Thursday, December 27, 2007

In The Matter of M. R. the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that people with disabilities have the legal right to self-determination.



Please note: Professor Robert Veatch, Senior Editor of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal published a facsimile resemblance of this essay at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in their Newsletter of the Network on Intellectual Disabilities. The author of this blog is grateful to him.

In 1994 in The Matter of M. R. the Supreme Court of New Jersey handled the case of a mildly retarded young woman who wanted to live with her father, but whose mother had filed a guardianship action in order to keep her with her. The trial court had decided that M. R.’s father didn't prove she was competent enough to make this decision and ruled in favor of her mother. Then a majority of the appellate court agreed that he had the burden to prove she was capable of deciding where to live, but the Supreme Court overruled the appellate court and remanded the case back down for the mother to prove M. R.'s incompetence instead. This ruling supported M. R. whose decision involved choosing between two loving parents, something a retarded adult is capable of doing. Beyond the dynamics of this particular family, however, the Supreme Court said they were addressing the freedoms of “over 80,000 New Jersey residents (who) meet the State's functional definition of developmentally disabled.” Speaking for the court, Justice Pollock wrote,
The clear public policy of this State, as reflected in (its constitution, legislation, and regulations) is to respect the right of self-determination of all people, including the developmentally disabled. . . . The paradox with incompetent people (is) to preserve as much as possible their right of self-determination while discharging the judicial responsibility to protect their best interests. . . . Depending on the facts of the case, someone who is unable to manage his or her own affairs may still be capable of making choices about daily activities, as well as choices about where and with whom to live. . . . We cannot, however, abandon our responsibility to those who cannot make decisions for themselves, particularly when those decisions are irreversible or may be reversed only with great difficulty. Our goal is to permit developmentally disabled people to make as many decisions as possible, while protecting them from the harmful effects of bad decisions that they do not fully understand . . . (while placing a) heavy burden on anyone seeking to overcome the right of self-determination of a person who is generally incompetent. . . . We now hold that the court should have placed on M. R.'s mother, as the person challenging M. R.'s capacity to decide, the burden of proving specific incapacity by clear and convincing evidence. . . . If the trial court finds (on remand) that M. R. lacks the specific capacity to decide where to live, M. R.'s father, as the party challenging the present status, would bear the burden of proving that a change in residence would be in M. R.'s best interest.

The court was saying that if M. R. wanted to move in with her father, the mother had the burden to prove that she was unable to make that decision, rather than the father. If she could prove she was incapable of making that decision, then, complicating the matter in a secondary proof, the father must prove that it would be better for her to move in with him.

I agree with the primary burden of proof as placed on the mother. It is a good step toward the kind of consent I am talking about in this blog. There should always be roadblocks to declaring somebody incompetent. Anything less would be un-American. On the other hand, they could have issued a stronger opinion.

I question the justice of the secondary burden of proof. Was it unfair to require her father to prove that moving was better than maintaining the present status? Didn’t his wish correspond with his hers? Wasn’t this placing upon him the difficult challenge of proving that the fulfillment of her wish would be in her best interest? Since the mother stood against her wish, shouldn’t she bear the burden of proving the move would be too harmful? Even if M. R. couldn’t understand which home would be better, couldn’t they let her decide anyway? Couldn’t she learn how to make better decisions by experiencing the direct consequences of her own decisions? Don’t we all learn from trial and error? Couldn’t she return to her mother’s home if she realized she had made a mistake? Doesn’t the act of choosing in itself represent her best interest? Wasn’t it harmful to minimize her freedom?

I say, yes, human dignity is the paramount value. If the mother should prove M. R.’s incompetence, she should also prove that the move would be too harmful. She should submit a risk/benefit analysis specifying how the net harm from moving versus staying with her would be severe and highly likely to occur. She should subtract from her side of the argument the damage caused by diminishing M. R.'s right of self-determination. The Supreme Court said, “The trial court noted that either parent would provide a loving environment.” They indicated that the change in routine might cause her a problem. They could factor that into the equation, but the question remains: which is more harmful, the change from one loving house to another or the denial of this young woman’s right to choose even if she might be mistaken?

