Sunday, January 8, 2012

Liberal crowds should get up off the ground where nobody can pick them up and reward politicians en masse as soon as they do something that helps them.

Picture source: Wikimedia
B.F. Skinner advocated positive reinforcement as the method of first choice for modifying the behavior of others. I believe the same holds true for the modification of politicians' behaviors. Internet activists such as moveon.org depend upon negative reinforcement too much and do not take enough advantage of the benefits that would accrue from rewarding politicians who do the right thing.

Positive reinforcement occurs when a pleasant stimulus is presented to a person soon after they emit a behavior, which makes the behavior more likely to occur in the future. Rewarding a politician is a good way to make a friend in office.

Negative reinforcement is not the same thing as punishment. Under negative reinforcement, when an unpleasant stimulus is removed, behavior strength increases. People avoid or retaliate against people who rely upon aversive stimuli to bring about a behavior When internet activists send massive emails and phone calls to representatives' offices, they are applying pressure, a negative stimulus, which they remove as soon as they comply with their demands. It is rare to see them sending massive emails and phone calls to thank a politician after they do the right thing. We all like a good pat on the back for good behavior and politicians are people too.

Punishment is the worst strategy. It involves an unpleasant stimulus added after a behavior occurs. Mild or moderate punishment suppresses the behavior through time while the threat of more punishment looms, but it does not have much long-term control over the behavior. People do not like it. Its use increases the likelihood you'll make an enemy of the person you are punishing. Punish a politician and watch him or her turn to the side of your opposition, especially if your opposition is more reinforcing.

There are alternatives to punishment such as the reinforcement of incompatible behaviors. A good vote is incompatible with a bad vote on the same issue. Reinforce them for voting in your favor and it is not necessary to focus on the punishment of those who vote against you. Abstainers are more likely to come to your side if they see they will be appreciated.

I should add that all political internet groups are not unaware of this strategy. The best action alert I have seen online involved "Moms Clean Air Force." In one instance they used positive reinforcement of senators after they had previously rallied their members to pressure the Senate to vote in their favor on an issue they felt strongly about. They sent an email to their followers saying:
Thank you! By raising your voice in opposition, Moms and Dads across the country secured a victory for clean air and our children's health late last week. The Senate voted down a dangerous bill introduced by Sen. Rand Paul that would have permanently blocked the life-saving Cross State Air Pollution Rule, a vitally needed standard that will save up to 34,000 lives every year. How did your senators vote? Click here to find out and then either thank them for supporting children's health or urge them to stand on the side of clean air in the future.
That link brought them to a page where members entered their addresses and the website said, "Once you have entered your zip code, we will match you with your senators to thank them for voting against this bill or remind them how important it is that they stand up for our children's clean air."

I commend momscleanairforce.org for the best use of positive reinforcement I have ever witnessed among political internet organizations who use action alerts to advocate their causes.

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.