I have experience working with animals, and I also have experience working with children. Since humans are animals, we are similar in many ways. We eat, sleep, and interact with our kind. Even our learning process is similar.
Throughout our lives, we learn in many ways, but mainly through experiences, such as simple cause and effect. If we bang on a drum, we hear a noise. If we touch a hot pot, we get burned. If we stay up too late, we are tired the next day and need to drink multiple cups of coffee.
We also learn that cause and effect can manipulate others, and we learn this at a very early age. Babies learn that certain actions can get specific positive responses from others. Crying rewards them with food or nurturing, and knocking things off the table gets attention from their parents. Ironically, cats do the same thing to get our attention; it’s just not as cute.
This learning by reinforcement or punishment is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning, sometimes called instrumental learning, is learning to perform or not perform a particular behavior based on the consequences. It differs from classical conditioning, like Pavlov’s dog experiments, because it involves voluntary behavior as opposed to reflexive behavior.
Behavioral Psychologist, B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) conducted many experiments to study operant conditioning. One well-known study was with rats and buttons. If the rat pushed the blue button, it would get a food pellet. If the rat pressed a red button, they would get a mild electric shock. It didn’t take long for the rats to figure out which was the best button to push.
As you can see with cats and children, operant conditioning doesn’t just take place in the lab. It is everywhere in our environment and helps us learn and achieve success. Unfortunately, success isn’t as easy as pushing a blue button, and we don’t always get a reward for good behavior.
Today’s fortune reminded me that we need to reward those around us more often when they do something well. There are multiple opportunities to admonish others for their work. We have a habit of focusing on that the most. It’s as if we are eagerly waiting for someone to push the wrong button in our lives. Instead, we should try to catch people in the act of doing something right and praise them. It’s as simple as accentuating their positive behavior.
When someone does something well, such as treating others with respect or being polite, we should let them know we appreciate it. Did someone hold a door open for you? Thank them with a smile. Did a child act well-behaved in a group? Give them a small prize or treat. The reinforcement doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Even complimenting them will do in many circumstances.
Reinforcing good behavior help others reach their full potential and they will be happier for it. It not only make others better but also turns our focus towards the good in the world. Accentuating positive behavior can bring joy into everyone’s lives.