The Power of Incentives: Inside the Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior - Deepstash
The Power of Incentives: Inside the Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior

The Power of Incentives: Inside the Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior

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The Power of Incentives: Inside the Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior

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The Psychology Of Behavior

In trying to change a behavior, reason will take you only so far, incentives must be taken into account as well. 

In psychology, operant conditioning is a type of learning in which the strength of a behavior is modified by its consequences, such as reward or punishment. This is the predominant theory on how humans behave.

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Continuous Versus Intermittent Reinforcement

Studies on reinforcement revealed that the best way for us to learn complex behaviors is via continuous reinforcement, in which the desired behavior is rewarded every time it’s performed. Consistency and timing are the keys.

Nonetheless, some argue that intermittent reinforcement is the most efficient way to maintain an already learnt behavior. It consists of giving reinforcement only some of the times that the desired behavior occurs.

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  • Rewarding the behavior immediately may take time away from the behavior’s continuation.
  • It’s cheaper not to reward every instance of a desired behavior.
  • By making the rewards unpredictable, you trigger excitement and thus get an increase in response without increasing the amount of reinforcement.
  • Since the person is already adapted to not always being rewarded, they take longer to stopping the behavior when reinforcement is removed.

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Scheduling the rewards on intermittent reinforcement can be used on various schedules, each with its own degree of effectiveness and situations to which it can be appropriately applied. Some of the schedules are:

  • Fixed-ratio: used to reward based on the amount of work done.
  • Variable-ratio: are unpredictable as the amount of work done between rewards varies. This normally produces more work than any other schedule. (Varying the intervals between rewards also makes it unpredictable, but that often makes people feel unappreciated.)
  • Fixed-interval: rewards people for the time spent on a specific task. Response rates on this schedule are low as effort is not rewarded.

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  • It’s behavior suppressing powers usually disappears when the threat of punishment is removed.
  • It often triggers a fight-or-flight response and renders us aggressive if escape is not an option.
  • It inhibits the ability to learn new and better responses, often leading to responses such as escape, aggression, and learned helplessness
  • Punishment also fails to show subjects what they must do and instead focuses on what not to do.
  • It is often applied unequally as we are ruled by bias in our assessment of who deserves to be punished.

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Motivational Alternatives To Punishment

  • Stopping rewards to an undesirable behavior while rewarding desirable behaviors.
  • Positively reinforcing a less preferred activity with a more preferred activities.
  • Giving a prompt, a stimulus that encourages the desired behavior. Then reinforcing any approximation to the target response; that’s called shaping. 

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