M. R. was slow to learn, but a full-grown adult nonetheless. So let's apply the golden rule of ethics: do unto others as you would have done to you. If you were a non-emancipated young adult needing to live with one loving parent or the other, would you want the right to be able to choose, or would you acquiesce to the choice being made for you, having no right to object, after they said you were too retarded to know any better?

The funny thing here is that we can appreciate her reasons for wanting to live with her less-restrictive father. Justice Pollock said, “M. R. believed that, like her sister, she could obtain a driver's license, leave her father's home, marry, and have a baby. The (trial) court summarized M. R.'s reasons for wanting to live with her father as ‘boys, babies, and boyfriends.’”

Regardless of the particulars of who was right and who was wrong, however, we can thank the courts and all the litigants for the improvements to the law. New Jersey is headed in the right direction.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The first issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) set the stage for Applied Behavior Analysis' (ABA's) long-term, highly-unethical behavior.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

Image used without objection from an editor of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior


I’m reading the first issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (Wolf, 1968) with Skinner and his followers. It contains some of the earlier applications of behavioral principles to people. I suspect that the subjects' consent was often not obtained when human applications began.

Those in this issue who probably did not consent to a course of treatment included an autistic girl whom they shook for rocking her own body, psychiatric patients “required” to sample reinforcers to make sure they cashed in their tokens. For example, Risley (1968, p. 31) said, “The experimenter shouted ‘Stop that!’ seized (the girl) by the upper arms, and shook her whenever she began rocking. He would wait until her eyes were closed or fixed on her hand before abruptly shouting and shaking her. This event invariably produced a 'startle reflex' and flushing in (the girl).” In his earlier animal experiments, Skinner didn’t ask the rats if they wanted to go hungry, be put in a box, and made to pull levers to get little pieces of grain.

References


Risley, T. R. (1968). The effects and side effects of punishing the autistic behaviors of a deviant child [Electronic version]. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 21-34. Retrieved April 19, 2007 from U.S. National Institutes of Health PubMed Central database Web site: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=1310972&blobtype=pdf

Wolf, M. M. (Ed.). (1968) [Electronic Version]. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1. Retrieved April 19, 2007 from U.S. National Institutes of Health PubMed Central database Web site: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=1310969&blobtype=pdf

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Parents, it's okay to reward your children when they do their homework, if that works and they like it.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

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Parents, do not be afraid to reinforce your children when they do their homework well. There are many ways to reward them. For example, by sitting in the same room with them while they're doing it, you give them reinforcement with your attention. Help them when you can. Make them a fruit dish and give it to them after they finish their work, but check it to make sure they are not doing a sloppy rush job in order to receive the reinforcement. Give them a trip to the zoo or to a science center, planetarium, or aquarium when they get a better grade. Take them to a ballgame. Borrow a movie at the library. Read them a new story or let them entertain you with their new found reading ability.

You know some of the rewards they enjoy, but they know better. Ask them what incentives they would enjoy if they get an A on a test. Many children actually enjoy doing well in school and that is its own reward. They can tell you if they don’t need a specific reward.

People criticize behavior modification when they call it bribery. A bribe can be considered a financial incentive to do something you're not supposed to do in your job. When we reinforce good behavior we are not bribing children. We reward them for normal everyday activities. We are not giving them anything for doing something they are not supposed to do. A tip into the jar at the cash register for a Subway sandwich-maker is positive reinforcement for following instructions, but it's not a bribe. They are supposed to follow instructions. A tip can reinforce when it's done very well.

Whether or not you believe in giving money for good grades, praise, when it's real, authentic, is a great reward. It costs nothing to do it well and to do it often. Tell them you are proud of them for a job done well and they believe in themselves so much more than if you blame them for being lazy.

