Jobart Bartolome, a psychologist by training and profession, is a executive of a leading TV network. He provides voluntary service to Action for Economic Reforms.

One day, Block Section D-2 decided to conduct their Psychology 101
learning experiment with Dr. Santos, Ph.D., their English professor as
their unwitting guinea pig. Their goal is to make her stay on the other
side of the room instead of her usual spot on the right side of the

The experiment began with the students intentionally looking elsewhere,
pretending to be doing something else or simply avoiding her gaze while
she stood in her favorite space. But when she happened to move one
small step towards the other side of the room, they all paid attention
to her-they looked at her and reacted to her statements by nodding and
smiling. After a while, they slowly stopped paying attention to her
again unless and until she moved even just a wee bit towards the other
side of the room.

The students practiced this “choreography” to make sure that it looked
natural and spontaneous, not rehearsed nor mechanical. Before the class
period was over, Dr. Santos, Ph.D. was yakking away in that corner of
the room where she never strayed before.

Okay, I made this up. However, anyone who knows the principles operant
conditioning well can also apply this effectively. Behavioral
psychologists, B.F. Skinner in particular, have done extensive studies
on this. Skinner’s pigeons have played ping pong or guided missiles on
course by pecking on a moving target displayed on a screen.

Operant conditioning simply states that behavior is a function of its
consequence. Any (immediate) consequence that increases the frequency
of a behavior is called reinforcement (or more commonly, reward). So if
you want a certain behavior of an organism to increase in frequency,
you have to find out what is “reinforcing” to that organism and give
right after the desired behavior is emitted. When the behavior has been
established, you may choose to wait for several emissions of the
desired behavior before you give the reinforcement. Do not, however,
forget that the secret is in giving the reinforcement as close as
possible to the emitted behavior.

Giving food is always thought of as reinforcement but is not always so.
Animal trainers use small bits of food a lot but this works only if the
organism is hungry. But with money, no amount seems to satiate because
as a secondary reinforcer, it can be used to purchase anything else you
may want. It is difficult, however, to be always using money as
reinforcement because it is costly. There is one reinforcement for
human beings, though, that is not only very effective and long lasting,
it also practically free and is never in short supply. This is what the
students used in conditioning their professor’s behavior. Yes,
attention – pansin. Most people are KSP (Kulang Sa Pansin) and would
consciously or unconsciously welcome it, especially if given sincerely
and spontaneously.

You can try giving attention to your parents, siblings, partners,
friends, (even enemies); your employees, co-workers, and bosses, too.
But be prepared. Carefully study the kind of attention that the person
needs. Know how and when to give or deliver the attention naturally and
spontaneously. Try it for several days and you’d be astonished by its

The private sector gives low basic salaries but generous percentage
commissions based on output. This system makes the sales force produce
a lot more. It also weeds out the non-performers.
The government system however, with its bloated bureaucracy, seems to
have lost track of this principle. Non-performers are paid as much as
the performers.

But PAGCOR is one government entity that earns a lot of money. How does
PAGCOR make an awful lot of money? Through gambling, of course, which
employs a somehow sophisticated use of the principles of operant
conditioning. Gambling is usually regulated because it is able to
exploit the vulnerability of a lot of people when it comes to earning
huge sums of money “easily” and “quickly”. The slot machine, for
instance, is programmed to make a player win a little, once in a while,
because these little winnings every now and then is enough to reinforce
gambling behavior. He will be blind to his losses which are almost
always bigger than his winnings. He won’t listen to logic which says
that overall, gamblers always lose because no goods are produced while
gambling, yet the casino earns a lot every day. He’d rather listen to
the sound of coins dropping for very minor winnings. This is music to
his ear. He’d rather watch the bars rolling, often almost but seldom
hitting the jackpot. This also serves as reinforcement to his gambling
behavior. The slot machine is known to have divested many otherwise
shrewd and intelligent people of all the money in their pockets, if
they continue playing. They may even end up issuing checks or pawning
their cars in their desire to recover their losses.

In a con game or sting, of which pyramiding scam is a variation of, the
masterminds again exploit the weakness of people for huge and immediate
profit. All they have to do is make true their promise of large returns
for the first few transactions. After this reinforcement period,
victims almost always invest large sums of money which the crooks cart

Is it possible to use operant conditioning for something that will
benefit the majority? Will a proper application of operant conditioning
– reward and punishment – do mundane things like ease the traffic
situation in Metro Manila? In other countries, a very rewarding mass
transport experience (mainly trains) attracts people to use it more
often, resulting in lesser cars on the road, and therefore better

Can you imagine the amount of money the government can save if it does
not pay non-performers? Or the amount of work the bureaucracy will come
up with if their wages and allowances depended on them? Hmm… how many
Congressmen and Senators do we have again?

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