The two previous articles suggest that a reward system through differential reinforcement of the other behavior (DRO) may produce better results than do a punishment system. This hypothesis has not been proven (although in science, nothing is ever “proven,” only supported), and for every argument, it is important to present the other side. The article by Conyers et al. presents an experiment which produces results that support omission training as a better means than DRO.
Conyers et al. compares two procedures aimed to reduce the disruptive behavior in a preschool class. In the Response-Cost procedure, children start off with 15 tokens and are told that a token would be taken away if any disruptive behavior is exhibited. In the DRO procedure, children start off with no tokens and are told that they would receive a token if they do not engage in any disruptive behavior. For both procedures, the children receive a candy reward as long as they have at least 12 tokens at the end of each trial.
At baseline, disruptive behavior occurred with a mean of 64%. The Response-Cost procedure decreased this mean to 5% while the DRO procedure decreased this mean to 27%. Conyers et al. therefore find “response cost more effective than DRO” (Conyers et al. 413). The prompting of a punishment is now seen as more successful in diminishing disruptive children in children than is the reward of the other behavior. This opposes the findings from the other two previous articles which illustrates that there are no set rules for learning. One method will not necessarily prove more effective than another across the board or in all types of situations. In learning, there are no such things as golden rules. Each circumstance is unique and therefore requires a type of learning tweaked to its own conditions.
Wahler et al. provide us a second article which further demonstrates the complexities of learning. The three previous articles focus on and involve the direct manipulation of the child’s behavior. Wahler et al., however, go beyond the centralization on the child and recognize the behavior of a parent, specifically that of the mother, as a “powerful class of reinforcers for her child’s deviant as well as normal behavior” (Wahler, 113). They propose the use of the DRO technique on the child through the mother or primary care taker of that child. In other words, they aim to produce specific changes in the behavior of the mothers as a means to indirectly improve the behavior of her child.
Wahler et al. state that since the parents’ “behaviors serve a large variety of stimulus functions” and “compose the most influential part of [the child’s] natural environment,” the parents become the “source of eliciting stimuli and reinforcers which [produce] and [maintain] the child’s behavior” (Wahler, 114). It thus becomes logical that to modify the child’s deviant behavior, a change in parental behaviors must be involved. More specifically, Wahler et al. highlights the importance of “eliminating the contingencies which currently support their child’s deviant behavior, and [providing] new contingencies to produce and maintain more normal behaviors which compete with the deviant behavior” (Wahler, 114).
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In the three cases studied, the baseline of the mothers differs based on the type of deviant behavior their child expresses.
Case 1) Danny is an extremely demanding child who virtually determines his own bedtime, foods he eats, when his parents play with him, and other household activities. Danny’s mother initially is “unable to refuse his demands and rarely attempts to ignore or punish him. On the few occasions when she refused him, she quickly relented when he began to shout or cry” (Wahler, 117).
Case 2) Johnny is a very dependent child who is physically abusive to others when he receives no attention. Johnny’s mother initially is very responsive to this type of dependency and she feels more comfortable when he is at her side or at least within site. Before the study, she encourages this type of “dependence on others for direction and support” (Wahler, 119).
Case 3) Eddie exudes extreme stubbornness, ignoring his mothers commands and requests or doing the opposite of what he is told or asked to do. Initially, all of Eddie’s mother’s interactions with him is restricted to his oppositional behavior such that she “rarely plays games with him, reads to him, or talks to him” (Wahler, 121).
In these three cases, we see how each mother’s baseline behavior differs. Danny’s mother rewards Danny’s deviant behavior by relenting after he throws tantrums. She rewards his demands by allowing him to do so. Johnny’s mother rewards Johnny’s unhealthy dependent behavior by giving him the attention desired when he expresses his dependency. Eddie’s mother rewards Eddie’s stubbornness by giving him attention only during the times he behaves in a negative way. Other than during those times, she does not acknowledge him, a form of punishment.
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To ultimately improve the behavior of these three children, the experimenters first teach the mothers to recognize the child’s deviant behavior. Then, because the aim is to eliminate reinforcers produced by the mother, the experimenters instruct the mother to ignore any deviant behaviors and respond to any cooperative or socially desired behavior. More specifically, the mother is required to make no verbal or non-verbal contact with her child and ostensibly read a book if the child exhibits the deviant behavior. This is to positively reinforce the desired behavior and punish the negative behavior. In an experimental setting, the mothers are informed of a correct response to her child’s behavior via a light as a cueing signal which is controlled by experimenters in another room. Because the “response rates of the children’s deviant and incompatible behavior [are] weakened when their mothers’ contingent behavior [is] eliminated, and strengthened when they [are] replaced,” Wahler et al. find that their data “supports the contention that [the mother’s] behavior changes are responsible for the changes” in the child’s behavior (Wahler, 123). The children’s behavior is under the control of the mother’s behavior.
This article parallels the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Most programs focus on the direct manipulation of the actions of the child. They are able to change the child’s behavior in a specific experimental setting however, once placed back in real world situations, the environmental cues and stimulants differ drastically which cause the child to exhibit little improvement in their behavior. In this approach, the problem is the child. In the approach discussed above, the problem is not the child but the environment in which the behavior is exhibited. By changing the conditions and responses, improvements in child behavior can be extrapolated and transferred to varying situations. Changing the child is like giving the man a fish. Just the immediate problem is solved. The child learns good behavior in a specific context but cannot maintain such conduct. Changing the parent’s behavior to the child’s behavior is like teaching a man to fish. Now, the man can obtain fish whenever he wants, from whichever sea, during any time of the day. Likewise, the child’s behavior can be manipulated in multiple and diverse situations.
This all leads me to speculate that the importance of learning, therefore, lies not only in the individual, but in everything that influences the individual as well. Successful behavioral improvement procedures must take into account the whole picture. Learning is not an isolated entity; it is neither straightforward nor simple. Instead, learning is complex, multifaceted, and involves many intricacies that must be acknowledged.
Conyers, C., Miltenberger, R., Maki, A., Barenz, R., Jurgens, M., Sailer, A., Haugen, M., & Kopp, B. (2004). A comparison of response cost and differential reinforcement of other behavior to reduce disruptive behavior in a preschool classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(3), 411-415.
Wahler, R., Winkel, G., Peterson, R., & Morrison, D. (1965). Mothers as behavior therapists for their own children. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 3(2), 113-124.