Children crave attention and they can get it whenever they want it. We give positive attention when they are "good" and negative attention when they are "bad." Nagging, screaming, and spanking can be negative attention. Asking them, “Why aren’t you doing your homework?” can also be negative attention. If they can’t get it by being good, and they can only get it by being bad, then they have more incentive for being bad, and less for being good. Positive or negative, attention often reinforces an attention-starved child. Adults don't realize they're rewarding “bad” behavior with negative critical attention. Although negative attention is unpleasant, it is, nonetheless, still considered reinforcement when it makes the “bad” behavior reoccur. Sometimes parents ignore children when they are quiet and yell at them when they fight with each other. This can actually cause them to fight more often in the future.

Watch carefully the next time you hear a child whining in the candy aisle, “I want a Hershey Bar!” as she pouts and stomps her feet. I bet you'll see the father giving her the candy to avoid a scene in the store. Unfortunately, the candy has strengthened her tendency to whine, and the next time at the store she’s going to whine for a piece of candy. You can graph it on a piece of paper and project the line out into the future. Then later on when they're alone, he might try to punish her.

There is no need to punish her for whining if he stops giving her the candy. He can extinguish the whining behavior by withholding the reinforcement. She may tantrum at the beginning of the extinction procedure, and they may get worse at first, but the whining and the tantrums can stop if he sticks to his guns and never gives candy to whiners. When she asks politely, however, he can give her some candy and say, “You’re such a good girl.” He reinforces asking nicely, and asking-nicely is a behavior that increases in strength and becomes more likely to reoccur. If we knew this centuries ago, think of all the grownups who wouldn’t be whining today!

Sometimes if a child misbehaves when told to do homework they create an opportunity to avoid homework. If a parent makes a demand and the children fuss and complain, the parent might stop making the demand. When misbehavior causes the demand to go away, the removal of the demand negatively reinforces the unwanted response. More and more disturbances may occur whenever parents make demands. These children are punishing their parent's unsuccessfully attempts to get them to do their work. The parent might might give up and let them do whatever they want. It's probably better to develop a good homework reward program as soon as the child enters, to develop good habits, and prevent this situation from occurring in the first place.

With a system of rewarding "good" behavior, there’s less time for unwanted behavior. Desirable behavior consumes more time each day. A boy cannot spray graffiti on a vacant building at the same time as he solves math problems at home. Improve the homework, and the mischief goes away, one behavior at a time.

Catch them being good more often and you catch them being bad less often. We often focus on the negatives and ignore the positives. Be on the lookout for good behavior, especially if it happens infrequently. If you look hard enough, you can always find something good to reward, even if it's a little thing. When you catch it, reward it. Then it will happen more often.

Shape the homework behavior. During shaping we reward successive approximations to the goal behavior. When they come home from school with some books, reward them for bringing home their books. Then reward them for setting the books down on a desk or a workspace. Then reward them for taking their books out of their bags. Reward them for sitting down at a workspace in front of their books. Reward them for locating pen and paper. Reward them for the first homework exercises they perform. Then reward them for doing half of it. Then reward them for finishing it. You can praise them for each of these steps or you can give them something tangible. Let them turn on the television after you've checked their work. You can play the radio while they are working and turn it off when they take a break.

When you give them a concrete reward, then praise them at the same time, but not in a stunted artificial manner. Keep it real. Subtle praise is good too. They will associate your praise with the reward. If you occasionally pair your praise with the delivery of food, for instance, your praise will become a conditioned reinforcer. Your presence itself will become a conditioned reinforcer. You don't want to be seen as a punisher. They will avoid you.

Parents should also be a good role models of the behavior they expect. It's hard to keep them from lying, cheating, gambling, drinking, smoking, and doing illegal drugs if you do them yourself. If you have paperwork to do, let them see you doing it. It's even better to do your paperwork in the same room at the same time. Not only does it set a good example for them to follow, it also makes your work more enjoyable or less of a drudgery when you have others there with you doing essentially the same thing.

