Psychological Self-Help

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the personal reaction of the person to the rewarder (you or someone
else), the reaction to being in control or controlled, and/or to the
personal satisfaction of being successful and earning a reward? It's all
intermixed. Maybe the confusion explains why people aren't more self-
rewarding in order to produce more desired behavior. We apparently
don't strongly believe in self-reinforcement or we'd be doing it all the
time. Maybe, as Skinner thought, it is punishing to withhold a reward
from ourselves, e.g. if you deprived yourself of an available fantastic
reward--say a Porsche 944--until after completing the desired "target"
behavior (say getting all A's this semester), would the strain of waiting
for the Porsche be so unpleasant that the Porsche wouldn't actually
reinforce studying? It isn't easy to say, is it? And, there is another
question: would most people just cheat (if they could) and
immediately take the car, forgetting about achieving the "target" GPA?
I think most people could rationalize taking that beautiful little car out
of storage for a special occasion or a little vacation. (In which case,
you are reinforcing cheating and rationalizing.) Learning to live by the
rules is a real problem, as we will see next. 
Another problem is that researchers studying self-reinforcement in
children have confounded "self-control" (e.g. getting a prize after
doing your school work) with external control (where the teacher sets
up the reward system, including evaluating the work, deciding when
and what prizes are given, etc.). Someone has to plan, execute, and
monitor the system--either the teacher or the student. In most of
these studies of "self-reinforcement," the little kids aren't taught to be
skillful modifiers of their own behavior. So, when the teacher or a
psychologist is running the project, it really isn't a self-directed project
(although the student may physically give him/herself a toy as a
reinforcement). If the children in these studies are not monitored by
the teacher and if they grade themselves and have free access to the
prizes, they tend to lie and cheat, taking the prizes rather freely
(Gross and Wojnilower, 1984). That is no surprise and not a
compelling argument against all self-reinforcement. It does raise
questions but it is still possible that we--as adults and even as
children--can learn to forego goodies and fun for a little while, so we
can make these reinforcers contingent on doing the things that will
improve our lives in the long run. To assume otherwise, i.e. that
humans can't delay gratification and would always cheat to get what
they want now, is a very negative view of the species. And it doesn't
square with the bulk of the data (Mischel, 1981). Many people are
testing the notion that useful knowledge (with or without reinforcers)
enables a person to become self-directed (including you as you read
this book). 
One more complication is that there are two aspects of self-
reinforcement all mixed together. This is an example: (a) the
satisfaction of sinking long shots while practicing basketball and (b)
giving yourself a coke as a "reward" after doing well in basketball
practice. Do both (a) and (b) actually reinforce accurate shooting? Or
does (b) only reinforce practicing, not accuracy? How do we know?
Secord (1977) says self-rewards and self-praise don't add much
reinforcement beyond the satisfaction of doing well. On the other
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