Providing Alternative Choices in Order to Change Behavior

in philosophy •  5 months ago

Change for the better is hard, but especially for children. Having children can be difficult at times. Trying to get them to stop doing something can be a challenge. Some things parents do to try to correct the behavior and motivate change is by using a scornful tone, or other punishments like a timeout or losing some form of privilege for a time, etc. Why does punishing often not work? Why do the children keep doing the same behavior?

Source: pixabay

We can all think back into our own childhoods -- and possibly even afterwards -- to recollect how we did something wrong and someone told us about it. Like a scornful parent that might've punished us, or maybe it was a friend or even a coworker or boss that told us about something wrong we were doing and may have even punished us or applied consequences for doing it in some way. Friends or coworkers can stop talking to us, and bosses can do minor punishment or penalties, or apply more severe ones.

Yet even when we get reprimanded for doing a wrong or doing things wrong, incorrectly or improperly, we can persist in repeating the same behavior. With all the pressure to not do things wrong, why do we keep doing it? A study set out to answer why punishment can seemingly produce the opposite effect and keep someone engaging in the same behavior being punished for.

A test was devised to give weak electric shocks for hitting the left or right key depending on the setup. Participants had to choose if a number on a screen was smaller or greater than 5, and hit left for 1 to 4, and right for 6 to 9. Another experiment had two shocks, one weaker and one stronger for each direction. If you got the answer right, you would still get shocked if your setup had the left or right key always giving a shock. This was to see if someone would still choose to engage in behavior despite negative consequences of pain being applied.

In the first test people tended to push the direction for the single weaker shot quickly when the answer was that way. The experimenters thought this was because they wanted to get the pain over with. In the second test they expected people to press the key quickly for the key with the most pain. But people tended to push the key rapidly only when there was the weaker shock, not for the stronger shock.

It seems that punishment alone is not enough to suppress the behavior that is being punished. The punished behavior can even increase in frequency, so that the punishment has the opposite effect on curbing the behavior. What appears to be happening is that the brain (or mind) is using behavioral consequences to determine if an action is agreeable to be engaged in. The negative consequence to the behavior is known beforehand, it is acceptable, and the choice is made to repeat the behavior as desired -- despite those consequences.

Even if we know an unpleasant effect or consequence will follow from our causal action, we will keep doing it because that's what we have done and we know the outcome. The outcome -- although negative -- is acceptable to us in that situation, so we persist in our habits and keep doing what we do. The known is often more preferable to the unknown. As they say, we choose the devil we know. But the key to getting over habits or bad behavior, is in imagining or knowing an alternative choice to make. Bring the unknown into the known as an alternative.

When a child or an adult is locked into a certain behavioral pattern, into certain habits, they are going to stay *stuck doing the same thing unless they understand another way of doing things. This is why for children, it's especially important to give feedback about their misbehavior along with an alternative better way of doing things so that they can understand why something is not desired.

Even for adults, this is a known way of overcoming habits. If you don't envision another way of doing something, then you can't very well choose to do something different and you will continue to do the same thing. So when trying to discipline or punish a child for some form of wrong behavior, there is always a requirement to explain the situation and have them understand why what they did is worse compared to an alternative that is better. This is how they will learn, and how we all keep learning later on in life as well.

Everyone can benefit from being pointed out clear alternatives to their problematic behavior. We often get stuck in habitual, automatic and unconsciously unaware behavioral patterns. If we self-examine, analyze, introspect, reflect and contemplate on what we do and how it affects others in the short or long-term, we can better tackle many of the problems that befall our modern world. We can get out of being led by our unconscious or subconscious desires and motivations, and take back control of the chessboard of our kingdom of self with our conscious awareness and willpower.

Everything that is happening -- right or wrong -- is a result of behavior. We are on one spaceship-earth and in the end we all bear some weight for what we allow to persist on this planet. We can change our behavior if we are willing to look at it honestly.

Thank you for your time and attention. Peace.

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Punishment is never the best answer to change someone's behaviour even if it seems like the only choice. The best example I can think of is prison, especially the American prison system. You can't just put some people (guilty or not) in complete isolation with occasionally having the chance to meet other people and that too other criminals. That just doesn't work. All it does is that it allows the criminals to teach each other how to commit more crimes and get away with them.

Norway, on the other hand, handles their prisoners so well that it's actually quite unbelievable how so many of their prisoners lead a happy life after being released. Norwegian prisons focus on giving the prisoners an opportunity to become better people and start a new life. And that's exactly what influences change.

Force never works if you truly want to change someone's behaviour. What really works is making people realize that they have a potential of becoming better. I'll leave you with this video I found about why prisons don't actually work:


Well prison is the crappiest kind of punishment without any real rehabilitation. Some punishments are valid, but the problem needs to be explained so that bad behavior isn't repeated and evolving past it happens. Applying consequences is how we learn a lot in life. Touch a red oven burner, get burned as a consequence, and learn. We become better by having consequences applied, either by causality in nature, or causality of others humans apply them to us.


