Modifying behavior through negative vs positive reinforcement.

Most modern dog training classes teach you to use positive reinforcement rather than negative. The goal is to get your dog to want to do something for you because they might get a reward rather then to avoid being punished. Positive reinforcement works vastly better over the long term.

How does this translate to humans?

I just finished listening to Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (first daughter of Steve Jobs). The book is largely about her relationship with her father. They were not very close and he often treated her poorly. Perhaps he was just a cruel human to some people, but I also think from her stories, and think she would agree, that some of his behaviors that seem cruel were done because he thought it would make his daughter a better person. Perhaps he was also an ass to others for the same reason.

For example, he made Lisa walk to doctors and eye appointments when she was still quite young (it sounds like he was unwilling to help with much). It also seemed he was sparing about paying for things, beyond what most middle-class fathers would pay for, perhaps so that she didn’t get too used to money.

While some of the stories in the book portray Steve Jobs as disconnected and mean, I am not sure that it’s that different from many people who stray from showing kindness.

It is a difficult job to figure out how to effectively encourage one to be independent, strong, and to continually improve.

I think that frank feedback is very helpful to help us grow as individuals. But I also think encouragement is helpful. Telling someone when they do something well will probably encourage more of that behavior.

Only telling someone when they do things poorly, and yet asking more and more from them, probably doesn’t motivate them to be independent, strong, and to continually improve.

[I enjoyed the book, Small Fry, very much. In part it’s because it’s a story about Lisa’s growing up in Palo Alto, the same town I grew up in, so I can picture the setting. But it’s an interesting story that is likely relatable to everyone, even without crazy rich and famous dysfunctional parents.]

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