This is the second post from Robert Cialdini’s fifth edition (2009) of ”Influence.” Test your knowledge of state-of-the art research on parenting methods while having some fun discussing and sharing with the Life-Parent community.
“All this has important implications for rearing children. It suggests that we should never heavily bribe or threaten our children to do the things we want them truly to believe in. Such pressures will probably produce temporary compliance with our wishes. However, if we want more than just that, if we want our children to believe in the correctness of what they have done, if we want them to continue to perform the desired behavior when we are not present to apply those outside pressures, then we must somehow arrange for them to accept inner-responsibility for the actions we want them to take. An experiment by Jonathan Freedman (1965) gives us some hints about what to do and what not to do in this regard.
Freedman wanted to see if he could prevent second-to-fourth-grade boys from playing with a fascinating toy, just because he had said that it was wrong to do so some six weeks earlier. Anyone familiar with seven- to nine-year-old boys must realize the enormity of the task, but Freedman had a plan. If he could first get the boys to convince themselves that it was wrong to play with the forbidden toy, perhaps that belief would keep them from playing with it thereafter. The difficulty was making the boys believe that it was wrong to amuse themselves with the toy–an extremely expensive, battery-controlled robot.
Freedman knew it would be easy enough to have a boy obey temporarily. All he had to do was threaten the boy with severe consequences should he be caught playing with the toy. As long as he was nearby to deal out stiff punishment, Freedman figured that few boys would risk operating the robot. He was right. After showing a boy an array of five toys and warning him,”it is wrong to play with the robot. if you play with the robot,I’ll be very angry and will have to do something about it,” Freedman left the room for a few minutes. During that time, the boy was observed secretly through a one-way mirror. Freedman tried this threat procedure on 22 different boys, and 21 of them never touched the robot while he was gone.
So a strong threat was successful while the boys thought they might be caught and punished. Of course, Freedman had already guessed that. He was really interested in the effectiveness of the threat in guiding the boys’ behavior later on, when he was no longer around. To find out what would happen then, he sent a young woman back to the boys’ school about six weeks after he had been there. She took the boys out of the class one at a time to participate in an experiment. Without ever mentioning any connection with Freedman, she escorted each boy back to the room containing the five toys and gave him a drawing test. While she was scoring the test, she told the boy that he was free to play with any toy in the room. Of course, almost all of the boys played with a toy. The interesting result was that, of the boys who played with a toy, 77% chose to play with the robot that had been forbidden to them earlier. Freedman’s severe threat, which had been so successful six weeks before, was almost totally unsuccessful when he was no longer able to back it up with punishment.
However, Freedman wasn’t finished yet. He changed his procedure slightly with a second sample of boys. These boys, too, were initially shown the array of five toys by Freedman and warned not to play with the robot while he was briefly out of the room because “it is wrong to play with the robot.” This time, Freedman provided no strong threat to frighten a boy into obedience. He simply left the room and observed through the one-way mirror to see if his instruction against playing with the forbidden toy was enough. It was. Just as with the other sample, only 1 of the 22 boys touched the robot during the short time Freedman was gone.
The real difference between the two samples of boys came six weeks later, when they had a chance to play with the toys while Freedman was no longer around. An astonishing thing happened with the boys who earlier had been given no strong threat against playing with the robot: When given the freedom to play with any toy they wished, most avoided the robot, even though it was by far the most attractive of the five toys available (the others were a cheap plastic submarine, a child’s baseball glove without a ball, an unloaded toy rifle, and a toy tractor). When these boys played with one of the five toys, only 33 percent chose the robot.
Something dramatic had happened to both groups of boys. For the first group, it was the severe threat they heard from Freedman to back up his statement that playing with the robot was “wrong.” It had been quite effective, while Freedman could catch them violating his rule. Later, though, when he was no longer present to observe the boys’ behavior, his threat was impotent and his rule was, consequently, ignored. It seems clear that the threat had not taught the boys that operating the robot was wrong, only that it was unwise to do so when the possibility of punishment existed.
For the other boys, the dramatic event had come from inside, not outside. Freedman had instructed them, too, that playing with the robot was wrong, but he had added no threat of punishment should they disobey him. There were two important results. First, Freedman’s instruction alone was enough to prevent the boys from operating the robot while he was briefly out of the room. Second, the boys took personal responsibility for their choices to stay away from the robot during that time They decided that they hadn’t played with it because they didn’t want to. After all, there were no strong punishments associated with the toy to explain their behavior otherwise. Thus, weeks later, when Freedman was nowhere around, they still ignored the robot because they had been changed inside to believe that they did not want to play with it.”
(Cialdini, Robert B. (2009-08-20). Influence: Science and Practice, ePub (5th Edition) (Kindle Locations 1986-2029). Pearson HE, Inc.. Kindle Edition)
The implications for child-rearing become more obvious in this piece. But Cialdini goes on even further to talk about methods for teaching values and principles of right and wrong.
So… have Caribbean disciplining methods been working? Do you think there is a link between those methods and the prevalence of violence in our societies? Start the discussion via your comments in the box below. I think the safety of our children – and the future of our communities – depend on it.
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