
unclear. For instance, if presenting food to a very full cat doesn't alter
the cat's behavior, then food isn't a reinforcer in this instance, is it? As
Bandura suggests, maybe a reinforcer is merely an incentive--a
motivator--when the animal is needy. For instance, it is clear that
some solutions to problems can be learned but not used (we may find
the bathroom long before we need it), suggesting that immediate
reinforcement (although, what about the relief of knowing there is one
available?) is not necessary for learning to occur. It has also been
shown that thin people eat when they are hungry; overweight people
eat when food is available and attractive ("The cookies will get stale if
they aren't eaten"). The eating-without-being-hungry reaction at first
looks like an automatic, almost uncontrollable habit response, not a
matter of reinforcement by reducing hunger (but maybe some other
need is reduced). 
An example of the motivational aspect of reinforcers is your weekly
pay check. Especially after 20 years, the money isn't a necessary
reinforcement for learning how to do your job. The pay and the threat
of loosing your job are simply motivations; you work, in part, for the
money. On the other hand, while it is common for self-helpers to
reinforce studying by taking restful breaks, calling a friend, having a
coke, taking a walk, etc., it seems unlikely that a person would study
four hours every night just for those minor immediate rewards. Also,
the grade arrives weeks or months after the studying! Hardly an
immediate reinforcer. So, what explains studying? or working for a
promotion? Frankly, psychology doesn't explain this very well. I think
we study, in part, because we repeatedly remind ourselves of the
long-range + and - consequences of studying, and it feels good to be
making progress towards a valued future. The little rewards the self-
helper gives him/herself (the 10 minute break) may make the "work"
a little more pleasant and probably remind us of our long-range goals,
but those goals are usually the powerful motivators. 
Early learning theorists thought that being paired very close
together (contiguity) was the key to connecting the CS with the UCS
(in classical) and the response with the reinforcement (in operant).
Recent research has shown that close pairing does not necessarily
result in learning, but rather the CS must predict the UCS and the
operant behavior must truly produce the reinforcement (not just be
followed by a reward). The reinforcement must be contingent on the
operant behavior. Contingency--knowing some behavior leads to
certain pay offs--is the basis for conditioning. The motivated student
must believe that studying leads to better grades and better grades
lead to more success and success leads to more satisfaction and so on. 
Naturally with all this controversy about reinforcement today, it is
also questioned whether self-reinforcement will work. Many say it is
the most effective self-help method we have; others totally ignore the
method (Brigham, 1989). Isn't it amazing that we don't know how
much of the effects of a reinforcer is due to receiving the reward itself,
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