The Effects of Positive Reinforcement on Time Estimation
Wendy K. Bradley
The effect of positive reinforcement on time estimation in children was measured. The participants were 10 fifth grade students and 18 eighth grade students. The participants were administered the Purdue Pegboard Test. One half of the participants received positive feedback and encouragement while the other half received no feedback at all. The results for the time estimation did not yield any significant results (t = 1.22, sig. = .272). In addition, the results for the enjoyment level of the activity did not yield any significant results (t = -.844, sig. = .406). The hypotheses of the researcher were not supported; however, the researcher does feel that with more extensive testing, the results would be much different. The researcher believes that positive reinforcement would help considerably when children are performing school work or other related tasks. This would have significance for both teachers and parents who wish to make the learning experience a more positive one.
Many studies have been done in order to ascertain what may help children achieve more successfully in an educational setting. Positive reinforcement and verbal feedback are areas that have been investigated as ways to improve performance. In addition to performance, however, the question of time estimation should also be investigated. The notion of whether or not a child can accurately predict how long certain activities take may can affect performance. It is helpful for a child to know how to budget time, and without accurate time estimation, this may not be very easy to accomplish.
This issue has important implications because it may serve as a tool for those in a teaching profession to structure a learning program. Certain variables could affect the time estimation in children and help them to better grasp how much time an activity takes. If these variables are known an implemented, then educational programs may benefit from this information. Education includes many aspects; in addition to learning textbook information and rote memorization, a child must also learn to properly maximize the information and time that he or she is given to perform a certain task.
This study will focus on variables that may have an effect on the time estimation in children. Age and gender of the child will be taken into account to determine if a certain gender or age group will have a better grasp on the passage of time. However, the main variable which will be examined in this study is the use of positive reinforcement and verbal feedback on the estimation of time. The study will measure how accurate the child predicts time based on whether or not the researcher provides a positive atmosphere. In order to fully understand the implications of positive reinforcement, the subject idea itself must be examined.
Several psychologists have studied the role of learning in human behavior. This is the central theme of the behavioral perspective (Butcher, Mineka, Hooley, 2004). Researchers such as Ivan Pavlov discovered that he could condition a dog to salivate to a bell when that bell was followed by the stimulus of food. The dog was found to still salivate to the bell even though the food was not given afterward. The dog was determined to have been conditioned to respond this way through a process known as classical conditioning (Butcher, et. al, 2004).
Another researcher who studied classical conditioning was John B. Watson. Watson had stated that “through conditioning, he could train any healthy child to become whatever sort of adult one wished” (Butcher, et al, 2004). He wanted to study the changes that could be brought about in a person simply by changing or rearranging the stimulus conditions a person had become accustomed to. Watson believed that the social environment played a very large part in conditioning both normal and abnormal personality development (Butcher, et al, 2004).
B.F. Skinner is very well known for his work with operant conditioning, and the basic idea of this theory is that the results of certain behaviors will in turn affect the behavior itself (Cloninger, 2004). He was more concerned with a response that is intended rather than a response that is a result to stimulus such as the Pavlov experiment of the dog’s salivation to a bell. Skinner studied lower animals such as rats or pigeons because their lives could be highly controlled (Cloninger, 2004). He placed them in a controlled environment such as the Skinner box so he could measure responses that were intentionally performed by the animal. Skinner believed that reinforcement would increase the frequency of a response from the animal. He determined there were positive reinforcers and negative reinforcers which would increase the rate of response. He also determined that punishments would reduce the rate of responding. In his work he found significant evidence to support his theory since he was able to train certain animals to increase their rate of response in order to receive a reward.
