What You Need to Know About Weber’s Law

Psychology has always been a study that constantly asks a single question: Why? Why do we think this way? Why do we feel this way? Why do we behave this way? In a discipline so deeply linked to philosophy, it should come as no surprise that many theorems in psychology are still unanswered questions. There is only so much that can be empirically proven about human nature. However, with the rise of scientific and technological advancement, the sub-field of neuropsychology is in a better place than ever to find answers to some of the more nuanced psychological theories, such as Weber’s law.

As it stands, Weber’s law is currently enjoying a moderate amount of experimental attention in neuropsychology. Neuropsychologists are trying to pin down how human neurons detect and process physical stimulation, and Weber’s law happens to be the most long-standing theory on this phenomenon in the entire study of psychology. So, what is this theory? We’ll break down what Weber’s law is, why the law is useful, and the key points of the law that make neuropsychologists so curious.

What Is Weber’s Law?

In the simplest terms, this theory is about human perception. Specifically, this theory tries to understand how humans can perceive even the slightest difference between two stimuli. This theory addresses each of the five senses –touch, taste, scent, sight, and hearing–and suggests that human perception is sharp enough to accurately distinguish between the smallest of differences.

The Difference Threshold

In the Weber’s law theory, the “difference threshold” is the absolute smallest difference between two similar stimuli. Some neuropsychologists refer to this as “just noticeable difference”. In either case, the difference threshold grounds the theory with the caveat that the human mind can perceive the difference between two stimuli better depending on how close the comparison stimuli is to the original stimuli. Or in other words, we humans can distinguish between changes in stimuli even when two stimuli are very similar.

However, Weber’s law and human perception is challenged when the original stimuli is very intense. When the intensity of a stimuli is great, we have a harder time detecting changes after introducing another stimuli. This is the case for all five of the senses. If we are exposed to an intense stimulus, we are less likely not notice a subtle stimulus simply because the comparison between the two is too great. In this way, the difference threshold also suggests a blind spot in human perception.

Is Weber’s Law Useful?

This is a theory that can be very useful. In fact, we probably contend with this theory every day without noticing it much. Just like many theories in the broad field of psychology, humans are constantly proving or disproving the accuracy of theories. This law is no exception. Let’s look at some examples where Weber’s law is both present and useful.

Example One: Weight

The original proposal for this theory in 1834 was made on the basis of psychophysics, or the intersection between psychology and physics. For this new theory, the easiest way to test it was to use something that could be easily measured and recorded: weight.

Imagine you are holding a paperback book in your hand. You can obviously feel the heft of the book as well as the general size and shape. If we were to place another book of similar size, shape, and weight in that same hand, you would be able to detect the added weight. If we were to place another book that is slightly heavier or has a different shape in your other hand, you would be able to decide which book is lighter or heavier. Both are an example of the difference threshold.

However, if you were holding a box of books and we placed that paperback book on top of the box, you probably wouldn’t be able to detect the added weight. Why? It’s the perception blind spot in the difference threshold. Because the box of books is so heavy–making the stimulus intense–you are not able to detect the subtler stimulus.

Example Two: Temperature

different temperatures

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We humans have an exceptional talent for detecting temperature changes. If you closed your eyes and we touched each of your arms with a piece of ice, you would be able to tell which piece of ice is larger because of how your skin would register a larger cold spot. But if we submerged your entire arm in ice water and then touched that arm with a piece of ice, you wouldn’t be able to register the smaller point of cold because of the intensity of your entire arm being cold thanks to that perception blind spot.

Temperature detection that is compromised can be dicey. When a body is exposed to cold for too long and hypothermia begins to set in, it is recommended that the body be warmed in small increments, starting with warm water and working up to body temperature water. Why? Simply because Weber’s law proves that the perception of temperature will be so drastically altered after the intensity of full-body cold that the body is unable to tell whether something is burning hot or not. In order to protect the skin, and to not shock the entire body system, victims of hypothermia are warmed gradually.

