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[Opinion] Power of Positive Reinforcement

Posted August. 13, 2004 22:06,   


Twenty years ago, at Seoul National Park, there were three dolphins named Dori, Gori, and Larry. Dori and Gori were jolly, performed tricks well, and were loved by the trainers; but not Larry. However, through the unremitting effort of the trainers, Larry slowly began receiving love from the audience. Of course, it was not that Larry suddenly became more intelligent. The result was due to the fact that the trainers complimented and awarded him more copiously than they did to the other two dolphins. In the end, Larry showed exquisite skill in performing acts that the other two dolphins found difficult.

The management book “Whale Done!: The Power of Positive Relationships” takes lessons from the killer whale Shamu, the most popular star of Sea World in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. A 3-ton whale that performs fascinating and comical tricks is the result of positive reinforcement and encouragement from the trainer. From Shamu’s lessons, the author teaches “emphasize the positive,” “focus on the things well done,” and “instead of punishment, give time.”

In the study of education, there is a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect. Students who are given higher expectations from teachers have a higher chance of performing better. It is similar to the Hawthorne Effect, which states that worker productivity depends more on surrounding interest and attention from superiors than on work hours or wages. According to the Placebo Effect, patients who believe they are receiving medicine for their conditions become better even if the medicine contains no active ingredients.

President Roh Moo-hyun reportedly stated in a private conversation, “When you scold children for doing badly, do they not become worse? Even if the president has some faults, is it not advisable to accentuate the positive, and give encouragement and support so that he will perform better?” The statement reflects the sorrow of a president who is doing his best with no positive acknowledgement from the press and the public. As a negative critic of the president, this writer feels a bit of a sting. On the other hand, it is true that the press would not mind a word of approval from the president.

Oh Myoung-chul, editorial writer. oscar@donga.com