Another example of the use of positive reinforcement is the implementation of token economies in mental hospitals. This is based upon the fact that hospitalized patients regarded some activities as more enjoyable than others and almost considered these activities as a reward. The patients were required to have a number of tokens to participate in the activities he or she found enjoyable. These tokens were earned by performing tasks that were required of all patients - such as making a bed or doing hospital jobs (Butcher, Mineka, & Hooley, 2004). These token economies are also helpful in simulating the outside world since the patients are being “paid” for jobs they are performing, and they use that payment to buy what they want.
Many studies have been done regarding positive reinforcement. In a study performed by Renee Watling and Ilene S. Schwartz (2004) the focus was on using positive reinforcement as a means of intervention in children with disabilities. The article discussed the strategies involved with Applied Behavior Analysis as a way of shaping behavior. The article stated that, “while ABA has been a mainstay of early intervention in special education for decades, occupational therapists typically do not receive training in ABA or the instructional strategies associated with this discipline” (Watling and Schwartz, 2004). The authors are under the impression that occupational therapists could provide much better services if they were trained in the areas necessary to provide the proper reinforcement for children with disabilities. They state, “When used appropriately, positive reinforcement can be extremely effective and developmentally appropriate for people of all ages and at all levels of development” (Watling and Schwartz, 2004).
In a study performed by Philip O. Gosschalk (2004), a 5-year-old girl with Separation Anxiety Disorder was treated for her behavior. The parents and the teacher used and approach that involved shaping, positive reinforcement and extinction. The results showed that by the end of the fifth week of treatment, the girl was attending school full time and no longer met the criteria for a diagnosis of Separation Anxiety Disorder. Furthermore, the results were maintained when four and twelve month follow-ups were completed.
A study performed by Frank R. Cicero and Al Pfadt (2002) investigated a reinforcement based toilet training procedure for children with autism. Independent toilet training is a skill that is often difficult for children with autism to master (Cicero and Pfadt, 2002). In their study, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of the toilet training program for three children with autism. The procedure included a combination of positive reinforcement, graduated guidance, scheduled practice trials and forward prompting. All procedures were implemented in response to urination accidents. Results showed that all three participants had reduced urination accidents to zero and had also learned to ask to use the bathroom within seven to eleven days of training. Furthermore, gains were maintained over six month and one year follow-ups. The researchers concluded that the method was an effective and quick way to toilet train that could be taught in a structured school setting and then generalized to the home.
Another study in the area of positive reinforcement is one performed by Lynnette Christensen, Richard Young, and Michelle Marchant (2004). This study concerned the effects of peer-mediated positive behavior of socially appropriate classroom behavior. The student positive behavior support (PBS) plans included such practices as self-monitoring, teacher-peer mediated support, and positive reinforcement through such means as a token economy. The experiment was concerned with the PBS plans for 2 third grade students, males, who were at risk of failure both academically and socially. The results showed that the students showed marked and immediate improvement in their behavior which maintained even as reinforcement was lessened.
William Jenson, Daniel Olympia, Megan Farley, and Elaine Clark (2004) examined positive psychology in relation to externalizing students. They determined typical externalizing behaviors to be, but not limited to, such things as aggression, inattention, arguing, and rule breaking. They also determined that for an activity to flow it must be considered enjoyable by the person who is performing the task, and this is important for a sense of mastery over a task. Motivation is also necessary for success according to these researchers, and student who tend to exhibit externalizing behaviors very rarely have a sense of optimism. The authors of the article noted that teachers who claim to be positive in nature do not appear so during naturalistic observation. The teachers were observed to praise students for positive behavior much less frequently than they reprimanded the students for negative behavior. The authors determined that there must be a balance between positive and negative in order to help a student achieve success, especially those with externalizing behaviors.
A final article examined in this paper in regards solely to positive reinforcement is one that was a rebuttal to an article written by Alfie Kohn (2001) titled, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying, ‘Good Job’.” The authors of the rebuttal felt that Kohn’s assertions and ideas were incorrect at best. They suggest that his position “is harmful to children, families, and the professionals who serve them” (Strain and Joseph, 2004). The authors argued that positive reinforcement is a useful tool, when implemented properly, to teach children appropriate social skills and many other things that they will need in life. They concluded by saying that each child is entitled to receive the teaching strategies work best.
