The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 143–157 | Cite as

Punished by Misunderstanding: A Critical Evaluation of Kohn’s Punished by Rewards and Its Implications for Behavioral Interventions with Children

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Despite the growth of behavior analysis over the past 30 years, misunderstandings of behavioral theory and practice may threaten its continued growth and application. Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (1993) offers a view of behaviorism that, if accepted uncritically, could hinder efforts to disseminate behavioral interventions, particularly those involving children. A comprehensive review of Punished by Rewards revealed the following assumptions: (a) Behavior analysis is exclusively derived from animal research; (b) behavior analysts characterize children as passive agents to be manipulated; (c) behavior analysis is a behavior control technology; (d) behavior analysts are uninterested in and ignorant of the causes of behavior; and (e) behavior analysts are unconcerned about the protection and welfare of children. For each class of assumptions, critique and commentary are offered. Empirical and philosophical aspects of Kohn’s arguments are scrutinized, and the implications of continued misunderstandings for the future of behavior analysis and the need for more accurate dissemination of contemporary applied behavioral research are also discussed. Despite Kohn’s apparent biases against behaviorism, it is concluded that a better informed public would find much to like about contemporary behavior analysis.

Key words

behaviorism behavior therapy critical review children intrinsic motivation 


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA

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