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Essay: "Reward and Punishment Versus Freedom" by David Premack (Prep for Jan. 6 Event)

In our upcoming January 6 discussion, we will dive into David Premack's essay, "Reward and Punishment versus Freedom".


If one looks for an explanation of the Premack Principle, two definitions dominate search results:

(1) More probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.

(2) Highly desirable, more probable behaviors can be used to reinforce less desirable, less probable behaviors.

These explanations have a significant difference between them. In one, the only variable is probability of behavior; in the other, desirability of behavior is an additional variable.

A behavior that appears reliably after a cue is more probable than a newly trained behavior. Therefore, under the first explanation, we can reinforce a new skill with an established cue -- a sit, for example. However, a sit behavior is arguably less desirable to the learner than the reinforcer used to maintain it, so under the second definition this setup may not work (at least, not without additional work to condition the sit as a secondary reinforcer).

Additionally, while those are the most common explanations, they are certainly not the only two.

So what did Premack actually mean?

In our January 6 discussion, we will dive into David Premack's essay, "Reward and Punishment versus Freedom," in which Premack expands on several critical components of his Premack Principle, including:

  • How he established the probability of behavior,

  • The impact of motivating operations and individual preference on probability,

  • The role of deprivation in establishing reinforcement, and

  • His belief that operant contingencies rely on one party's subjugation to the other.

Join us for a thoughtful and nuanced community discussion over Zoom on Saturday January 6, 2024 using the 'Book Now' button below!

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