Misrepresentation: Behavior analysis cannot explain or enhance creative achievement. Or that lock-step behavioral techniques reduce creativity and individuality.
Regarding creative behavior. Creative behavior has been addressed on a number of fronts:
#1. Experimental analysis of creative behavior. For example, Robert Epstein at
Harvard has identified the importance of well trained component skills. He used
probability profiles to demonstrate that as certain behaviors become more likely to occur,
they also become more likely to occur in combination with other behaviors in problem
solving and insightful responding.
These data demystify creative responding by showing how histories of reinforcement
produce component behaviors that merge to form novel responding. This work also bears
on “insight” and has yielded a number of suggestions for increasing the creativity of human
behavior. This work nicely ties animal and human behavioral processes (see Issue #7
#2. Contingency adduction. Contingency adduction relates to the experimental
analysis of creative behavior just covered. When elemental skills are extremely well taught
(i.e., to fluency) they can immediately occur together or in sequence to form a creative or
insightful behavior. This convergence of behaviors is contingency adduction.
#3. Training creativity. Children at Juniper Gardens at the University of Kansas-
Lawrence, were taught creative behaviors by reinforcing novel response forms, in other
words, response variability can be reinforced. Others have suggested that variability is a
basic property of behavior. So it could be that variable –not stereotypic–responding is
inevitable and can be reinforced, exactly the opposite of how behavioral techniques are
#4. Theoretical work. Skinner described the conditions under which we should
expect creative behavior to be established and maintained. He guided Epstein’s work and
greatly influenced much of the research described above.
#5. Stimulus equivalence. Stimulus equivalence research involves matching-to-
sample tasks where new, equivalent, stimulus classes are created. For example, the
stimulus equivalence relationship called transitivity occurs, if:
(a) In the presence of X (the word “car”, for example) a child is taught to
select Y (picture of an automobile from three pictures)
(b) In the presence of Y, the child learns to select item Z (a toy car from an
array of 3 items)
(c) Given X and the items in Z, the child will select the toy car even though
this specific relationship was never before required.
Such responding can occur over and within 5 or 6 such paired relationships
Such learning exponentially increases behavioral repertoires following training of a few
individual relationships, a phenomenon bearing on “creative” and “insightful” behavior. A
handful of areas where stimulus equivalence has been successfully applied include
academics, language instruction, computer skills, mathematics, naming, concept
formation, and more (for example, see the index for the Journal of Applied Behavior
Analysis and Murray Sidman’s Equivalence Relations and Behavior: A Research Story).
Hopefully such work will dispel the common misrepresentation that behavior analysis
generates robotic-like behavior, crushes individuality, stops creativity, etc. Instead of
robbing our individuality and creativity, behavior analysis demystifies and encourages it.
Misrepresentation: Regarding intrinsic motivation
Several authors have argued that reinforcement procedures reduce intrinsic motivation
(Condry, 1977; National Education Association with Tegano, Moran, & Sawyers, 1991;
Alfie Kohn, 1993). Cameron & Pierce (1994) and Eisenberger and Cameron, (1996)
reviewed these data and the arguments that creativity and intrinsic motivation are
adversely affected by reinforcement.
Clarification: Despite very general claims that tangible and verbal reinforcement
procedures reduce intrinsic motivation and creativity, in virtually all cases exactly the
Eisenberg and Pierce (1996) found that individuals stay on task longer after verbal
reinforcement and that verbal and tangible reinforcement results in subjects liking a task
more if reinforcement depends on performance quality. They also found that reinforcing
creative performances can increase what they called “generalized creativity”:
Reward for high creativity in one task enhances subsequent
creativity in an entirely different task. p. 1162.
The only detrimental effect of reinforcement occurred when “Reward has been
presented on a single occasion without regard to the quality of performance or task
completion” (p.1162). This is, of course, predictable: As Flora said, “You get what you
reinforce” (see BALANCE Newsletter and his 1990 article in the Psychological Record in
“additional readings” below).
In summary, the preponderance of evidence indicates that reinforcement can increase
creativity, produce generalized creativity, and motivate effective behavior–exactly the
opposite of what many have stated.
Condry, J. (1977). Enemies of exploration: Self-initiated versus other initiated
learning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 459-477.
Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Tegano, D.W., Moran, D.J. III, & Sawyers, J.K. (1991). Creativity in early
childhood classrooms. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.
Cameron, J., & Pierce, W.D. (1994). reinforcement, reward and intrinsic
motivation: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 64, 363-423.
Eisenberger, R., & Cameron, J. (1996) Detrimental effects of reward: Reality or
myth? American Psychologist, 11, 1153-1166.
Dickinson, A.M. (1989). The detrimental effects of extrinsic reinforcement on
“intrinsic motivation.” Behavior Analyst, 12, 1-16.
Flora. S.R. (1990). Undermining intrinsic interest from the standpoint of a
behaviorist. The Psychological Record, 40, 323-346.
Mawhinney, T.C. (1990). Decreasing intrinsic “motivation” with extrinsic rewards:
Easier said than done. Journal of Organizational Management, 11, 175-191.