Example Three: Taste

While we all might not have the sensitive palate of wine tasters, the average human taste bud can detect slight differences in the way something tastes. Imagine making two pots of chicken soup, but one pot has an added secret ingredient. In a blind taste test, people who try the two soups would be able to tell which of the soups has the added ingredient.

However, if the intensity of the flavors is very great, the taste buds will be so overwhelmed that they would be unable to detect additional flavors unless the additional flavor was drastically different. This is why it is recommended to drink cold milk or water after eating something very spicy–the stark difference between the milk and the spice can reset your taste buds.

Example Four: Hearing

The human ear is a highly sensitive thing. If we focus, we really can hear the most minute sounds from across a room, which is why we can eavesdrop on a juicy conversation in a crowded room without any problems. However, if we overwhelm the difference threshold with an intense original stimulus, the following stimuli will be harder to detect. This is why people have trouble hearing each other during concerts. The sound of the concert is so overwhelmingly loud that it is almost impossible to hear the person next to you even if they are shouting in your face.

Example Five: Sight

A lady with blue eyes

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Most humans actually have decent color perception because of the difference threshold. If we placed two red cards in front of you and asked you which card was more yellow, you would be able to point at the red-orange card with some ease. If we placed two blue cards in front of you and asked you which card was darker, you could point to the darker card without any trouble. If we placed two green cards in front of you and asked which is more vibrant, you would be able to pick the right card again. Human color perception is generally spot-on.

However, we run into some challenges when faced with light. The intensity of bright lights, such as the sun or a flashlight, shining in our eyes is so great that we can have trouble detecting weaker lights, colors, and even objects until our eyes adjust. This is another way in which the intensity of the original stimulus can undermine the difference threshold.

Example Six: Scent

A girl smelling flowers weber's law

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Human scent perception is fascinating. Not only are out olfactory senses tied directly into memory coding, but they also vary in sensitivity between human to human. Some people are able to detect the slightest differences between two similar scents, while others can only tell the difference between two different scents.

And just like every other sense, scent is also vulnerable to the blind spot in the difference threshold. If we doused a handkerchief in perfume, held it against your nose, and then asked you to try to smell anything else, you would find it impossible because of the intensity of the perfume.

The Key Points of Weber’s Law

Neuropsychologists continue to conduct research to try to understand how our sensory nerves detect stimuli and how that detection translates into perception in the human brain. These are the key points that they continue to come back to:

  • The just noticeable difference between two stimuli

  • The blind spot in the difference threshold

  • The areas of the brain that respond to different stimuli

Neuropsychologists are trying to pinpoint how human perception is translated by the brain. One of the ways they do this is to study the brain through MRI scans while exposing volunteers to different stimuli. Some of this research has enabled neurologists to confidently isolate the portions of the brain that are responsible for sensory processing.


Although not talked about often, Weber’s law is a cornerstone of neuropsychology. As one of the most enduring psychological theories in the field, this law and the associated principles of the law continue to make the case for the sensitivity of human perception.

This theory overall suggests that human perception is sensitive enough to accurately distingish differences between two similar stimuli, with the exception of intense stimuli that overwhelm the senses.

Researchers continue to try to understand how the brain processes sensory information by using Weber’s law as a basis in experimentation.

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AP Psychology Study Resource: Drive Theory

A solid understanding of the various theories of motivation is essential for success on your AP Psychology exam. Drive theory is not, at present, a particularly well-regarded theory but it was deeply influential in the field of psychology throughout the 20th century. On your exam, you will be required to demonstrate an understanding of the basic tenants of drive theory which we have elucidated below.

