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Reinforcing Negative Behavior

Hey all. Welcome to another ten minutes inside my brain. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Or not.

I'm a Special Educator.

I think that I know a little bit about children (and people) and their behavior. I learned it during my coursework many years ago.

One of the things that is consistent in behavioral theory whether you are reading Applied Behavioral Programming or watching Dr. Phil McGraw on Oprah is that reinforcing a behavior increases the likelihood that that particular will occur again. The same behavioral theory holds that if your do not reinforce behavior or if you follow undesirable behavior with a negative consequence, that particular behavior is less likely to occur again and, eventually, it should disappear. But, this only happens if you eliminate the reinforcement that closely follows the behavior.

Teachers and psychologists have been using this theory for years. Disruptive Kid A calls out in class. The teacher attempts to correct Kid A's behavior for months by reprimanding him verbally. This has mixed results, because if Kid A wants attention, he's still getting it, the attention just happens to be negative. Negative attention for negative behavior. After feeling pretty frustrated, the teacher begins ignoring Kid A's behavior (eliminating the attention, which is the reinforcement) and simultaneously begins praising the other students in the class who do raise their hands and don't call out. Eventually, Kid A begins raising his hand because he learns that in order to get attention (reinforcement) from his teacher, he needs to follow the rules. At every point, the goal is to reinforce the positive and desired behavior. Positive attention for positive behavior.

Now this doesn't just apply to children. These same rules apply to adult behavior as well. Let's say you're in a relationship. You decide to have an evening out with the guys (or girls). You don't do this very often, maybe just once a month or so. When you get home, your significant other throws an incredible tantrum followed by the guilt trip from hell. If, because of these events, you decide a month later to not go out with your friends, you are reinforcing this negative behavior. I'm sure you don't want your significant other to tantrum and use guilt as a consequence, but it won't stop until you stop reinforcing the behavior itself.

Let's look at another example: According to most reports, Austin has not been at all happy with his program with Scott Hall and the direction of his character. He went as far as to have public words with Vince McMahon. The result? Vince conceded to Austin's fit and gave in. Vince reinforced Austin's negative behavior.

Next, Austin decided that he didn't like the way that the bookers wanted his match at WrestleMania X-8 to progress and especially finish. He voiced concerns. He argued and even though the WWF's television storylines were dependent on the outcome of this match, Vince again gave in and let Austin have his way.

Then, Austin found out that he didn't have a storyline for RAW on Monday. So, he flew home and will miss TV this week. He's obviously upset that his character does not have a main event storyline at the present time. Again, he's displaying more negative behavior. And why shouldn't he? At every turn, McMahon has taught him that if he voices disagreement strongly enough, if he has enough of a shit fit, McMahon will eventually give in and give Austin his way. And that's what Austin is banking on. He's hoping that his leaving and 'showing Vince' how upset he is will result in his character getting more attention from the bookers and more time on television.

How McMahon will react to Austin's latest power play is yet to be determined, but I do know this: Austin and Vince need Special Education.

Click on the link below to send feedback and/or hatemail to yours truly.

Until next time: Be a fan. Drink a few. Mark Out. Have no shame.

I'm out.

[slash] wrestling

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