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August 27, 2008


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Nick Commons-Miller

Bribes? Is all reinforcement a bribe? I know you might like to have the negative implications of the word "bribe" since you are speaking against this practice, but it isn't really an accurate and honest way to evaluate it.
"The nation has seen time and time again what happens to children with too much time and money on their hands. Rich kids with blank checks too often become tramps, drug addicts and scientology converts."
Have you studied this group of people or read work by people who have, or are you just building assumptions from a few cases you may have encountered in your life?
Even assuming you were correct, that would be with blank checks. Reinforcing people who work hard would be different. There also may be a major factor in parenting. The money itself is not the only problem.

"He quickly learns that good behavior is rewarded, and humans, the highest of thinkers on the intellectual chain may fall into the trap, thinking that every time they do something they are supposed to do in life they will get rewarded."

Have you taken psychology? Humans work through operant conditioning as well, but they may just have more complicated viewpoints on how to obtain reinforcement.

Aside from that, even assuming you know that they do, that is still not a great comparison. Dolphins may not have a concept of "something they are supposed to do in life," and may just be working for the food.

"Self motivation, not external incentives, is the key to success. If the motivation isn’t there to begin with then instituting an artificial stimulus cannot be expected to change that fact."

Actually, it can lead to more motivation, because it can create an association between education and reinforcement. (a classically conditioned one)

Beyond that, you are talking about educating people. For the purpose of educating people, this method would be successful in motivating them to work. Once educated, people will also perhaps have critical thinking skills and a knowledge base with which they can make better decisions. For example, they may realize more about themselves (because they can better think about themselves), criticize cultural ideals that would otherwise hold them back, realize that there is something they want to accomplish, etc. which could all lead to them becoming motivated long-term. People may also simply feel good about their educational success and about themselves.

And aside from all of that, what if people aren't self-motivated? That is the point. You also can't just tell them to be self-motivated and they become self-motivated. That is what people try to do now, and it fails.

Most of all though, it is an empirical question whether or not it leads to more long-term motivation.

"When the stimulus is removed, and the student finds that he is no longer receiving monetary compensation for something he should have been doing in the first place, what is to stop him from reverting back into his old habits of laziness and academic apathy? The problem is, he has now proven that he is capable of completing satisfactory coursework and therefore that same level of competence is expected, only this time without the cash reward, there seems to him no incentive."

I already addressed these concerns.

"Students should want to do well because it will make their parents proud, and will better prepare them with basic skills for college and the working world. The most important reason to succeed academically is that it leads to a feeling of self pride. This combined with the “bigger picture” instills a greater sense of motivation and lays the groundwork for the creation of more responsible and productive members of society. Students lacking the fundamental will to succeed are probably the ones most in favor of a program like this which will put a few extra dollars in their pocket now but do not realize is that they are also most in danger of becoming the next Pavlov’s dogs. It remains to be seen what will become of them when society stops ringing the bell."

Students that aren't motivated by these things though. Do you think you are the first person in the world who has thought of saying these things to kids? You are a proposing a solution that has already failed as proven by the very nature of the situation. Most kids do not even understand most of the reasons you gave. Some are more influenced by peer pressure or cultural factors. Children and adolescents also in general do not have good social judgement, as shown by behavioral data as well as simply the fact that the areas of the brain related to judgment are not fully developed. (they are not actually finished developing until 26)

Also, why would society stop reinforcing these students with money if it is working? (at least during education) Someone might even try to stop it temporarily, but it would be brought back as soon as the scores started dropping again. (assuming that you are right that it is entirely dependent on the money reward) Kids may also not be working on the assumption that education is something they are supposed to do in life, and may simply not make that connection. The reinforcement may be associated with education, but not with jobs, etc.

About your analogy, also, Pavlov discovered classical conditioning (not operant conditioning as is being applied when you reinforce with money), and there is no horror story about what happened when Pavlov stopped ringing the bell. (beyond that, the bell wasn't a reinforcer)

Nick Commons-Miller

*Students that aren't motivated by these things aren't motivated by these things.


We at WOOF appreciate Nick's point, O, Commentator--although we feel obliged to point out that there are plenty of horror stories about what became of "Little Albert" when John B. Watson stopped driving him half nuts in the name of respondent (Pavlovian) conditioning...okay, we'll concede that most of the horror stories are apocryphal, but that's beside the point. The point is, capitalism is not the worst idea in the world as a means of applied behavioral analysis aimed at resurrecting the children in Baltimore schools from the depths of apathetic dissolution, so why not give it a try? Yes, self motivation is always best--the love of learning, and all that-- but if we wait to see sparks of so divine a fire among the majority of inner city public school urchins, we'll be waiting, as the minstrel said, for the end of time! So long as this adventure is privately funded, WOOF thinks it beats a blank!

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