Premack Principle and Response Hierarchy

Modified: 2014-01-01

You can control your own behavior or others' behavior by using the Premack Principle. First, you must learn the reinforcement hierarchy of the person you want to control. Then, you must be able to make items high on that hierarchy dependent upon the performance of items low on the hierarchy. For example, my children love candy. What do they have to do to get it? They have to eat other foods first. Then they can have some candy. I like to spend time on the Internet. But, before I will allow myself to do so, I must complete some other lower ranking task like filling out health insurance forms.

My reinforcement hierarchy right now might look like this:

  1. Read electronic mail
  2. Navigate the Internet
  3. Eat a snack
  4. Read the newspaper
  5. Watch some television
  6. Take a short nap
  7. Take a short walk
  8. Drink some coffee
  9. Clean out my truck
  10. Wash the dishes
  11. Feed the dogs
  12. Make dinner for family
  13. Mow the lawn
  14. Paint the lawn furniture
  15. Install closet shelving
  16. Clean my office
  17. See dentist about rotten tooth
  18. Prepare tomorrow's lecture
  19. Prepare for new class in Fall
  20. Roof house

By making myself wash the dishes before I watch TV, I am using the Premack Principle. Can you see why? How could parents use the Premack Principle at McDonalds?

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