starshipcat (starshipcat) wrote,

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Beat Them Harder and They'll Learn -- or Not

There's a widespread belief that the best way to stop undesirable behavior is to punish it. And if the initial punishment fails to extinguish the behavior, punish harder, and keep ratcheting up the level of punishment until you finally get through to them and they stop doing it. That people need to feel the consequences of their behavior, and anything that would ameliorate those consequences will only encourage people to continue in their problem behaviors.

The article I read was about why we as a society reject methadone treatments, needle exchanges and other programs that are shown to help addicts go clean, but it could be extended to a lot of problems in which a faulty theory of mind leads to treatment methods which can actually be counterproductive. For instance, is the person who is perpetually late just careless and inconsiderate, or might this person actually have ADD or ADHD which gives them an intense aversion to being early, and thus tries to arrive just on time in order to avoid being stuck in hurry up and wait mode?

Much as the addict can benefit from treatments which help muffle the cravings generated by the addiction's distortion of the more primitive areas of the brain so that the higher functions of the cerebral cortex are not overwhelmed and can more effectively govern actions, might people whose neurodivergent cerebral hardwiring gets in the way of functioning in society benefit more treatments that recognize the complexity of the brain and consciousness, as opposed to punishments that presuppose the only problem is a failure of moral fiber?

This is especially relevant when we're talking about persons on the autism spectrum. Typically, treatments have focused on using rewards and punishments to compel children on the spectrum to perform expected behaviors such as making eye contact and suppress disapproved behaviors such as self-stimulating hand motions. This results in a person who can produce the surface appearance of a neurotypical person, but at the price of enormous stress and anxiety. However, a small number of psychologists are now arguing that these therapies are going about it backwards, and we need to discard the unconscious assumption that coercion and control are always the best tools, and to focus less on output of desired performance (as if the child were a dog or pony to be put through hoops) and more on the mastery of self-regulation.
Tags: health, psychology, science

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