Monday, March 7, 2011

The Counseling Couch

The Media, Charlie Sheen, and Operant Conditioning 
by Dr. Richard Yao, Ph.D., Counseling Lecturer

We have been bombarded with up to the minute media coverage of the Charlie Sheen saga for the last 2-3 weeks.  This coverage has gone beyond entertainment news programs, and has expanded to include “legitimate” network and cable news stations.  One of the most interesting aspects of this ongoing drama is how the media is very quick to skewer Sheen for his “outrageous” speech, behavior, and questionable moral character, while failing to acknowledge their role in perpetuating the type of behavior they find so deplorable. 

Thorndike’s Law of Effect posits that behaviors followed by positive consequences are more likely to occur in the future.  That is, behaviors continue to persist only if they are maintained through reinforcement.  On the surface, it might be difficult to find any positive consequences as a result Sheen’s substance abuse and verbal assaults on his producers and fellow actors.  However, maladaptive behaviors are also maintained through reinforcement, and the media’s constant attention only reinforces and strengthens Sheen’s behavior.  Our seemingly insatiable appetite for the Sheen coverage also contributes to this reinforcement.  So, if you find Sheen’s behavior reprehensible, but continue to watch his TV interviews, listen to his radio interviews, and spend your valuable time reading the coverage on the Internet, you are inadvertently reinforcing his behavior by proving him with the attention that he craves.

Aspen Police Department mugshot courtesy of the


1 comment:

  1. It's so true that these arrogant types get satisfaction from any kind of attention, even when it's negative. Ditto Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.