The next body of research reviewed examined the concept of time estimation and what may affect this concept. Interesting to note was that the variable of time estimation could be used to measure such things as learning disabilities and mental illness. One such study was an article concerning time and memory deficits in patients with schizophrenia (Elvevag, McCormack, Goldberg, Brown, and Vousden, 2004). It is asserted that schizophrenic patients display problems with working memory, time estimation and absolute identification of stimuli. The study included 20 relatively healthy control participants and 20 schizophrenic participants. In relation to the control group, the experimental group showed impairment on a duration identification task and a memory task, but not on a line-length identification task. The findings did not support the idea of global impairment in absolute identification in schizophrenia, but the authors speculate that, “some aspect of temporal information processing is indeed disturbed in schizophrenia” (Elvevag et al, 2004).
In regards to learning disabilities, an article was reviewed concerning dyslexic children (Ramus, Pidgeon, and Frith, 2003). The goal of the study was to look, among other things, at the cerebellar theory of dyslexia. It has been hypothesized that it is a result of mild dysfunction of the cerebellum since such things as motor impairments are evident. One study found that dyslexics were shown, “to be poorer at a time estimation task assumed to tap the timing functions of the cerebellum” (Ramus, Pidgeon, and Frith, 2003). The participants were 22 children ages 8 to 12 with dyslexia and a control group of 22 mainstream students ages 8 to 12. A series of tests were administered in the child’s school or institution, and one such test was a times estimation task involving a sounding of tones. The child had to determine which of the tones was shorter or longer. The results of the entire series of tests showed that the dyslexic children performed significantly poorer on all tasks except time estimation, which did not support the cerebellar theory of dyslexia.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has also been examined with time estimation. One such study investigated the temporal processing abilities of children with ADHD (Smith, Taylor, Rogers, Newman, and Rubia, 2002). In this study 22 children with ADHD were compared with a control group of 22 healthy children. There were such tasks as time estimation and time reproduction tasks and a temporal discrimination task. The results showed that children with ADHD were impaired at a significant level when compared with healthy children in the task of time discrimination and 12 second time reproduction. No significant differences were found for 5 second time reproduction or verbal time estimation tasks. The authors concluded that the finding suggested that temporal processes may impact time estimation and time reproduction tasks.
Another study in regards to ADHD was performed with 21 Hispanic children ages 7 to 11 with ADHD and 25 children in a control group (Bauermeister, Barkley, Martinez, Cumba, Ramirez, Reina, Matos, and Salas, 2005). The children were asked to perform time reproduction and time estimation tasks. The children with ADHD had more errors in the time reproduction than the control group, but they showed no significant difference in the time estimation task. The authors of this article concur the findings suggest that, “ADHD is associated with a specific impairment in the capacity to reproduce rather than estimate time durations and that this may be related to the children’s deficits in inhibitions and working memory” (Bauermeister, et al, 2005).
Yet another article concerned with ADHD children and time estimation is one concerned with using the actual clock itself as the positive reinforcement (Shi and Nelson, 2004). ADHD children often have disruptive behavior which is distracting to the teachers as well as the other students in a classroom setting. The authors suggested that ADHD children will respond better if the expectations of the teacher or other authority figure are stated clearly and precisely. When the child had a clock with large, clear numbers as a visual structure to behave within, he or she was more likely to exhibit the desired and positive behavior. The authors go on to say, “This approach is based on the assumption that a child has an intrinsic motivation for good behavior and an important task of a clinician is to highlight and utilize it” (Shi and Nelson, 2004). This highlights not only the area of time estimation, but the idea of positive reinforcement as well.
