This clip is from the episode “The Gothowitz Deviation” from the show The Big Bang Theory. Leonard (the one with glasses) and Sheldon (the one with the Green Lantern shirt) are roommates and have a new problem. Penny is Leonard’s girlfriend, and she’s getting on Sheldon’s nerves. Leonard tells Sheldon that he should be nicer to Penny because he’s always sarcastic and condescending. Sheldon decides to employ operant conditioning techniques, through chocolate, and correct her behavior to his liking. From correcting seating positions to vocal tones, Sheldon changes Penny’s behavior while she stays at their apartment.
1. How did Sheldon use the chocolate On Penny? On Leonard?
2. How valid is B.F Skinner in saying that people do not need to think to learn?
3. Sheldon argues that if he were allowed to use Negative Reinforcement, he could change her behavior before they went to bed. In contrast to how well the chocolate worked as an incentive to change behavior, how well do you think the “small electric shocks” would have worked? Why?
Although Leonard protests constantly for Sheldon to stop treating Penny like a lab rat, Sheldon continued to use chocolate as reinforcement for what he saw as good behavior in the apartment. Before he utilized the reinforcement techniques, Sheldon would constantly belittle Penny. Now with the chocolate, Sheldon shows approval for Penny’s correction of quality problems. The morality behind Sheldon’s method is questionable, but there’s no doubt that positive reinforcement can teach new behavior through rewards. Because Leonard was resisting Sheldon the whole time, Sheldon sprayed him with water–as a demonstration of punishment for his behavior.
Sheldon uses chocolate as positive reinforcement on Penny and tries to do on Leonard as well.
B.F. Skinner argues that people don’t need to think to learn because through simple conditioning, cats, rats, dogs, and monkeys are able to change their behavior. In this example, it seems that Penny does think about her behavior when she makes corrections. However, she doesn’t seem aware of the fact that Sheldon is employing conditioning techniques on her. Leonard on the other hand, is fully aware of what’s happening and resists change.
The small electric shocks theoretically would have been illegal for one thing, but it probably would have given Sheldon total control in changing behavior instantly. However, the punishment would probably create a backlash from Penny. Because both are friends, Penny would retain ill will towards Sheldon and might even turn to violence—much like employees that feel that they are unreasonably terminated.