So true! Punishments are deserved if you've done a crime. But if you wanna think of long-term, you have to give them the chance to improve and think about the consequences of their own actions. Stealing the human inside of them isn't a punishment, it's torture. Sadly, most prison systems in the world don't offer their prisoners a second chance and they end up with a life that is not worth living.

I believe that punishments are good for kids, they do have to learn, all be it fair punishment for something they have actually done wrong. Not for a kid being to overactive, or not wanting to do something again and again, but in terms of manners, behaviour towards others, social behaviour etc

But you are right about us being on a shapeship earth! I wish more people would stop to think about that and what we are actually on and where! Then it begins to open our minds and think!


Yes, consequences often need to be applied to teach that something is not good to do.

Learning positive behavioral changes is not easy for some people. One needs to be motivated to do so. What's regards to children I believe being rewarded very early in life for showing respect it's a good thing. As many folks don't show respect today. Learning from others saves mistakes in the future what to do that one must have respect for those for whom they learn from. Interesting studies you cited. Thanks for sharing @krnel


Yup, we don;t need to do wrongs to learn what's wrong, learning from others is what got us where we are.

Teach children the philosophy of liberty, starting in kindergarten.

Maybe adults too can benefit from the philosophy of liberty.

When the philosophy is adopted and internalized right behavior happens
naturally. When right behavior happens naturally, wrong behavior occurs
with less frequency. This video delves into life/liberty/property and it also
provides a child with a rational and beneficial belief structure.

In a book I read once, a woman used her rhetoric to make things her ward was interested in she deemed to be unhealthy less attractive.

"The boy wants to become a soldier? Tell him how much fun he will have training like a working animal for years in order to get the necessary physique."

It worked out for her.


LOL, anything to not let stupidity win and join the army ;)


Depending on the army you are joining, things aren't all bad really. I haven't been to the army and I think that my lack for discipline and tidiness could have been dealt with if I were.

Aside from that, yeah, agreed.

Interesting, it seems to correlate but with young kids it’s so hard to know since they can’t express very well.


Yeah, but they can learn to understand. It takes time. Better alternatives can be explained ss\o they see the merit in it vs. the bad thing.

all our problems have roots in the childhood
all our mistakes with our kids have background in it as well
and we have no need to teach kids, we must teach ourselves, and kids will be similar to us

I like such articles about upbringing, it's exactly in my interests now, so thank you;)

great read. what inspired you to write this topic? it's a complex problem to change behaviour as it goes against our instinct.


Subscribe to @krnel for some serious brain busting articles! He publishes multiple good ones daily.


Psychology, morality, change, is what I seek for the world to learn more about.

Thank You for sharing this excellent research.
You know what, I'm going to apply its finding on myself! :)


Awesome ;) Way to go ;)

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A very useful piece of work. Sometimes children can be such a pain; i think a good spanking might not be so bad and seems to do the job at times. Hahaha

This is actually quite good advice and very practical as well :)

This is a serious matter and need to create a Greta discussion

Yes, in childhood we get all the advices from our parents and elders to behave in an certain way but in childhood it's difficult to control our behaviour due to lack of maturity and understanding.

But when we grow older expectation also increases upon us and everyone expect us to behave in an certain way and if we don't behave in an certain way then in some situations people have to face consequences.

Yes, at work we have to follow some rules and guidelines and if we don't follow then for sure we can face the consequences from our boss and inturn that can decrease one's reputation and also you can fall in everyone's eyes.

It's always important to behave in an positive way means an behaviour which is not hurting fellow members and we have to spread the goodness because in that way we can create great environment around us.

Thanks for sharing this post with us and wishing you an great day. Stay blessed. 🙂

Great Post @krnel!

Another side to this is pain pleasure association. We will tend to take the action which we perceive will provide us with the most gratification or the least amount of pain. In committing a self-harming act, we see more pain in not carrying out the action then we do in the consequence.

The reason changing habits is so hard is that 90-95 percent of our actions are carried out by the unconscious mind!

A trick to help reprogram yourself is to immediately reward yourself somehow when you choose the new action you have selected to override your harmful one. Same would work with children, reward the behavior aligned with morality immediately after the act. This will stimulate a pleasure association with the action taken and will assist in inclining the unconscious mind towards the desired behavior.

I have just learned this method myself and am looking forward to much more success!

Thank-you for the insights. I work young children in Pre-K and the big thing at that age is to give them alternatives and different strategies for behaving. It is much easier at a young age to change their behavior before it becomes too in grained. As they get older if they are still throwing themselves down in fits (which is a behavior totally inappropriate for say, 7 or 8 year olds) they will start to get ostracized by their peers, which see their actions as abnormal. It is so important to give children alternatives.