In another article, ADHD were compared with reading disordered children to try to evaluate whether they have related deficits (McGee, Brodeur, Symons, Andrade, and Fahie, 2004). The participants were 113 children ages 6 to 11 who were clinic-referred. The participants performed two time production tasks in which they were asked to guess when 30 seconds had elapsed, and in the another task they were asked to determine the duration of the Conners’ CPT. The only difference found during the experiment was ADHD were more likely to overestimate the time taken for the CCPT. Reading disorder children did not display any issues with time estimation.
An interesting variable in relation to time estimation is that of gender. In many previous studies, females were shown to overestimate time. The study that will be examined here consisted of 17 female and 25 male participants ages 18 to 23 (Dolu, Golgeli, Suer, Ascioglu, Ozesmi, and Sahin, 2003). The subjects were all healthy with normal hearing ability. The participants were asked to perform a finger tapping task and were given 12 training stimuli to become familiar with the paradigm. The experiment consisted of three phases with a distinct task in each phase; in each phase the participant was allowed to practice in order to ensure he or she understood the procedure. The participants were monitored by a camera system placed in an isolated room. The results showed that males pressed the button more accurately than females in all phases with the highest difference in phase three. This suggested that the male participants more accurately estimated the onset of time than females. Thus the authors concluded, “(1) Time estimation performance was affected by sex and (2) the experimental results showed that expectancy-related motor responses are very important for time estimation” (Dolu, et al, 2003).
Another interesting variable which has been used to estimate time is that of arousal in the subject. A study by Sylvie Ozel, Jacques Larue, and Fabrice Dosseville (2004) looked at the link between imagery processes and effective action. They defined motor imagery as, “a dynamic state during which a participant mentally simulates a given action, meaning that the participant feels him/herself to be performing that action” (Ozel, et al, 2004). This study looks at the effect of this mental imagery on the internal clock of an individual. The authors asserted that induced stress increased a person’s internal tempo in such a way that production time will end before the targeted time. They also go on to say that time taken to perform a mental imagery movement is usually very similar to the time it would take to perform the actual movement itself.
The participants for this study were nine men and eight women ranging in age from 19 to 30 years. They all had normal hearing abilities and their capacity to visualize themselves in action was evaluated using part of the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire. Each participant was asked to complete the three following tasks: producing a period of ten seconds, walking at a normal pace on a path with their eyes open towards a target of a cone located 10 meters from the starting position, and finally, to imagine themselves walking at a normal pace towards the target. The tasks were performed normally and in a noisy environment, and the noisy environment consisted of previously recorded aggressive sounds (gun fire, fighting, drills, bombs, etc.). The results show that time production was significantly reduced in the noisy condition. The researchers hypothesized that an increase in arousal would affect timing in both actual and mental action. They concluded that sound stimuli reduced the times produced in mental imagery and mental timing tasks, but further research would be needed to separate this response as being correlated with other stimuli which were present.
One final article to be examined researched the ability of infants to estimate time (Colombo and Richman, 2002). The ability to estimate time has been linked to attention, and infants have been tested via a heart rate to determine if they would react to the stimuli when presented in a pattern with an omission. The study consisted of 64 four-month-old infants, but only 50 completed the entire study. 12 infants were overly fussy and the other 2 had heart rates that were difficult to record. They were tested in a booth painted entirely black and placed in a car seat in front of a screen. The heart rate was measured with electrodes that were placed on either side of the chest.
During the actual experiment, the infants were presented with a black and white photo of a female (for 20 seconds) and a checkerboard (for 10 seconds). Each pretest was separated by a 3 second time interval. The regular on-off pattern occurred for eight trials, but on the ninth trial, the stimulus was omitted, and the infants’ heart rates were recorded in response to this. The results showed that in the time when the stimulus was omitted, the infants had a significant raise in heart rate suggesting that they were expecting the normal pattern, and this shows that they have precise sensitivity to temporal patterns. These finding support the original hypothesis that attention does play an important role in the estimation of time.