Unfortunately, it's much easier to see the effects of punishment if compliance happens right away, so punishment is frequently used. You don't notice the effects of positive reinforcement until the next few times the behavior occurs, if you are aware of an increase in the rate of behavior. Behavior strengthens when rate increases. If they do their homework once a week and you praise them as soon as they do it, if everything else remains the same, and if you see the rate of doing homework increasing to twice a week, then you can conclude that your praise has caused the improvement.

If the teacher assigns busy work, workbook exercises that seem like a waste of time, if it's too hard or unchallenging, then ask the teacher to gear it to the individual needs of your children.

Sometimes children spend their precious time on worthwhile hobbies, such as downloading and collecting their favorite music, or healthy activities, such as a soccer league or informal bands playing in the basements of their homes. Be thankful. These acts are better than a waste of time with a big load of busy work that doesn't teach them much.

When you see the effects of your reinforcement, you are reinforced in return. It can make everyone feel better.

Friday, January 19, 2007

B. F. Skinner studied squirrels and ants before he discovered the extinction curve with lab rats.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

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B.F. Skinner (1979) studied squirrel and ant behavior before turning more intensively to rats in the later 1930s. His usual rat subject was male, white, healthy, one hundred days old, and a part of an experimental group of the same litter (Skinner, 1938, p. 48). He released them at feeding time into the dark, sound-proof space that came to be called the "Skinner box," even though he said he had never called it a Skinner box (1959, p. 620). He called it an "experimental chamber." Initially unconditioned, they explored the new surroundings as they normally would in nature. Sooner or later, they pressed down on the lever. This caused a pellet of food to drop into a tray. They heard the machine dispense it and they ate it. They would repeat the performance. When he saw a rate of lever pressing that rose above the natural unconditioned baseline level, he concluded that the probability of the lever presses per unit of time had increased. He reported that the behavior had strengthened and concluded that reinforcement had occurred (1938, p. 49).

An "apparatus" called a kymograph tallied action (Skinner, 1938, p. 59). He arranged for each press to cause a pen to nudge up a notch on a sheet of paper that he mounted upon a steadily revolving drum. This machine would draw a total response curve rising gradually with each response and with each bump of the stylus.

The image above in this post represents a total response extinction curve. It shows something akin to the lines he (1938) drew above the actual extinction curves in his rats after he smoothed out the irregularities and fluctuations from the real results. The image in the previous post shows a rate-of-response extinction curve. The previous post explains extinction in more detail. Basically extinction occurs when the researcher stops reinforcing a response he has already conditioned and the rate of response drops very low.

In "Conditioning and Extinction," his third chapter in The Behavior of Organisms, he (1938) included twenty-one graphs of total-response, three graphs of total-response and rate-of-response juxtaposed, one above the other, but no graphs of rate-of-response alone. Skinner could have presented the data either way. Was he in a hurry to publish his findings? Was he punished by the extra work involved in converting the data from the kymographic total-response curves into rates of response? Did the equipment itself condition his behavior? While he modified the behavior of rats, did the rats modify the behavior of B.F. Skinner. I'm only kidding. The evidence of rigor in his work is abundant. I got this joke from a cartoon I once saw.

References

Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis (1991 ed.). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.

Skinner, B. F. (1959). Cumulative record (1999 definitive ed.). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Knopf.

Skinner, B. F. (1979). The shaping of a behaviorist: Part two of an autobiography. New York: Knopf.

Teachers, there's no need for punishment and correction to gain hand-raising during calm, peaceful classroom management.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

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This figure represents one student's particular classroom behavior during the first twenty days of a hypothetical school year. Let's say the class has a new teacher. A different teacher from the previous year had unwittingly conditioned one of the girls not to raise her hand by constantly reminding her to stop calling out without raising her hand, thus reinforcing her interruptions with attention, and causing it to happen more often. The new teacher studied some behavior analysis techniques and learned how to thoroughly ignore undesired attention-seeking behavior. The girl's interrupting behavior generalizes from the old to the new teacher, but he only recognizes the students who do raise their hands, so he begins extinguishing her calling out responses by saying nothing when it happens.

The chart shows a typical extinction curve. It has a burst, a crest, and a decline. The burst is caused by the lingering effect of the reinforcement from the previous year and the new effect of extinction. At first she "tries hard" to get a reaction, so the behavior increases, but the teacher completely ignores it, so she "gives up trying." The rate of interruption levels off and diminishes to a low level of response. (For actual extinction curves in rats, see Skinner (1938.)

He differentially reinforces a suitable alternate behavior by only calling on her when she does raise her hand. He knows immediate reinforcement works better than delayed reinforcement so he responds soon after she raises her hand. Now she has an acceptable way of gaining his attention.

Next he can modify the rule. Sometimes, during free time, for instance, the class doesn't need to raise their hands. So he traces an outline of his hand onto a blank sheet of paper and colors it green. When he wants them to raise their hands, he tacks the green hand onto the bulletin board and continues calling on students who raise their hands and ignoring those who don't. When the green hand is not up on the board, he can respond when they talk without raising their hands and ignore them when they do raise their hands. They learn to discriminate between the green hand and the non-green hand conditions. The discriminative stimulus, we can say, sets the occasion for hand raising and gains control over their behavior. In the end, they will only raise their hands during the green stimulus if he extinguishes hand raising during the non-green condition.

See the previous post, Don't Reward "Bad" Behavior for more about how a teacher can unwittingly cause undesired behavior in a student.

Reference


Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis (1991 ed.). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Stop retaliation against "bad" behavior. Don't reward it in the first place.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

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Blogger's Gratitude

Many thanks go out to my good friend, poetry publisher, and Spanish teacher, Barbara de la Cuesta, who asked me to consider people like her as the intended audience, a lay person to the science of behavior analysis, in writing this kind of essay.

Don't Reward "Bad" Behavior

The next time you hear a child screaming shrill inside a store, watch carefully. You will almost certainly see the parent giving him whatever he desires. If you can bear the alarming noise, you will witness the positive reinforcement principle taking shape before your very ears and eyes, how in a state of deprivation (hunger built up during a long delay between feedings) an "appetitive stimulus" (in another illustration, a Whopper® Sandwich Meal) presented quickly after a behavioral emission (driving to Burger King®) causes the behavior to reoccur more often in the future (In a few days or weeks we hop inside the car again to become on our way steady Burger King customers, and layered with more fat, no doubt.).

Parents often reinforce so-called “bad” behavior (whining in the candy aisle) by presenting it with a reward (a bag of candy), in order to shut him up, but only temporarily. Unaware of the reinforcement principle, unaware that their candy delivery is causing the whining to reoccur, they blame the child. Then they might "punish" him (a spanking in the car). Eventually, during shop after shop when the same thing keeps happening, the temper and the warning signs of threatened temper, the miniscule shriek with the demand to buy something special, exist in strength. Then as soon as he starts pouting, at the first sign of demand, they give him whatever he wants and they avoid the embarrassing scene at the market, the monster doing his monster thing.


Is Your Behavior Consequence a Reinforcer or a Punisher?

Basically, a reinforcer is a stimulus that strengthens the response it quickly follows, so the presentation of reinforcers as soon as an individual emits a behavior makes it more likely to reoccur. The changing probability plays itself out in the calculations of the changing rates of responses over time. (We see an acquaintance we admire, we smile (our response), he smiles (his reinforcement of our response), we soon become friends as we smile at one another each time and see each other much more often (our rate of smiling increases, strengthens). The chances are high that we're gonna smile again whenever we encounter our good friend.)

If we can observe and count more frequent responses of a specific behavior over time during a set of conditions when we add a particular consequence to the response of an organism, human or otherwise, as opposed to a set of non-additive conditions when we hold all other variables held constant, then we can classify this stimulus as a reinforcer for this individual under these conditions. We can draw the pattern of responses and reinforcers as a set of points and curves upon x-y coordinates on a piece of graph paper.

