Archive for the 'Understanding' Category

Pop and violence?

Regardless of whether you call it soda, pop, or a soft drink, do you think it might cause violent behavior? In “Does Soda Cause Violence? Teens who drink soda may be more likely to get into fights and act violently,” Emily Sohn of Discovery News goes pretty far along the path to answering in the affirmative.

Teenagers who drink lots of soft drinks get into more fights and carry more weapons than their peers who drink less, found a new study.

And while the study couldn’t determine whether soft drinks actually cause violence, the findings add to a growing — yet still controversial — body of research on the effects of nutrition on behavior.
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Not my GBG

Over on eHow, contributor Greg Stone noted that B. F. Skinner’s studies in the 1950s helped educators develop ways to use positive reinforcement in classrooms. Apart from the mysterious date reference, so far, so good. Mr. Stone continued, “Positive reinforcement helps reinforce and shape behavior in the classroom. Games teach children proper behavior in a fun and memorable way.”

Mr. Stone’s first example is “The Good Behavior Game.” Yea! But, that’s where it goes a bit awry.

This game can be played both in the classroom and at home. For school, make a chart with all the behaviors you expect from your students. The list can include working quietly, helping other students and finishing homework. Each day, let the students put stickers on the chart for activities they’ve completed. Set up a reward plan based on the number of stickers received for each week.

Now, mayhaps this really would be an effective game. Maybe it would promote appropriate behavior. I’ve not seen studies of the procedure he described. If any readers have, please drop the references in the comments. If not, perhaps some enterprising teacher could run a quick AB comparison or a couple of grad students could collaborate with some teachers and run a tidy multiple baseline test. Y’all could get the ball rolling….

But what Mr. Stone describes surely isn’t the Good Behavior Game that many of us know and admire. I wonder whether he has read about it. I shall write to him and ask. It’s obvious he’s talking about something different than the Good Behavior Game developed by Barrish, Saunders, and Wolf (1969) and then tested by many others.

Here’s the link for Mr. Stone’s “Behavior Modification Games.”
Given my string of recent posts about mistaken uses of behavioral terminology, one might just as well sign my posts with “Grumpy.”

Mayhaps I shouldn’t reward it with a reference? As folks alert to the trends in the techie world know, eHow is among the Internet resources that is dogged by accusations of generating headlines and creating content to suit visitors and boost positions in search rankings (see Claire Miller’s report, “Seeking to Weed Out Drivel, Google Adjusts Search Engine,” in the NY Times).

Barrish, H. H., Saunders, M., & Wolf, M. M. (1969). Good behavior game: Effects of individual contingencies for group consequences on disruptive behavior in a classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2, 119-124. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1969.2-119

Another mistake on NR

Here’s another oopsie on “negative reinforcement.” This one is from a site that’s discussing the application of behavioral principles for the business environment, so it’s a little afield for us, but I’m throwing it into the pot anyway. At least it shows that it is not only we educators who make this mistake. In the article, the author N. Nayab (edited J. Scheid) gets several things right, but makes the usual confusion between negative reinforcement and punishment:

Skinner’s behavior modification theory holds that reinforcement, either positive, or negative shapes behavior. Providing positive reinforcement for changing behavior to desired levels through appropriate and effective rewards, and or providing negative reinforcement such as punishments or discouraging signals for undesired changes in behavior, or sticking to status quo helps employees make the appropriate behavior modifications.
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Wrong about negative reinforcement

I was happy to note that several students in the first meeting of my introductory class this term knew that negative reinforcement does not mean punishment. Sadly, I happened to come across another example of folks perpetuating that very misinformation.

Over on wiseGEEK, a relatively long-standing Internet source that provides answers to questions, there is an article that addresses the question, “What is behavior management?” Hey, it caught my eye!

Behavior management is a type of behavior therapy that aims to control negative actions by preserving a level of order and direction. This approach to dealing with behavior change is largely practiced by those working in the field of education, specifically those who work with special needs children. Behavior management is employed to better help individuals or groups make positive, healthy behavioral choices.

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Behavior contracts that work

Over on Smart Classroom Management, the site where he presents tips based on his book, Michael Linsin offers three reasons for not using behavior contracts. After a brief introduction that is generally pretty accurate, he argues that (a) “behavior contracts label students,” (b) “external rewards are short term,” and (c) “follow through is a bear.” He recommends employing a consistent behavior management plan for classrooms and adhering to it faithfully.

I certainly agree with the recommendation that teachers adopt and faithfully execute a carefully conceived and evidence-based classroom management plan, but I disagree with Mr. Linsin’s rejection of use of behavior contracts both because I think that contracts may be a component of a comprehensive management plan and because I think the objections he raises are specious.
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Why animal research matters

In “Like a Rat: Animal research and your child’s behavior” that they penned for Slate, Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella explain why it is sensible to infer methods for modifying human behavior from research on rats, pigeons, and monkeys. They quite clearly show how what we know from systematic research on infra-human organisms applies to us, the magnificently complicated, subtle, and rational organisms—at least as we seem to see ourselves.

Psychologists who work with children and families tend to avoid mentioning to parents that the treatments they use are often based on research done on animals. It’s no secret that the widely used technique of the timeout was developed in studies on rats or that important early research leading to treatments for anxiety in humans was done on dogs, cats, and other species—but the subject doesn’t come up a lot in conversation. We will confess to doing our bit to perpetuate this professional shyness about animal research by tiptoeing around it….

If you, dear reader, have ever wondered why research about pressing levers or pecking disks matters for changing human behavior or have had someone ask you a question about the connection between research conducted in a laboratory with animals and learner performance, you should read Professors Kazdin’s and Rotella’s “Like a Rat: Animal research and your child’s behavior.”

By the by, it’s just one of many excellent pieces that they’ve published on Slate.




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