In the current research, the experimenter was concerned with the effects of positive reinforcement on the accuracy of time estimation. The hypothesis was that if a child is receiving positive feedback, then he or she would estimate a larger amount of time had elapsed. Conversely, if the child did not enjoy an activity, then he or she will estimate a smaller amount of time has elapsed. This theory attempted to examine the old adage, “Time flies when you are having fun”. Also, a secondary hypothesis was that a child’s estimation of time would be affected by age; the older children would estimate closer to the actual time elapsed.
In order to measure this variable, 28 children were used in the study (10 in the fifth grade, 18 in the eighth grade). The children were asked to perform the Purdue Pegboard test and estimated the amount of time the entire testing procedure required. The experimental group was selected at random and received positive verbal feedback (such as saying, “good job” or “well done”) and received a reward of a piece of candy when finished. The control group received no verbal feedback at all from the researcher, only instruction in a monotone voice, and this group received no candy reward. When each child was finished with the task, he or she was asked to rate the task on a Likert scale of 1 to 5 as to the enjoyment level and then asked to estimate the amount of time that had elapsed.
The participants for this study were 28 children (11 male and 17 female) from a fifth and eighth grade (13 fifth graders and 15 eight graders) at a Catholic elementary school. A control group of fourteen children was used to compare with an experimental group of fourteen children. They were chosen at random from the classrooms to participate in the study. The two age groups were chosen in order to determine if age had any bearing on time estimation. The researcher expected that the children who were in the control group would not rate the task as highly as those who were in the experimental group. Also, it was predicted that those who enjoyed the task more would believe that more time has passed than actually had passed.
The Purdue Pegboard Test was the testing equipment used. The Purdue Pegboard Test was originally designed in 1948 by Joseph Tiffin, Ph.D., for the purpose of testing manual dexterity (?). It was used in this study as a means to have an accurate comparison activity for all participants. The test specifies that the participant is to complete a series of placing pins with the preferred hand, followed by the non-preferred hand. Then the procedure is completed with both hands working simultaneously. A time of 30 seconds is allotted for each of the preceding activities. Finally an assembly task is performed using both hands consisting of a pin, a washer, a collar, and a washer. A time of one minute is allotted for this activity. A standard minute and second stopwatch was used to keep exact time of the test, and a wristwatch was used to time the separate parts of the test.
The participants were spoken to as a group prior to the study and made aware that the researcher is a psychology student and performing a simple experiment. Each participant was made aware that he or she did not have to participate in the study if uncomfortable with the procedure. Each participant was then taken individually to the science lab at the hosting elementary school and was seated in a comfortable height chair. As soon as the child was seated and the researcher began reading instructions for the test, the stopwatch was started out of the view of the participant. Each participant was read the directions directly from the testing manual for the Purdue Pegboard Test, and the researcher used a wristwatch to time the individual parts of the test. The control group received no feedback from the researcher and was only given directions for the next part of the test. The experimental group received positive feedback (ie. Telling the child “good job”, smiling at the participant, and encouraging the participant throughout the test), and was made aware prior to taking the test that he or she would be receiving a reward, a piece of candy, when the test was completed.
Every other child who took the test was part of the experimental group so the sample would be totally at random. When each participant completed the final part of the test, the stopwatch was stopped in order to know the exact time the entire testing procedure took. The participant was then asked to rate the test on a Likert scale of one to five, one being that he or she did not like the test at all and five being that he or she really enjoyed the test and thought it was fun. Finally, the participant was asked to guess how many minutes the entire testing procedure took. When the entire study was completed, the participants were again addressed as a group and told that the study was performed in order to determine if the group who received the treatment was more or less accurate in their estimation of time.
Several t-tests were performed on the data collected during the experiment. The t-tests were run in order to determine whether or not gender, age, or control vs. experimental group had any effect on the enjoyment level and time estimation and did not yield any significant results.
