Our most accessible memories are those from experiences that result in a positive or negative reward. Negative and positive reinforcements play a key role in learning and memory.
You can’t teach infants through rational reasoning. Imagine holding a small baby in your arms and saying to the child … “I think it’s time I taught you a few facts about negotiation skills.”
Infants are not capable of advanced cognitive processing. Come to think about it, lots of adults aren’t either. So how do babies learn? They learn through positive and negative reinforcement. When bub smiles Mum or Dad return the smile – the brain is pleasurably stimulated and a positive memory is filed.
Clinical psychologist Beulah Warren and her colleagues have spent many years studying the problems of bonding that are associated with premature births (Warren et al 1987).
Deprived of a normal full-term intra-uterine experience these babies are born with basic survival skills but lack the fine-tuning of full term infants.
Premature babies are usually kept in a crib environment wired to life support systems and are often deprived of early nursing by the mother.
When the parents collect the baby and begin the challenging process of nursing, things don’t always go smoothly. Premature babies tend to throw themselves physically backwards when being nursed because of poor physical control. Their eye contact is also poor and these two factors are often interpreted by parents as rejection. This makes the bonding process much more difficult.
The child’s early learning experiences are rarely rewarding, at best confusing. Many premature babies grow into children with learning and behavioral problems.
lf learning and memories are laid down properly in the first place then a healthy child usually results. A psychologically healthy child will draw on these positive, rewarding experiences as a buffer in times of difficulty. Instead of running for cover they can reflect on the good times; open up the positive memory files and press-on.
The examples from childhood provide important lessons for management. Your contact with people needs to give them a positive, rewarding experience (even if the outcome is essentially negative) so that you build a healthy memory file for the future.
Freezing or Backward Movement.
Studies have shown that negative reinforcement will frequently produce freezing or backward movements in animials. In staff it leads to problems such as poor productivity, an unpleasant work environment and increased absenteeism. In clients it produces cancelled orders; slammed doors; rejection and bad public relations.
Professor Marvin Minsky of the Massacssachutts Institute of Technology is very interested in how memories are stored in the brain. He is a world authority in the field of artificial intelligence. Minksy believes that “…we keep each thing we learn close to the agents that learn it in the first place.”
If Minsky is right then the positive files are all together in the brain tied up not with red tape but with positive emotions. These include your positive experiences in the workplace and at home. It’s a good storehouse to draw on when you feel depressed.
Mood and Thoughts.
Our current mood often sets the tone for our associated thoughts. A shopping centre study was conducted to determine if the opinions of shoppers would change if they experienced a pleasant surprise.
A group of shoppers unexpectedly found dollars bills which had been strategically planted by the experimenters. After the lucky find these people were interviewed about a range of subjects concerning their marriage, car, work etc.
A group of shoppers who neither found nor searched for any money were also asked the same questions.
This second group served as a control group for the first group. The results showed that the first group had a tendency to be more positive than the control group.
Skilled managers will steer their staff away from negative associations. They will redirect a negative comment about the weather into the memory channel of beautiful balmy days. They will turn dire predictions of economic disaster into images of better days ahead. They will listen to their staff and build on the positive clues that can send a faint hint of light through even the darkest diatribe. They will realise that emotions are contagious. Their positive mood will he revealed in the words they speak and in their body language.
If you do this you will you get improved staff relations you will also put points on the board for your organisation.
The various encounters and experiences that we have influence all our moods and feelings. Remember that every feeling that we experience whether anger, joy, depression or curiosity has a biochemical basis.
Warren, B., Dolby, R., Mead, E.V. & Heath, J. (1987) A Preventative Care Programme for Low Birth Weight Infants Which Incorporates Parents Needs. A paper presented at Neuromotor Lesions in Infancy: Early
Diagnosis & Intervention Congress, Trento, Italy.