Kim Jong Un’s temper tantrum upon mention of Libya was predictable, so I’m betting Trump put that out there on purpose to continue using behaviorism on Kim.
Back in my kids’ pre-school days, one of the moms told a very funny story. She had been struggling to get her three-year-old to put on his shoes before he left the house. He thought this was a terrible idea and would throw a temper tantrum every time she told him to put on his shoes. When the tantrum ended, and he put his shoes on, she would give him a cookie to reward him for putting on his shoes.
It was only after going through this routine for several weeks that she realized that her son thought that the tantrum was a prerequisite to the cookie. In other words, she had managed to train him to tantrum first, put on shoes second.
What my friend described was behaviorism gone wrong. Good behaviorism, though, produces better outcomes. Before I go further, I’d better explain what I mean by “behaviorism.” Wikipedia offers a leaden definition:
Behaviorism (or behaviourism) is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that all behaviors are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual’s history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual’s current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although behaviorists generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental factors.
Yeah, whatever. Let me try to explain the concept as I understand it:
When you are dealing with a third-party (or a dog), and you want to change that third party’s (or dog’s) behavior, the reality is that, absent brute force, you it’s almost impossible actually to change someone else’s behavior. Like the famous light bulb, they have to want to change. The best that you can do when your current behavior is not effecting a change in the other person or dog is to change your behavior to see if that affects their responses. It’s essentially motivational training.
Dog training offers a good example. The old way of housebreaking dogs involved screaming at the dog if one found a puddle in the house and then rubbing the dog’s nose in it. This effectively terrorized dogs, but that did not mean they associated our behavior with the principle that they should do their business outside. Our psychological cues made no sense to them.
Sensible behaviorism says that we should create conditions within which the dog will succeed: Because dogs do not like to soil their immediate environment, we should keep them in that environment in the lead-up to their anticipated walk to prevent pre-walk accidents. Then, when the time is right, we take them outside and expose them to scent stimuli that will encourage them to do their business. Immediately upon their having done so, we praise them or give them a treat. Our behavior is no longer irrationally punitive but is, instead, purposefully positive. This encourages the dog to change its own behavior and to view the back yard, rather than the living room, as its toilet.
The same holds true in dealing with children. I will deny with the last breath in my body that I was a very good parent. I did figure out, however, that a child who is having a tantrum is demanding attention. The best way to deal with a tantrum, provided that the child is not hurting himself, someone else, or your house, is to ignore the child. The result was that my children never threw tantrums because there was nothing in it for them to do so. [Read more…]