Learning and Positive Reinforcement: You can be tamed!

December 09, 2014

By: Anna Agoncillo

© Izquotes
Even I agree that sometimes you have to break the rules to have fun. Living in the fast lane or beating the red light with the breeze of cool air in your face as you cruise with your friends in the road may give you the exhilarating feeling!
But, like wild animals, your beast side can be tamed...with a little thing called positive reinforcement.
© Bored Panda
Operant Conditioning by B.F. Skinner

The central component of operant conditioning is reinforcement. Operant conditioning is learning in which a behavior is strengthened or weakened depending on the consequences (i.e. favorable or unfavorable) (Feldman, 2011).

Here are the four possible consequences (Braslau-Schneck, 2003): 
(behavior increases)
(behavior decreases)
(something added)
Positive Reinforcement:
Something added increases behavior

ex. Giving a promotion for an employee's good performance
Positive Punishment
Something added decreases behavior

ex. Yelling at your kid after she/he lied
(something removed)
Negative Reinforcement
Something removed increases behavior

ex. Smoking or drinking to reduce negative emotional state
Negative Punishment

Something removed decreases behavior

ex. Decreasing the “TV/ Internet hours” due to not eating vegetables in dinner.

Therefore, positive reinforcement is a stimulus added to bring an increase in the likelihood of repeating a conditioned behavior.

Volkswagen's The Fun Theory

Volkswagen led an innovative movement called the “The Fun Theory”. This time, the positive reinforcement used to change the community's behavior was fun itself! 

According to The Fun Theory (Volkswagen, 2009):
“…something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”
1. Piano Stairs

Obesity has become a greater health problem than hunger worldwide (CNN, 2012). The physical benefits of exercise on sedentary adults include weight control, reduction of mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases, improved glucose and metabolic control, blood pressure maintenance, muscular strength and fitness, and pain management (Berg & Bradshaw, 2001). In addition, numerous studies demonstrated the preventive and curative effects of exercise on depression and anxiety symptoms (Swan & Hyland, 2012).

Socially beneficial behavior: Exercising and Patience
Result: More people chose to use the piano stairs rather than the escalator.

2. Bottle Bank Arcade

Recycling, a process of transforming waste materials into new and useful products, can reduce the pollution, energy consumption and raw materials usage (The League of Women Voters, 1993). Furthermore, people will be encourage to recycle if they are informed that it’s for the common good (Evans et al., 2012). 

Socially beneficial behavior: Recycling, Waste Management and Proper Disposal
Result: In just one evening, the bottle bank arcade was used by nearly one hundred people.

3. The Play Belt

It's very important to keep your seatbelts securely fastened because it reduces the risk of injury or death after a vehicle collision and the risk of paying health care costs (Thornton, n.d.). More so, since in the law of most countries to wear a seatbelt, you will be penalized if you violate it. More that 12,000 lives in 2012 were saved because of seatbelt usage (Safe Kids Worldwide, 2014). They also found that teens wear seatbelt the least compared with other age groups. This is why increasing the awareness of the children is encouraged.

Socially beneficial behavior: Security and Keeping the seatbelt fastened
Result: In Serbia, due to this initiative, more kids are encouraged and motivated to use the seatbelt.

4. Speed Camera Lottery

Roads aren't race tracks, they're means of transportation. Thus, even if you want to go wild and free, you most not overspeed for to get an enjoyable experience or to get to your destination quickly. Used appropriately, speed limits shall provide information about the type of road environment, the hazard frequency, and the appropriate maximum speed to prevent accidents (Edwardson, 2002). 
The premise in this video is easy: drive recklessly and you will get a ticket or drive legally to increase your chances of winning the jackpot.
Socially beneficial behavior: Driving within the speed limit Result: There was a 22% reduction in car speed after the experiment. Here is an additional video by Smart Automobile, which follows the same concept as Volkswagen. Dancing Traffic Light

Socially beneficial behavior: Waiting patiently for the traffic lights’ commands
Result: 81% of pedestrians stopped at the red light. :)

Parting thoughts

Learning, in Psychology, involves modifying behaviour through experiences. B. F. Skinner pioneered a form of learning called Operant Conditioning. Operant Conditioning influences behaviour depending on its consequences (i.e. punishment or reward). Surely, positive reinforcement such as fun or monetary compensation can increase the repetition of the desired behavior. This is why, companies such as Volkswagen, Smart Automobile and Coke used positive reinforcement to change the community's behavior for the better. 

I hope you'll also bring this power of changing people's behavior to good use! :)

Share your thoughts
Do you always go by the rules or not? Why? If you can change a person’s behavior for the better, what method will you use? Why?

Click here to read the previous postAsk Anna #1: Why is it Harder to Forgive Yourself? 

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Berg, J & Bradshaw. (2001). Health Benefits of Exercise: The Facts. Retrieved on December 6, 2014 from from http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/MF2517.pdf

Braslau-Schneck, S. (2003). An Animal Trainer's Introduction To Operant and Classical Conditioning. Retrieved December 5, 2014 from http://www.wagntrain.com/OC/#Operant

CNN. (2012). Global report: Obesity bigger health crisis than hunger. Retrieved on December 6, 2014 from http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/13/health/global-burden-report

Edwardson, P. (2002). Why We Need Speed Limits. Retrieved on December 7, 2014 from http://www.speedlimit.org.uk/speedlimits.html

Evans, L., Maio, G., Corner, A., Hodgetts, C., Ahmed, S. & Ulrike, H. (2012). Self-interest and pro-environmental behaviour. Retrieved on December 6, 2014 from http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n2/full/nclimate1662.html

Feldman, R. (2011). Understanding Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Safe Kids Worldwide. (2014). Seatbelt Safety Tips. Retrieved on December 7, 2014 from http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/seatbelt

The League of Women Voters (1993). The Garbage Primer. New York: Lyons & Burford. pp. 35–72. 

Thornton, S. (n.d.). Why Seat Belts Are Important. Retrieved on December 7, 2014 from http://www.ehow.com/about_5398790_seat-belts-important.html

Volkswagen. (2009). Thefuntheory.com. Retrieved on December 4, 2014 from http://www.thefuntheory.com/

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