Article 3A: Learning-Through-Consequences By Kerby T. Alvy Ph.D.
Behavior is also shaped by its consequences. This simple commonsense statement tells you a great deal of what you need to know about human behavior. What does it mean? Simply this: If you do something, be it going to a party, kissing your spouse, or even scratching your nose, whatever happens to you as a consequence (or result) of that behavior will determine how likely you will be to behave that way again in the future. There’s a great deal of scientific research backing up this statement, and understanding it is the key to understanding human behavior. Behavior is shaped by its consequences. Remember that: it’s important.
The Concept of Positive Consequences
Knowing that behavior is shaped by its consequences, we can now go one step further. If you behave a certain way and something good happens to you as a result, you will be more likely to do that same thing again. A trained porpoise, for example, knows that if he jumps through a hoop, his trainer will reward him with a fish dinner.
Sure, you probably wouldn’t jump through any hoops for just a mouthful of raw fish, but take a minute or two here to think about all the things you do in your daily life, and then see if you can figure out the various positive consequences you get which make doing those things worthwhile. We go to work, for example, because we get paid for that behavior. We ask a question, and the answer is our reward. We say nice things to people so they’ll like us. The list is virtually endless. Let’s take a closer look, however, at an example of how a child’s behavior is affected by positive consequences.
Michael is an eager-to-please four year old who has spent his entire afternoon working on a finger-painting to give to his dad when he comes home from work. When Dad rewards Michael’s effort with a big smile, a hug, or lots of praise, chances are that Michael not only feels pretty good about himself, but he’s already looking forward to making his dad more nice presents in the future. How long do you think Michael would continue to do nice things like this for his dad if all he got was a perfunctory “Oh, that’s nice” as his reward? Probably not too long. Once the positive consequences which serve to maintain a behavior stop coming in, that behavior is not likely to occur again. In short, if you want to see more of a particular behavior from someone, make sure that he feels he’s been amply rewarded for that behavior.