Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Premack Principle in Social Learning Theory

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_50-1

Name of Concept

Premack Principle in Social Learning Theory


Developed by David Premack in 1965, the Premack principle states that one can encourage a low-frequency behavior by linking that low-frequency behavior to a higher-frequency behavior.


A classic example of the Premack principle is, “If you eat all of your vegetables, then you may have dessert.” By pairing the lower-frequency behavior (eating vegetables) with a higher-frequency or more desirable behavior (eating dessert), we can increase the likelihood that the low-frequency behavior will occur. Premack suggested that for “any pair of responses, the more probable one will reinforce the less probable one,” (Premack 1965, p. 132). In other words, by pairing a less preferred behavior with a more preferred behavior, you can increase the probability with which the lower-frequency or less desirable behavior occurs. Using an example from the health psychology literature, people may decide to link a health...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Brian Baucom
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA