Thursday, August 4, 2016

The power of positive reinforcement

My daughter is not a fan of reading.  She will do a math workbook for hours, but she will not sit down and read a chapter book.  Understanding the benefits of reading, I try to get her to read a little every night.  During the school year she is given monthly goals for the Book-It program.  Being super competitive, she always made her goal.  Now that it is summer, she has no desire to read.  What’s in it for her in the summer?  She has no classmates to compete against.  I have tried to increase her desire to read by buying books she is interested in, about topics she loves, etc.  They all sit on her book shelf gathering dust.  So after learning about reinforcement in this class, I decided to try this:     

I decided to experiment on my 9 year old daughter with a rate of reinforcement increase to test if her production would increase.  I gave her a minimum goal of 80 minutes of reading.  If she read 180 minutes, she would be able to choose the movie (with no arguments) for family movie night.  At 100 minutes, I would camp out with her on Saturday night.  For 120, she was allowed to have a sleepover.  And for a whopping 140 minutes of reading during the week she was granted ALL 3 incentives.  I cannot believe it worked as well as it did.  Mind you, she read not one minute more than 140 minutes, but she did it!  She choose the higher rate of reinforcement; melioration. 

I understand that with the contrast effect, the motivation impact these incentives have right now will lose their appeal in time.  I can either hope it continues to work through to September when school starts again, or I will need to change the stakes to keep it interesting.  I am just happy she got in some reading this summer!               


  1. Hi Lauri,
    I love this idea because my parents used to do the same thing for me when I was a child. For every chapter read I would receive stickers and every 5 stickers would give me ice cream, every 10 would lead to going out to the movies, and 30 would get me a trip to New York! These incentives motivated me to get schoolwork done but also made my homework fun because it was almost a challenge. Going off of this idea, since you mentioned that your daughter likes to compete, how about trying some negative incentives along with the positives? Just like we learned, and you mentioned in your post, the contrast effect could lead to these positive reinforcements losing appeal. If you throw in some negative incentives she might be equally motivated to get summer reading done. For example, next summer she will be older and therefore you can expect her to be reading even more. If she doesn't read 80 minutes in the first week she'll have to help you pull weeds, or 100 minutes and she'll have to help wash the car. This worked for my parents because after pulling weeds the first time i was motivated to avoid this incentive ever occurring again!

    1. That is a great idea. We have a lot of weeds that need to be pulled! My lesson was that she wasn't reacting to encouragement (reading with her), or bribes (buying the books). She only reacted to a reward for the positive behavior. If I add the negative reinforcement, she might be encouraged more.

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  3. Hi Lauri
    I can understand the frustration of getting your daughter to read and I am glad that you found something that works for the both of you! I have a 16 year old son and he absolutely dislikes reading. He is very athletic, so he always wants to be outside to keep active. However, in high school he has three books to read during the summer, which he will be tested on when school starts. The solution that we found that works best for him is the audio books. He can listen to it while he's running or out shooting the basketball.

    Best of luck to you and your daughter!

  4. That is a great idea. We have a lot of weeds that need to be pulled!
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