The Blessed Cuckoo Clock: Ten Minutes of Negative Reinforcement


Before I start, let me preface, I do not own a cuckoo clock. However, the alarm on my mobile is set to the sound of the cuckoo from a cuckoo clock. I figured it was an annoying enough sound to help me wake up in the morning. It’s turned out to be more entertaining than annoying.

This morning my alarm went off at it’s usual time and, as usual, I pressed the snooze button. There is something about getting that additional ten minutes of, well it’s not sleep and it’s not awake, it’s some sort of temporal limbo. They’re those wonderful ten minutes that delay the “back-to-the-grind”. Not that I hate work, but, well it’s work. It’s a glorious ten minute span in time when I can dream about how I would love the day to pan out (reality or not). In these ten minutes I can avoid (or at least temporarily delay) the tedious morning ritual of getting ready for work.

Therein lies the principle of negative reinforcement. By successfully delaying an aversive event or stimulus (getting ready for work), I have increased the likelihood of a future response (pressing of the snooze button). Often times we confuse negative reinforcement with punishment. Negative reinforcement does not mean a negative consequence or punishment. I think the confusion often comes in the use of the term negative. Here negative applies to the stimulus or event (the morning routine) that is removed or temporary avoided. Reinforcement applies in that the frequency of my behavior (snooze button pressing) increases.

So, the next time your alarm goes off, hit the snooze and enjoy your 10 minutes!

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