We read an interesting post on one of our list serves reminding us that even when we use words that “we” believe are commonly understood, we may be assuming too much.The post we saw today referred to rewards as bad things because they lead to, among other things, “satiation.”
The post was published on Edutopia on March 6, 2012 (http://www.edutopia.org/blog/reward-fraud-richard-curwin). Dr. Curwin noted that
“Satiation means that more of something is required to get the same effect. Examples are pain medication or hot water in a bath. I love a hot bath, but eventually it starts to feel cooler, and I add more hot water. Rewards are like that. Children never say, “That’s way too much. Please give me less.” They often say, “Is that all? I want more.” Eventually, rewards like stickers, food, parties, toys or candy become expected, and their effect is greatly reduced.”
Now, we know that Dr. Curwin’s interpretation of satiation does not align with the text-book definitions of satiation. In fact, the definition of satiation is almost the exact opposite of what Dr. Curwin described. Satiation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “point at which satisfaction of a need or familiarity with a stimulus reduces or ends an organism’s responsiveness or motivation.” Dictionary.com, offers a much more user-friendly definition, “the point at which one is satisfied or more than satisfied“.
In our behavioral framework, we say that a person becomes satiated when overexposed to an item that previously was needed or wanted. Take thirst, for example. In a 4-term contingency that includes motivating operations (MO, also understood as internal motivations), “thirst” serves as an MO. That is, in the presence of water (Sd), given “thirst” as a precondition (MO), a person will drink the water (response) because the value of slaking his thirst is pretty high (Sr+). On the other hand, if I’m feeling pretty hydrated, I likely won’t drink water (‘response’) even when it is present (‘Sd’) because the value to me (Sr+) is diminished at that time.
Dr. Curwin is right when he says that satiation is not a good thing when working with kids, but he is not correct from a behaviorally analytical framework. When folks get too much of something (even if it’s awesome at first), they will want less of it in the future!
We think that sometimes folks just get confused with all these terms and their relationship to one another. So, next time you think you’ve explained everything clearly, check to see that you all share the same understanding. What you find may just surprise you!