On Positive Reinforcement

Last week, my piece on encouraging children to fast during Ramadhan emphasised employing positive reinforcement to inspire positive behaviour in children.

Positive reinforcement occurs when a pattern of behaviour is established by offering a reward when a particular behaviour is exhibited. The use of incentives has proved to boost behaviour in not only children but individuals in general.

A few weeks back, a video of a 7-year-old boy turned famous on social media reciting the holy Qur’an.

I couldn’t help but join in the musings of the particularly excited little boy, whose enthusiasm was triggered by incentives dropped by his audience.

The adorable little boy cooed as currency notes piled at the table he was seated.

However, amid his excitement as the notes piled, it became apparent, to the keen observer, that he instantly became distracted. The sudden appearance of the overwhelming incentive distracted the boy from his Qur’an recitation.

This poses the question as to whether positive reinforcement has served its purpose in this case.

While intended at encouraging him, he ended up focusing on “how many money is this?”.

Also, in consideration of the ethics of the Qur’an recitation, reinforcement, in this case, was impeded, according to opinions. As part of the ethics of the Qur’an recitation, it is expected of one to recite without distraction.

In this regard, it can be surmised that reinforcement of behaviour while encouraged, should be timed. Reinforcement, if appropriately timed, would serve its’ purpose without necessarily distracting the person. While acknowledging that little Bilal deserved the incentive, reinforcement should be employed after the exhibition of behaviour and not otherwise.

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