But We Don’t Give Our Kids a Cookie Every Time they Tie Their Shoes!

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eileenanddogs

Here’s another remark often addressed to reinforcement based trainers, sometimes in a mocking tone, sometimes seriously:

A woman's hand is suspended over a clear glass cookie jar. The jar is full of Vanilla Wafers, a small, disc shaped light brown cookie. The hand is holding a cookie (has just pulled one out of the jar). But we don’t give our kids a cookie every time they tie their shoes or pay them a nickel every time they say thank you!

The writer often further implies that to do that with children would be the worst sort of bribery, indulgence, and permissive parenting (and-by-the-way-it’s-responsible-for-all-the-current-evils-of-society). And we’re being just as weak willed when training our dogs!

But the “cookie” objection is so easy to address. People who write this, with all due respect, don’t have much of a clue about how positive reinforcement works. And the misunderstanding has existed for decades.

Let’s let B.F. Skinner handle it this time. Yes, this (mis)perception has been around that long!  In the following excerpt from his Review Lecture: The Technology of Teaching, 1965, Skinner is referring to a case study about a boy with “childhood schizophrenia” (the…

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