On the other hand, a punisher or an aversive stimulus is an unpleasant stimulus that we tend to avoid or escape, but punishment and reinforcement are not opposites. A punisher does not weaken behavior the way a reinforcer will strengthen it. Punishment does not subtract from the rate of response what reinforcement adds to it. Instead punishment might only suppress a rate temporarily, but forceful use of punishment can weaken a target behavior such that total responses over time is reduced.

One particular stimulus might function as a reinforcer for one person and a punisher for another, a sushi roll, for example, of seaweed, white rice, raw salmon, and green wasabi horseradish. Some like it, others don't. It will reinforce me. I know that because I frequent the Japanese restaurants and I'll get the Sushi deluxe every time. It is non-reinforcing or punishing to those who have tried it and who always avoid it. I can take such a person to a Japanese restaurant and they will always order Hibachi, for instance, instead.

It helps to determine when a stimulus is "appetitive" (rewarding) and when it's "aversive" (punishing). To find out what kind of fruit is the best reinforcer for the child who takes out the trash, a parent can ask, "Which do you want, the apple or the orange?" If they choose the apple, then they can say, "Which do you want, the apple or the plum?" And so forth.

After eating a whole pie of pizza, ice cream doesn't sound so good, but in the midst of a starvation diet, people will hop in the car at midnight and drive to the 7-11 for a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.

So physical objects, concrete stimuli, such as a piece of fruit, can function as reinforcers. Access to desirable activities can also reinforce. The Premack Principle suggests that the activities we do more often can reinforce the activities we do less often. Give somebody some free time and see what they choose to do more often. The more typically occurring free-time activity can be used to reinforce the less frequent activities. So during free time a child might play with a particular toy more often than uncluttering the play space. To apply the Premack principle, give access to a favorite toy only when the child has put the other toys in their proper place on the shelf. Do this and there is no need to punish the child for cluttering up the room.

Parents and spouses often yell and nag without a clue that their attention-doting behavior is reinforcing an unwanted behavior, causing it to repeat. ("How many times must I tell you? Stop picking your nose!") When a father is on the phone in the kitchen while the child is disorganizing the playroom with a scattering of toys spread all across the floor and then she comes in to reprimand him, he won't have any idea why the clutter shows up on the floor every single day, but the true cause of the clutter is his pattern of ignoring her when she's playing and then yelling at her when the playroom has passed the tipping point and entered the realm of chaos. He wonders out loud to her, "What has happened to you? Last year, you were such a good girl."

While critical attention in the form of parental yelling and spanking can reinforce an otherwise attention-starved child, the same yelling and spanking can punish the behavior of another child who is motivated by the approval of adults.

Generally, however, a much more thorough way to identify a stimulus as a reinforcer rather than a punisher is to to collect ABC functional analysis data, the antecedent (A) pre-response environmental stimuli or setting, the relative frequency over time of a well-defined specific behavioral (B) response, and the schedule of consequences (C) which typically follow that behavior, and then use the data to decide whether or not the rate of behavior increases as a result of these happenings.

A functional analysis can also determine the unknown causes of "problem" behavior after direct observation and collection of ABC data. Hence the function or behavior is revealed. What purpose does it serve?

Of course, this kind of data collection can be tedious, but not always. A pedometer and a behavior tracking ABC diary chart would be a convenient way to analyze the success of walking ten thousand steps a day. If steps per day is highest on days when a wife's walking routine is immediately followed by Sushi dinner as offered by her husband, we know Sushi is a reinforcer.

On the other hand, if she walks less on Mondays and only on Mondays does he gives her Sushi as soon as she comes in from a workout, then chances seem to indicate that Sushi is an aversive for her.

She could draw a curved line on a sheet of graph paper of steps per Sushi consequence day and draw another curve of steps per non-Sushi consequence day. This could help identify the stimulus as appetitive or aversive, if she really felt like doing it.

