Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Psychological Principles in the Bible - Overcorrection

I always get so excited when I see a psychological principle demonstrated in the Bible. Especially when it is God himself demonstrating the principle. I feel so validated. I'm in the uncomfortable position of working in a field often viewed by my religion as too secular while practicing a religion often viewed by my professional field as unscientific. So, when these two spheres of my life are in agreement, I couldn't be happier.

Last Sunday, my pastor was teaching from the book of Numbers, where the Israelite people had just crossed through the Red Sea as they escaped slavery in Egypt and moved toward the land God promised to them. After the amazing and miraculous Red Sea crossing, the Israelites entered the wilderness, a barren place with little food. God was good, though, and sent manna, a bread-like substance, from heaven to sustain their hunger. Those poor Israelites grew tired of manna and soon started to grumble. A group of "rabble" began to complain to Moses and God that manna just wasn't cutting it. What they really wanted was meat. So, they whined and complained. And they completely disregarded the miracles God had performed just to keep them alive through their exodus.

God wasn't pleased with this behavior. His response was to say to the Israelites,
"The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Numbers 11: 18-20).

Wow, God! That sounds a bit harsh! Well, many psychologists might applaud God's implementation of the Satiation Principle, or Overcorrection -Negative Practice. The Satiation Principle is often utilized when a teacher or a parent wants to decrease an inappropriate behavior. In essence, they allow (or even insist the child continue) an inappropriate behavior until the child is just plain sick of doing it. The most classic example of this technique is the practice of having a rebellious teen who is caught smoking cigarettes smoke an entire pack of cigarettes, which often leaves them so sick they never want to consider even looking at a cigarette again. Satiation techniques can be a way of delivering logical consequences for a child's misbehavior and, therefore, makes the punishment more effective.

Just as a side note, I think satiation techniques should always be practiced under the guidance of a professional. They run the risk of being humiliating or even dangerous if done incorrectly or in inappropriate circumstances. An alternative technique that I think is much less risky is called Overcorrection - Positive Practice. In this variation, a child must repeatedly practice an alternate appropriate behavior. I've seen an excellent example of this in a classroom where the children had difficulty in the hallways. They were loud, disruptive, and didn't walk appropriately in line. There was often fighting, pushing, and screaming. The teacher finally agreed to a positive practice strategy, and dedicated an hour of her day to let the class practice walking appropriately in the hall. I promise that after that day, her class was always the best behaved in the hallways!

Now, of course, God's harsh punishment for the Israelites was appropriate. Not only because he is omniscient and doesn't make mistakes, but because their misbehavior was so severe. I mean, seriously, to complain to the God of heaven about his miraculous provision that is saving your life? That's pretty bold. 

And, what a great lesson for us all in the psychological principle of Overcorrection!  If used correctly, it sure could make your punishments more effective. So, the next time your teenage kiddo complains about their deliciously healthy home-cooked meal, and whines that they'd sure like some pizza for a change, give them pizza.  Give them some yummy microwave pizza for three meals a day until it's coming out of their nostrils and they loathe it. 

Can teenagers ever loathe pizza?  Maybe not.

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