Catch Them Being Good!

Posted by Evan C. Crist, Psy.D. on 2/4/15 1:47 PM

This is the 9th of a 12 part series on Evidence Based Principles.  Subscribe to our blog and get this series and the upcoming Risk Principle Simplified series delivered right to your inbox.

Principle 5b: Increase Positive ReinforcementEBP Increase Positive Reinforcement

Think about the last dog you trained. Opting for praise and treats was not a challenge. Everyone knows that positive reinforcement should outweigh punishment when attempting to train a new behavior. Somehow, it seems we forget this lesson when it comes to people.

Perhaps we expect more out of people than dogs. Maybe it is the years of “tough on crime” mentality. Is it possible that we are hard wired to think of punishment before praise? While diligence is required, it is certainly possible to transform an environment focused on punishment to one centered on “catching them being good.”

Offender treatment research indicates that at a minimum, clients should receive at least four positive reinforcements for each punishment. Some family and marital research indicates that this ratio holds true for parenting and spousal relationships.

Why does the behavioral change process require so many more positive interactions to every negative? It is not so much that positive feedback matters more. It appears to be that negative feedback just weighs more. We remember failure more accurately. We obsess about tasks that we failed to complete. Something about our nature or nurture makes remembering negative events easier than remembering positive events. Therefore, if we want clients to remember their successful experiences we’d better overload them with praise.

Another reason for the importance of positive reinforcement is similar to the above noted concept of intrinsic motivation. Punishment provides information about what not to do. Positive reinforcement provides information about what is desired. While both concepts are important during the change process, informing clients what they should be saying “no” to can sometimes lead to anger and confusion. When a person is praised or rewarded for a given behavior, there is no confusion. It is clear that the rewarded behavior is what should be repeated. In essence, punishment announces, “Don’t do that.” Positive reinforcement announces “Do that again.” The difference in the amount of information communicated is vast.

Key points to consider:

  • Punishment: Many offenders are essentially immune to punishment. 
  • Focus: Positive reinforcement should be specific, behavior-focused and swift, but unpredictable.

  • "Yes" vs. "No": Traditionally, most offender feedback has been about which behaviors are not desired. Positive reinforcement provides information about what behaviors are desired. 


In our next blog in this series, we will address Principle 6, Engage Ongoing Support in Natural Communities. Subscribe to our blog and get this series and the upcoming Risk Principle Simplified series delivered right to your inbox.

Evidence Based Principles: Simplified White Paper

This a 12 part series. Here are all 12 blogs in the series:

  1. An Introduction to Evidence Based Principles (EBP)
  2. EBP: Building the Therapeutic Relationship
  3. Community Corrections Interventions Must Begin with Assessment
  4. To Be or Not to Be: Framing Offender Motivation
  5. EBP: How Good is Your Aim?
  6. Discovering Values in Collaboration
  7. Practice Makes...Habit
  8. Structure & Accountability Still Matter!
  9. Catch Them Being Good!
  10. It Takes a Community to Transition an Offender
  11. What Works Anyway? Prove it!
  12. Feedback Please!
To request more information or schedule an online demonstration of our Community Corrections Software, click here. We offer integrated software and support services for Probation/Parole, Residential and Reentry programs. Our Program Foundation Platform and twelve robust modules were designed by community corrections professionals to guide organizations toward a powerful EBP implementation, relieve them of strenuous paperwork and manual processes, and enable them to focus on what matters - people! 

Topics: Community Corrections, Evidence Based Practices, Practices, Positive Reinforcement

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