Gold Star Syndrome

You know you want one?

Everyone appreciates the value of a gold star or reward badge that says “I’m special!” or “I did it!”. Kids really respond to praise and encouragement-that’s why star charts or chore charts are an excellent tool for building positive behaviors. But are “Gold Stars” still necessary as an adult? As adults we don’t receive value from shiny stickers, but instead from cars, badges, prizes and praise from our peers.

It’s not that I find the reward itself that’s objectionable, it’s the practice of using something as a reward that causes a problem: “Do this and you’ll get that.” This feels controlling, causes what might become an unhealthy dependence. First off, I don’t want to come off as a “Gold Star Junkie”, but positive reinforcement is a great motivator, until you get end up covered in stickers as if they were tattoos, so please use moderation.

What’s the alternative? Even praise, if the emphasis is on doing what we want and what makes us happy, can be counterproductive. There is, however, nothing wrong with positive comments that acknowledge and encourage what children have done — and leave them feeling proud of themselves. Such comments are nice but if our long-term goal is more ambitious than getting people to obey mindlessly, then we’ll have to take the extra step of bringing them in on the process of making decisions.

The behaviorist theory—that people learn only when “good” and “bad” behavior is reinforced by rewards and punishments—seems to be plain wrong. Oddly enough, little of the research on the supposed ills of blatantly behavioristic practices reached classroom teachers; for the most part, it was marooned in psychology departments.

Few studies on the deleterious effects of rewards have been more influential than Mark Lepper‘s 1973 Magic Marker study. Lepper, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of The Hidden Costs of Rewards of rewards systems. It seems gratuitous to provide someone incentive to do what they already enjoy; in the parlance of behavioral studies, it’s a case of “over-justification“, Its like rewarding children with ice cream for watching television.

Even during a time in which productivity and prosperity seem to mean everything, getting rewarded has got to count for something, right? So after you do something you approve of, give yourself praise. Or give yourself imaginary points (for imaginary prizes). Or, instead of getting praise from yourself, you can arrange to have someone who is important to you to give you immediate praise and reinforcement (but don’t force it upon them and don’t go overboard). I don’t want credit just so my ego can get bloated, I want recognition so that my efforts feel as though they are worth something, they are worth accomplishing and being proud of. Positive reinforcement, in whatever form acts as a catalyst for change in behaviors, relationships and beliefs.

So who wants a Gold Star?

Categories: Health and Wellness, Stories & Rants | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Gold Star Syndrome

  1. First of all, gimme a gold star! Lol. Secondly I think that a rewards/punishment system, in MODERATION and used APPROPRIATELY is a actually not a bad thing in a child’s life.

    I don’t believe in corporal punishment for children – I strongly believe, because of my own experiences and a lot of experience working with children and adults who act like children, that severe, humiliating or violent punishments will only repeat themselves in the child’s behavior. After all, what does a child know of right and wrong (both entirely made up concepts) but what we teach them?

    That said, fair play, light-handed rewards for good behavior and consequences for bad behavior are very beneficial, or I believe so at least. I recently had the misfortune of having to put up with a 20 year old man (put him up, feed him, etc.) because my mother thought it would help him. It took me a year to finally say, I’m sorry but you have to go because he’d never been taught by his own family that he had to pull his own weight. He’d never had a job, he’d never had chores, he couldn’t even sew a button on to his shirt by himself. Someone always did it for him. And for the short time he was in tech school (paid for by his high school computer teacher and government money), his room, board and clothing were all provided for him by socialized government programs. He’s able bodied, he’s not physically handicapped unless chronic laziness is a handicap, he just refuses to work. He doesn’t see things in terms that adults see them in, he doesn’t understand responsibility. All he knows is that he gets very angry when he has to vacuum a floor, walk a dog or doesn’t get a second helping of dinner — in other words, he behaves like a child.

    If his parents or caretakers had ever given him boundaries, or had ever said, “I’m sorry, but you have to finish _____ before you can have ____.” maybe he’d be a different person now. But, at his age you can’t put it all on his parents, when you’re a certain age it’s time to take charge of your own life.

    Now the cons of reward/punishment. As an adult, the whole idea that you should be praised or get a gold star for doing your job outside of the fact that you get paid is incredible to me. That’s what the money is for, to thank you for your work and when you get your paycheck, I doubt you give your boss a gold star for his/her efforts! But I’m lucky in this respect, because I have a family’s worth of amazing friends who are too quick with praise when it’s deserved and I go out of my way to do the same for them.

    Now, how about my gold star? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. what you said made me come to a realization. thank you!

    I am a teacher’s assistance in a charter school for autism. I work in a classroom setting but also implement verbal behavior therapy. In this population, therapy seems to be directed towards “normalizing” or promoting “appropriate behavior.” I wonder if your theory applies here.
    For a child who learning that pointing to cat when told to will get me a goldfish.., is really what is hopefully helping that child eventually have a conversation with his/her parent.

    But then again, is the conversation, the social interaction we ask from an individual with autism a selfish thing we desire? Or is the “quality of living” of the child really “improving”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for visiting my blog and taking interest in that particular post.
      I see that you have 2 very interesting blogs, I’ll be sure to look through them.

      Take care.


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