Control or Experimental
t = -1.22, sig = .272
t = .909, sig = .372
t = -.844, sig = .406
t = .839, sig = .409
t = .767, sig = .450
t = 1.22, sig = .272
1.1 Significance Level for the Three Independent Variables Used.
A correlation was also run in order to determine if the relationship of the enjoyment level of the participant had any effect on whether or not he or she would estimate below or above the actual time spent on the activity. Unfortunately, the significance level (sig = .636) still showed no significant results for the research.
Females enjoyed the task more than males, and the experimental group appeared to have enjoyed the task more than the control group.
1.2 Enjoyment Level
Based on Gender
1.3 Enjoyment Level as Related to
It may also seem to be evident by reviewing the following graphs that the control group estimated a shorter amount of time had passed whereas the experimental group estimated a longer amount of time had passed. This would therefore support one hypothesis of the experimenter that those who receive the positive reinforcement would estimate a longer amount of time had passed.
1.4 Time Estimation by Group
Since the study did not yield any significant findings, it is difficult to say what the research has contributed. The original intention of the research was to determine whether or not positive reinforcement had any effect on time estimation. This would be helpful to know in order for those in an educational setting to be able to structure activities that would enable a child to better estimate and therefore budget time.
The researcher feels that with a larger sample size and a different activity, more significant results may be found. The activity that was given to the participants, the Purdue Pegboard test, only took about 5 to 6 minutes to complete. The researcher believes that may have made it easier for the participant to accurately gauge time. Also, the participants were students in an elementary school who were being removed from class in order to be part of the experiment. This may be seen as enjoyable to the child no matter what activity he or she is asked to perform. In addition, the participants were quite familiar with the researcher which may have biased some of the answers as to whether or not the task was enjoyable. Perhaps the participants had a desire to please the researcher and therefore rated the activity as more enjoyable.
If the experimenter was going to attempt the experiment again, a larger sample size would be the first step. With only 28 participants, the sample size was not nearly large enough or diverse enough to generalize beyond the school in which the research was done. Also, the experimenter would use a different activity that involves more time in order to determine whether or not this has any effect. If a longer amount of time is used it leaves more room for error in judgment and thus may yield more significant results. In addition, the experimenter would use participants who are not familiar with her in order to avoid any bias in the ratings the participants give.
One final thing to be considered is that the students may have been able to pass on information to those who had not yet completed the experiment. The students were sent back to the classroom directly after finishing the test, and he or she could have informed the next participant what the test entailed. In a future study, the researcher may consider sending those who have already finished to a separate room in order to avoid any transfer of information to those who have not yet completed the test.
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Consent Form for School
To Whom it May Concern,
My name is Wendy Bradley and I am a Senior at McKendree College. I am performing a research study to determine the effect of positive reinforcement on time estimation. I would like to use the fifth and eight grade students at St. Mary’s School for this study. The parents and the students have a right to withdraw from the study at any time if he or she does not feel comfortable.
No student’s name will be used in the study and all results will be confidential. I would appreciate your permission to perform this study.
My name is Wendy Bradley, and I am a Senior at McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois. I am working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and as a requirement for one of my courses, I am performing a research study.
My topic is The Effects of Positive Reinforcement on Time Estimation, and I would like to perform this study with the fifth and eight graders here at St. Mary’s.
I will be using a very simple test called the Purdue Pegboard Test for this study which tests for manual dexterity. It consists of a series of tests in which the child will be timed while he or she places pins in the pegboard.
I need to inform you that no child’s name will be used in this study, and all results will be confidential. The only variables I will be using are those of age and gender. Still, if you are at all uncomfortable with this procedure, you may withdraw your child at any time, and I will not use him or her in my study. Please take a moment of your time and sign this form either allowing participation or requesting that your child not be involved.
Thank you in advance for you cooperation!
My child may participate in the study_______________
I prefer that my child not be involved _______________