The Futility of Punishment and Its Alternatives

Coercive punishment has unwanted byproducts: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger, hostility, escape, avoidance, and retaliation. The US finds itself fighting the "terrorist threat" because Obama is dropping bombs on families attending Pakistani weddings in his desperate hunt for another one who might have joined the party. Punishment begets punishment upon the punisher by the punishee, and so on ad infinitum. US terror of the global community causes the global community to terrorize the US. It's as simple as this: We are creating our own terrorists.

Punishment alone doesn't teach us what we ought to be doing. However, it does teach us how to escape and avoid it, and this can create other unwanted behavior. When the US Air Force carpet bombed the villages of the so-called North Vietnamese "enemy," they built underground tunnels and sniped the young American soldiers from their well-hidden ambush deep inside the jungle. So the USA bombs didn't cause a Vietnamese surrender. Rather their hidden escapes from the USA death machine helped bring about the USA surrender. To take another example, the threat of arrest contingent upon a cop spotting a user of drugs doesn't stop the drug use, but it does make the users go into hiding when they are about to consume their drugs.

So instead of punishing unwanted behaviors, which causes more problems than it solves, a better strategy would be to extinguish them. Problem behaviors can exist in strength because of previous reinforcement, as seen in the previous paragraph. This tendency to emit a behavior can be eliminated by thoroughly and consistently withholding the reinforcers that have been keeping it in place and simultaneously reinforcing incompatible acceptable behaviors that cannot occur at the same time and place as the unwanted target behavior. ("We don't give candy to whiners, but we do give popcorn to children who ask for it nicely.")

Coercion is unnecessary when we know how to reinforce properly. For example, we can prevent the emergence of an occasion where people normally call out for punishment by not reinforcing unwanted behavior in the first place. So by raising a child no reinforcement for delinquent behavior, then the development of a child into a more "hardened criminal" who the public loves to put away in jail never takes place. The Police Athletic League can be coaching some teenagers on the basketball court who can't be spraying graffiti while they're shooting hoops.

As soon as a new "problem" behavior first emerges in a toddler, as another illustration of how so-called "punishable" acts can be eliminated without punishment, be careful not to reinforce it. So the first time the child has control over the television remote, be sure the parental controls against violent programs are activated on the set. If this is impossible, then toss the TV into the recyclable trash heap and teach him or her how to use a parentally controlled computer. Since children readily play with toy guns, it is possible that the activity of watching a violent TV episode will reinforce the activity of switching the channels on the remote control until a violent TV network appears on the screen. So blocking that network from appearing on the set prevents the problem from occurring in the first place. Punishment for watching a forbidden program would be a non-issue since violence is blocked in the home at that very early age. Meanwhile, hopefully, the child is engaging with some wholesome educational programs and websites. Under similar modifications, prosocial behavior (such as designing an environmentally friendly imaginary township on a computer application) becomes the new norm incompatible to the old antisocial norm (violent video games).

Behaviorally demonstrated, scientifically analyzed alternatives to punishment include 1) reinforcement of lower rates of problem behavior responding, 2) reinforcement for not behaving in a given way, 3) task analysis to prevent problematic task avoidance and escape behavior (to prevent a disabled teenager from "bolting" out the classroom door, break difficult demanding tasks down into non-demanding easier steps and shaping the goal behavior one step at a time, 4) positive instructional control, telling the child to do something he wants to do develops a habit of following parental instructions.

So the rule for effective behavior modification, don't reward so-called "bad" behavior, is more relevant than it might seem to someone who has not been trained in the principles of behavior analysis. Follow this rule from infancy on to young adult emancipation from the home, and the youngster develops a good array of pro-social behavior.

Within the functions of everyday reinforcement, the consent of the recipient of reinforcing contingencies is generally automatic at any age. We prefer what draws us in to consume them, the appetitive stimuli. That is why we do not dissent from eating dinner when we haven't eaten all day.

