Greetings LRNASSTers!

Taking a guess that Gary Probst was serious and not attmepting satire,
I'll try my hand at responding to his questions.  It is obvious though, that
several of the questions would require much more than the limited space of
an email to answer sufficiently.

> Gary Probst is thinking:

>   1. Are some people unable to be changed by positive reinforcement?

According to Reinforcement THEORY, most people's behaviors can be modified
by positively reinforcing a desired behavior.  My personal belief
is that if one understands the variables involved in a particular case,
and if one understands reinforcement theory, one stands a pretty good
chance of modifying another person's behavior -- if the other person sees
value in the modification.  High valence is essential to a *sustained*
behavior mod, I believe.

>   2. For those people who are unable to learn from positive reinforcement
>       changed or behavior stopped by negative reinforcement?

Eh? What?  If you are asking if one can use EITHER positive or negative
reinforcement to modify behavior, the answer is yes and no.  It depends on
the variables involved.

It is very important to note that NEGATIVE reinforcement and punishment
are two very different concepts.  Negative reinforcement is the ABSENCE of
reinforcement.  PUNISHMENT is the imposition of an undesirable outcome in
response to an undesirable behavior.

>   3. Can knowledge of negative reinforcement prevent the need for positive
> reinforcement?

Do you want a term paper here, or a one-liner? (grin)  This is an
excellent question; I would suggest that knowledge and/or expectation of
PUNISHMENT (not neg.reinforcement) might mitigate the need for positive
reinforcement, but chances are that you will only be able to extinguish
OLD behaviors, and not promote NEW, desirable ones. Behavior that isn't
rewarded (true negative reinforcement), or is punished, is less likely to
be repeated.

One uses pos. and neg. reinforcment, and punishment, for different

On the other hand, if you truly mean NEGATIVE reinforcement (ignoring
behavior) in your question and not punishment, I would posit that the
answer would probably be "no."

I have always thought that when using reinforcement theory, one should
approach a desired state by considering that there are really TWO
behaviors that one needs to contend with: The undesirable behavior (UB)
and the desired behavior (DB).  Often people only consider eradicating
neg. behaviors and rewarding pos. behaviors; treating those behaviors in

If I want you to close my car door without slamming it, slamming the car
door is an UB of yours that I want to modify.  I can approach the problem by
focusing ONLY on the UB and attempting to modify it, which would be dealing
with the UB in isolation.  If I choose the strategy of negative
reinforcement and ignore the behavior, the behavior in this example would
probably persist.  If I say "Please don't slam the door," and then throw
my arms up in surprise and clap my hands over my ears each time you slam
it, I am dealing with the UB by attempting to modify it with punishment.


I can show you a new behavior (DB) and positively reinforce that
(i.e. "I would appreciate it if you wouldn't slam my car door.  Slamming
it has a tendency to loosen the hinges and reduce the airtight
quality of the cab. Just roll the window down a bit and it will close real
easily.  Like this.  Thanks!"); thereby extinguishing the old behavior
(UB) WITHOUT punishment, AND simultaeneously establishing a new behavior (DB)
and rewarding you when you exhibit it. Ergo, we are treating TWO behaviors
instead of just one.  This approach should maximize the potential for
reaching the desired outcome.

>   4. What should you do with people who cannot learn from either positive or
> negative reinforcement?<

I believe that people DO and CAN learn from appropriate and
correct application of reinforcement theory.  Perhaps a more appropriate
question might be "Is the behavior change permanent or
temporary in relation to the type of reinforcement employed?"

>   5.  Which causes learning to take place faster negative or positive
> reinforcement?

It depends on the circumstances.

>   6.  If you do not know what type of reinforcement is a person's
> reinforcement style, what type should you use first?<

I don't believe that people have a particular "reinforcement style".
Which reinforcement approach one would use would depend more on the
circumstances than any particular characteristics of the individual.

>7. What type of reinforcement is remembered for a longest period of

Generally speaking, if a desirable behavior (DB) is positively reinforced
using an appropriate schedule of reward, the DB should be repeated.  The
frequency with which the DB is exhibited should be in proportion to the
level of percieved valence by the participant.

Generally speaking, if an undesirable behavior (UB) is negatively
reinforced (ignored) the UB MAY be extinguished.  In which case, there is
only a temporary need for this memory; although lack of repitition of the
UB may persist, the memory may not.

Generally speaking, if an UB is punished (P) it may or may not be
"remembered" depending upon the relationships between:

* the severity of the punishment
* the appropriateness of the use of punishment in this case
* the need for the punishment to be "remembered"

The level of recidivism of a behavior after reinforcement theory and
behavior modification have been applied depends upon the appropriateness
of the approach and the circumstances surrounding the case (the
participant's perceived need to allow his or her behavior to be modified,
percieved value of the reward, organizational culture and structure, need
for the behavior to be modified as in student violence in the classroom,
etc., etc., etc.).

DESIRED OUTCOMES as reasons for behavior mod. are also deciding
factors. Many folks suggest that reinforcing or treating an UB that
produces fear will only last (be "remembered") as long as necessary.
However, if you track me down and permanently tie my right arm behind my
back as punishment for typing a wrong answer on this test, I will remember the
reason for only having one remaining arm, forever.  But, did the punishment
equate to the UB?  Would the punishment cause me to give correct answers
in the future?  Did the relationship between the type of punishment and
the UB, and the choice of punishment (P) as a reinforcer equate to the
Desired Outcome you hoped to accomplish?

Enough already.  I get the distinct impression that you are toying with
us, Gary.  If so, then I have just inflicted significant punishment on
myself for not seeing the trap and consequently answering the
questions (UB) and I will be very reluctant to answer such questions again
(modified behavior).  I won't be angry, but I'll be chagrined and may
even chuckle about it.  But -- I will have learned not to be so eager to answer
such questions; an important lesson. (grin)

If you were truly curious, Gary, then I hope this is more helpful than it
is confusing.

Pat Schutz