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Premack's Principle

Part I:  Description

Premack's Principle: A Motivational Powerhouse

Premack's Principle, also known as the relativity theory of reinforcement, is a behavioral principle stating that a more preferred activity can be used to reinforce a less preferred activity. Here's the core idea:

  • Understanding Preferences: Identify activities a person (or animal) enjoys more and those they find less desirable.

  • The Power of Rewards: Allow access to the high-probability (preferred) activity only after the low-probability (less preferred) activity is completed.

  • Changing Behavior: This creates a powerful incentive for engaging in the less appealing task to get to the fun stuff!

Why Premack's Principle Works

Premack's Principle taps into intrinsic motivation. The opportunity to do something enjoyable makes the less enjoyable task more bearable, even if it's just serving as a means to an end.

Practical Applications of Premack's Principle

Premack's Principle is used by:

  • Parents: "Finish your vegetables, then you can have dessert."

  • Teachers: "Complete your worksheet, then you can choose a game."

  • Animal Trainers: Using play as a reward for learning new tricks.

  • Even Yourself: Work on a less exciting task for a set time, followed by a desired activity as a reward.

Part II:  Common Questions

1. Could you give a simple example of Premack's Principle?

  • Answer: Imagine a child who loves playing video games but dislikes doing homework. Using Premack's Principle, you could say, "Once your homework is finished, you can have 30 minutes of video game time."

2. Does Premack's Principle work for everyone?

  • Answer: It's generally effective across ages and species. The key is finding the right "high-probability" activity that is truly motivating for the individual. What one person finds rewarding, another might not.

3. Can I use Premack's Principle on myself?

  • Answer: Absolutely! Self-management is a great application. For example, promise yourself a relaxing bath or your favorite show after completing a less desirable chore.

4. Are there any downsides to Premack's Principle?

  • Answer: It's important to consider:

    • Overreliance: If used for every task, it can diminish intrinsic motivation (doing something just for the joy of it).

    • Ethical Considerations: Ensure the rewards are appropriate and not manipulative or coercive.

5. How does Premack's Principle differ from bribery?

  • Answer: Premack's Principle creates a contingent relationship: the reward is earned after the desired behavior. Bribery offers the reward upfront to try to manipulate behavior, which undermines long-term change.

Part III:  Additional Resources

Books about Premack's Principle

Don't Shoot the Dog! The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor: 

  • A classic book on positive reinforcement, featuring an accessible and engaging explanation of Premack's Principle.

Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis by John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward: 

  • A comprehensive textbook on behavior analysis, providing a more in-depth examination of Premack's Principle within its broader context.

Websites and Online Resources about Premack's Principle

  • The Association for Positive Behavior Support (APBS): Organization focused on positive behavioral interventions, with resources on Premack's Principle and its applications. (

  • Behaviorbabe: A blog by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) offering insights and examples about Premack's Principle in practical settings. (

  • Verywell Family: Premack Principle Features parent-friendly articles on applying the principle to address common child behavior challenges. (

Additional Options about Premack's Principle

  • Academic Journals: Search databases like Google Scholar or JSTOR for research articles specifically investigating Premack's Principle in various contexts.

  • YouTube Videos: Search for explainer videos about Premack's Principle, especially those from reputable BCBAs or behavioral experts.

  • Podcasts: Look for podcasts on parenting, teaching, or animal training that might delve into using Premack's Principle effectively.

Part IV:  Disclaimer

These results were highly selected, curated, and edited by The Nexus Inititiative. To make this amount of complimentary content available at a cost-effective level for our site visitors and clients, we have to rely on, and use, resources like Google Gemini and other similar services.

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