Furthermore, deductive logical analysis shows that with ample reinforcement of "good" behavior, there's no time for "bad" behavior to emerge - as long as it goes unreinforced. We strengthen the behavior relative to other behaviors in the total repertoire of the behaving organism, causing that strong behavior to emerge more often than weaker behavior. The calendar of a life span is limited and a response consumes a minimal time unit within the life of an individual. So the stronger responses crowd the schedule of any give day and shove the weaker ones out of the total repertoire of emergent behavior. Under heavy reinforcement of "desirable" or "pro-social" behavior, there's no time for the much weaker, under-reinforced, unwanted behavior to emerge.

Today it is common to hear people argue that punishment is necessary because of the multitude of thieves, murderers, bribe inducing corporate executives, and bribe induced corrupt politicians. How else are we supposed to stop it? Don't they deserve their just punishment? They must suffer and pay the price of their sins!

Instead, society-wide training of all people of all ages in constructive uses of behavior analysis could eliminate so-called criminal behavior, so under lifetimes of learning with the alternatives to punishment, antisocial behavior is prevented, and punishment is moot. Punishment becomes a non-issue.

So coercion today is not necessary when problems can be thoroughly prevented.

So in the Utopian world without borders, the six o'clock news would lead with a story on how to create some more good stories. There are no vicious cries to make the wrong-doer suffer for his sins, all in the name of "justice." Prosecuting attorneys would be relics of the past. The hollowed out shells of the corporate owned prisons, the hotbeds of unethical profiteering from cruel and unusual solitary confinement, torture, and abuse, the appeasement of a racist, vehement populace where prisons are packed to the brim with dark skinned Americans and immigrants, would exist only as museums, physical reminders of the by-gone era, the barbaric overly-punitive American society.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Here's the problem with punishment.

[Edit note April 28, 2017: I retain this post. I was calling ABA science then. It wasn't until much later that a reader critique of the original ABA-is-a cult-of-science led me to see how ABA is a pseudoscience masquerading as science. At this date, and up until 2014, after having believed Skinner and his followers, naïvely for seven blind years that they could be ethical if only they followed Skinner's warnings against punishment. Eventually, I came to see the hypocrite in each of them, especially Skinner, when in 2017 we see for certain that Skinner only opposed punitive coercion upon whom he called "normal" people. The others, disabled people especially, were "beyond" the reach of reinforcers only, as Skinner actually said and as Skinner actually led. I retain this post for historical and developmental purposes over the development of my findings, from blinded by the misrepresentations, subtle and obvious, out from the cave of darkness where the light to #NoABA, other ways instead, shines big and bright. A cursory read today makes it appear that this post, technically, helped me develop my Behavioral Prowess under which I learned to speak their language and stand up to them and see right through them as they spoke their jargon to parents and the media, all full of nonsense and doublespeak which the laymen don't get until they know what they're talking about, technically.]

*****




Punishment elicits a fear of the punishing person. It can induce stress, arousing the nervous system into an overwhelming emotional reaction. Its by-products include anxiety, panic, anger, and resentment. Punishment provokes retaliation, fight or flight, avoidance or escape. It creates hostile or docile individuals.

It may not produce the desired effect: elimination or reduction in the rate of a target behavior. For example, B.F. Skinner's first punishing apparatus was a mechanical arm that hit the paws of rats who were pressing levers for food reinforcement. This mild punishment temporarily suppressed the rate of lever-pressing, but it did not reduce the overall number of lever-presses over the long run while lever presses continued after Skinner withdrew the punishment procedure. (Skinner, 1991/1938, p. 154).

For more about punishment see Skinner (1974, p. 68-71; 2003, p. 96-102; and 2014, chap. 10-12.)

References

Skinner, B. F. (1974). About behaviorism (1st ed.). New York: Knopf; distributed by Random House.
Skinner, B. F. (1991). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis (Original work published 1938). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.
Skinner, B. F. (2003). The technology of teaching (Original work published 1968). Cambridge, MA: B.F. Skinner Foundation.
Skinner, B. F. (2014). Science and human behavior (Original work published 1953). Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.bfskinner.org/newtestsite/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ScienceHumanBehavior.pdf

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.