Friday, September 30, 2016

Reward, Punishment, and ADHD

The effects of reward and punishment have long been under examination by research psychologists. From Pavlov’s dogs to Skinner’s rats to the continually evolving theory of behaviorism, we have gained much knowledge about how positive and negative reinforcement can impact our daily lives. While general principles have become fairly well understood, we know less about how reward and punishment may differentially impact particular groups. A recent study by a team of researchers from Japan and New Zealand set out to explore how reward and punishment may specifically affect children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Groups of children with and without ADHD were presented with a choice of two computer games to play. In both games, a win would result in points and an animation; a loss would result in a point-deduction and a laughing sound. The latter (punishing) condition occurred more often in one game than the other, even though the frequency of point-awarding and animations were the same in both. While both groups of children indicated a preference for the less-punishing game, this preference was significantly more pronounced for the children with ADHD.

The implications of these results could extend to parents and educators developing behavior plans. An emphasis on positive, versus negative, reinforcement is already a widely-accepted tenet of good practice. However, a particular sensitivity to punishment in students with ADHD may warrant special consideration in developing plans that encourage, rather than discourage, efforts toward success.

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