“Operant conditioning (or instrumental conditioning) is a form of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its consequences; the behavior may change in form, frequency, or strength.”
Virtually everyone knows a little about operant conditioning, generally thought of as a system of reward and punishment. Technically, the word “reinforcement” replaces the word “reward.” Reinforcement comes in two forms, positive and negative. Both types of reinforcement increase the likelihood of a behavior, positive by giving some sort of reward, and negative by removing some sort of aversive stimuli. Punishments fall into positive and negative also. Spanking serves as a positive punishment. (Obviously not in the common use of the word “positive.”) Taking away a toy or of privileges serves as an example of negative punishment.
Another term used is extinction. When a behavior no longer results in the desired response, a person, or dog, tends to do the behavior less and less until not at all. (Not nearly as easy as it sounds.)
For overall outcomes in human relationships, positive punishment must be used sparingly. Positive punishment tends to have the affect of the person being punished trying to avoid their punisher as much as possible, not a good outcome for parents and offspring. Extinction often poses a slow and painful process for a parent. Negative punishment must be applied consistently to be effective. Negative reinforcement requires the introduction of negative stimuli, not a good way to start off a relationship unless your a drill Sargent in the Marines.
Over time, positive reinforcement brings the best results. You sometimes find token economies designed to reward desired behaviors. While effective to a point in controlled conditions, such as a classroom, they often breakdown in the real world as so many rewards are available beyond the control of the person dispensing rewards. Common rewards for people are love, affection, attention, money, food, sex, new experiences (In one experiment,psychologists found looking through a window – i.e. new experience – was a rewarding experience for monkeys.) and such.
As a parent or teacher, one would apply these principles to increase desired behavior and minimize undesirable behavior. Applying these principles becomes quite tricky. Humans are very complex beings. Staying after school to help the teacher may be a punishment for one student and a reward for another. If you’re a gay man, going to bed with a hot woman ain’t so hot. Some are more driven by power than money. Others prefer to feel loved and wanted, or admired. And, of course, some want power and control.
The supposed primary intent of the welfare state is to help the poor and downtrodden. Those, who for whatever reason, don’t work, cant’ work, and can’t support themselves and their families, if any. A huge problem lies in that many people find it adequately rewarding to passively gather welfare checks, food stamps and other welfare benefits, than make the effort to work. When you consider that a single mother making $29,000 a year and getting welfare is better off than a single making $69,000 and not getting welfare, it’s easy to see much of the positive reinforcement of welfare.
Let’s take the example of a single mom with two kids, 1 and 4. She has a $29,000 a year job, putting the kids in daycare during the day while she works.
As the above chart – via Gary Alexander, Pennsylvania’s secretary of Public Welfare — shows, the single mom is better off earning gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income and benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income & benefits of $57,045.
We also have the rewarding of being disabled. (I know a guy disabled because his knee bothers him too much to work in an auto parts store. And, a woman who gets stressed too easily.) During Obama’s reign people getting on disability has outpaced new job creation. Disability can be rewarding for the sympathy factor as well as money.
Welfare holds rewards other than easy money. Sleeping late, a more relaxed, easy paced lifestyle overall, more time to be with friends and family, etc.
For some of us, a sense of accomplishment or a sense of pride means something. If you grow up in a welfare setting where you rarely see accomplishment or pride in performance, these rewards are so foreign as to mean nothing. Plus, we now have a president saying that all those people didn’t really accomplish anything. They just think they did. Someone else really did it.
As time goes on, more and more people take the route of the easier rewards. Why work the dirty, hard, hot, cold construction job? Be disabled, don’t get properly trained, become a major slacker. Do just enough to satisfy the requirements and get your benefits. Unfortunately, there end up being fewer and fewer people performing the work, earning the money, paying the taxes to support this system. Eventually, it fails due to lack of funds. Then the politicians redouble their attacks on the rich, who aren’t paying their fair share.
It’s a relatively simple matter of science. I wonder how many of those who call others “deniers” will deny this science. It’s psych 101.