Skinner and Behaviorism vs. Marshall

The term “Behaviorism” usually refers to approaches of Pavlov (classical conditioning of stimulus/response) and Skinner (behavior modification by reinforcing behavior AFTER an act occurs).

Although behavior modification is popular in schools, the practice is counterproductive for promoting responsibility. The reason is that responsibility requires initiative that emanates from within a person, rather than from some external stimulus.

The essence of behavior modification is to reward desired behavior and ignore undesired behavior. The fact that inappropriate behavior is ignored sends the message that nothing is wrong with inappropriate behavior, and so there is no incentive to stop doing it. Therefore, a major problem with the approach is that when undesired behavior is not addressed, such behavior becomes “reinforced.”

All behavior modification relies on an external stimulus—something or someone external or outside the person. I refer to this as Level C in the Hierarchy of Social Development because the motivation is external—to receive a good grade, avoid punishment, or get  some type of token or reward.

In contrast, the Marvin Marshall model promotes internal motivation (Level D). External motivation (Level C) is acceptable, but it is not the highest or most effective approach for changing long-term behavior.

People who rely on behavior modification believe that rewarding behavior influences the person to change. But in reality, only the motivation changes. This can be witnessed in young people who ask, “What will I get if I do it?” The motivation lasts only so long as the reward lasts; when the reward is gone, so is the motivation.

All experts on motivation have proven conclusively that motivation is best when people are empowered rather than being rewarded with some external incentive. Hopefully, the educational establishment will join the 21st century, rather than relying on outmoded and discredited approaches used in former centuries.