Exercise:  Sam’s Joking

 

The first three editions of George and Jones’ Organizational Behavior text incorporated the following example of using “extinction” to reduce the probability of an undesired behavior:

 

“Suppose every time a manager has a group meeting with his subordinates, one of his subordinates, Sam, always tells jokes and generally fools around.  At first the manager thinks Sam’s joking is harmless, but soon he realizes that the meetings are taking twice as long as they should, that certain items on the agenda are getting short shrift because time runs out, and that the other group members have stopped taking the meetings seriously.  After attending a management development seminar on operant conditioning, the manager realizes that Sam’s fooling around in the group meetings must be due to some sort of reinforcement he is receiving.  At the next meeting, the manager observes what happens when Sam engages in his usual routine:  Everyone (including the manager) laughs when Sam starts telling jokes, and Sam generally receives a lot of attention throughout the meeting.”

 

“After the meeting, the manager meets with each of the other group members individually, discusses the issue with them, and asks them to try to refrain from laughing or paying much attention to Sam when he jokes in the group meetings.   To the manager’s surprise, some of his subordinates were also concerned about the way the meetings had been going and were happy to follow his plan.  At the next meeting, all the group members behave politely to Sam but refrain from laughing at his jokes or paying a lot of attention to him when he fools around.  Sam is shocked at what happens but soon adjusts, and over the course of this and subsequent meetings his behavior changes dramatically.”

 

“This example illustrates that extinction can be a relatively painless way to reduce the occurrence of undesired behaviors.  The supervisor had considered talking directly to Sam or criticizing his disruptive behavior at the next group meeting.  Eliminating Sam’s positive reinforcement for horsing around probably did less to hurt his feelings and disrupt his otherwise good relationships with his supervisor and co-workers than these other approaches would have done.”

 

 

In the fourth and fifth editions of George and Jones’ text they revised the above example of extinction in the following way:

 

“Suppose every time a manager has a meeting with one of her subordinates, Sam, he always tells jokes and fools around.  At first, the manager thinks Sam’s joking is harmless, but soon she realizes that the meetings are taking twice as long as they should, that certain items on the agenda are getting short shrift, and that Sam is having a hard time remembering the important points made during the meeting.  After attending a management development seminar on operant conditioning, the manager realizes that she is actually positively reinforcing Sam’s behavior by laughing at his jokes.  At the next meeting, she treats Sam cordially but refrains from laughing at his jokes.  Sam looks a little perplexed but soon stops joking and takes the meetings more seriously.”

 

“This example illustrates that extinction can be a relatively painless way to reduce the occurrence of undesired behaviors.  The supervisor had considered talking directly to Sam or criticizing his behavior at their next meeting.  Eliminating Sam’s positive reinforcement for horsing around probably did less to hurt his feelings and disrupt their otherwise good relationship.”

 

 

Carefully analyze the differences in both examples.  Why do you think the authors of the text decided to revise this example? In particular, what concerns, if any, do you have with the first example?  Do you have any concerns with the second example?  Be prepared to discuss in class.