What Is The Premack Principle?

The Premack Principle has been used in a variety of settings, from parenting to animal training.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
June 22, 2023

What Is The Premack Principle?

What Is The Premack Principle?

The Premack Principle is a psychological concept that suggests that a higher probability activity can be used to reinforce a lower probability activity. In other words, the principle is a way of using an enjoyable activity to encourage someone to engage in a less enjoyable activity.

This principle has been used in a variety of settings, from parenting to animal training, and has been shown to be an effective way to encourage behavior.

History of the Premack Principle

The Premack Principle was first proposed by David Premack, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In a 1965 paper, Premack suggested that behaviors that occur more frequently (or are more likely to occur) can be used as a reinforcer for behaviors that occur less frequently (or are less likely to occur).

Premack conducted experiments with animals to test his theory. In one experiment, he trained a monkey to press a lever for a small reward (such as a pellet of food).

Once the monkey had learned to press the lever reliably, Premack introduced a more enjoyable activity (such as playing with a toy). The monkey was only allowed to play with the toy after pressing the lever. Over time, the monkey began to press the lever more frequently in order to access the toy.

How the Premack Principle Works

The Premack Principle works by using a high probability activity (such as playing video games) to reinforce a low probability activity (such as doing homework). By making the high probability activity contingent on the low probability activity, the low probability activity becomes more attractive.

For example, a parent might allow their child to watch TV only after they have completed their homework.

In this case, watching TV (a high probability activity) is used to reinforce doing homework (a low probability activity). Over time, the child may begin to see doing homework as a necessary step to access the more enjoyable activity of watching TV.

Applications of the Premack Principle

The Premack Principle has been used in a variety of settings, from parenting to animal training. In parenting, the principle can be used to encourage children to engage in less enjoyable activities such as chores or homework.

By making a more enjoyable activity contingent on completing the less enjoyable activity, children may be more willing to engage in the less enjoyable activity.

In animal training, the Premack Principle can be used to reinforce behaviors. For example, a trainer might use a high probability activity such as receiving a treat to reinforce a low probability behavior such as sitting on command.

Over time, the animal may begin to see sitting on command as a necessary step to access the more enjoyable activity of receiving a treat.

Examples Of The Premack Principle

The Premack Principle has been used in many different settings to encourage behavior. Here are a few examples:

Example 1: Exercise

Many people find it difficult to motivate themselves to exercise regularly. One way to use the Premack Principle to encourage exercise is by making a more enjoyable activity contingent on exercising. For example, someone might allow themselves to watch their favorite TV show only after they have completed their workout for the day.

Example 2: Social Media

Social media can be a major distraction, especially for students who need to focus on studying or completing assignments. To use the Premack Principle in this situation, a student could make social media use contingent on completing their work. For example, they might allow themselves 10 minutes of social media time for every hour of studying.

Example 3: Dog Training

The Premack Principle is commonly used in dog training. For example, a trainer might use playing fetch (a high probability activity) as a reward for sitting on command (a low probability behavior). Over time, the dog will begin to see sitting on command as necessary step to access the more enjoyable activity of playing fetch.

These are just a few examples of how the Premack Principle can be applied in different contexts. By using enjoyable activities as rewards for less enjoyable activities, we can encourage ourselves and others to engage in behaviors that may otherwise be difficult or unappealing.

Conclusion

The Premack Principle is a psychological concept that suggests that a more enjoyable activity can be used to reinforce a less enjoyable activity. The principle has been shown to be effective in a variety of settings, from parenting to animal training.

By making a more enjoyable activity contingent on completing a less enjoyable activity, individuals may be more willing to engage in the less enjoyable activity. This principle can be used to encourage positive behaviors and to discourage negative behaviors.