As you have likely learned over the course of your studies, drive-based theories of motivation stipulate that each motivation is the product of a tension an organism experiences when one of the needs of an organism is left unmet. Drive-based theories of motivation are most helpful in understanding the role of physiological needs in motivated organisms but they can also be used to understand more complex human motivations that are not strictly physiological. Regardless of its efficacy, drive-reduction theories were highly influential in their time, and particularly based its propagators’ enthusiasm for scientific rigor.

What Is the Drive Theory?

Drive theory, or drive reduction theory, is a theory of motivation which suggests that all human behavior, and the behavior of all organisms, is a product of biological need and the state of tension or drive created by an unmet need. According to drive theory, we all exist in a state of relative homeostasis and all behavior preserves, or attempts to preserve, a state of equilibrium.

The American psychologist Clark Hull developed drive theory in the middle of the 20th century in an attempt to create an all-encompassing theory to account for behavior in humans and animals. Hull postulated that whenever an organism fails to have its needs met, it experiences a state of tension that produces a corresponding drive. The simplest example is a physiological need like thirst: when an organism hasn’t had its need for water met, it experiences a state of tension we call thirst and the organism then behaves in a such a manner that satisfies that thirst.


Emerge identity

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In Hull’s theory, an organism is conditioned to repeat a behavior because any behavior that eliminates an existing state of tension by meeting a physiological need is reinforced by the relief of tension and thus more likely to be repeated. This explanation adheres to the broader stimulus-response framework with the state of tension as the stimulus and the behavior that reduces that state of tension or drive as the desirable response.

Mathematical Deduction

mathematics computation

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While developing his theory, Hull attempted to find a mathematical equation that would account for all behavioral learning in humans. His end result is an overly complicated equation which is not relevant to your exam. Simply recall that the resultant equation was widely criticized for failing to account for all behavior while still leaving a lasting impression on the field in that it reflected the emphasis Hull placed on rigorous experimentation and scientific methodology.

How Does the Drive Theory Differ From the Other Theories of Motivation?

Drive-reduction theory is most widely criticized or disregarded by contemporary psychologists because it fails to adequately account for behaviors that are outside the purview of strictly physiological needs like thirst or hunger and behaviors that involve complex external factors. Because of these limitations, drive-reduction theory served as the impetus for many other theories of motivation that provided more viable alternatives. One of the most famous theories that emerged as a response to Hull’s drive reduction theory was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Arousal Theory

Arousal Theory states that an organism will always seek to find a balanced state of arousal. For instance, if an individual were feeling under-stimulated, he or she would go to the movies or seek the company of a friend whereas an individual feeling overstimulated would seek serenity in a less engaging activity like meditation. As you may have noticed, this is very similar to drive-reduction theory as both theories see individuals as the curators or their own inner equilibrium, a task each individual must accomplish with behavior that fills a present need.

This arousal theory is often used in marketing. When brand sales stagnate, how can we better stimulate consumers’ potential needs and guide purchases? Changing the outer packaging of products is an important method, customizing different colorful stickers, to package the appearance of the product for different consumer groups. Here, Custom Vinyl Stickers are an important practical means of awakening theory, bringing more sales to the brand.

Incentive Theory

Incentive theory is difficult to reconcile with drive-reduction theory because the incentive theory involves indirect, external rewards or drives such as money or status. Money is essential to satisfying a basic physiological desire like hunger but earning money does not have an immediate impact on hunger and money itself cannot be eaten. Status is even more difficult assess in light of drive-reduction as individuals are motivated by their own perception of the value of a reward, not a simple tension based physiological need.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic theories of motivation both confirm the value of drive-reduction theory and clearly explains its limitations. The most famous example of a humanistic theory of motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s work theorizes that the motivations of any individual change depending on where the individual finds themselves on the hierarchy.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, the lowest level of needs are purely physiological: sleep, shelter, food, and water. This is completely in line with Hull’s drive theory of motivation; however, according to Maslow once you have satisfied your need for basic physiological comforts you move to a set of needs based on safety, love and friendship, self-esteem, and, finally, self-actualization. At each of these stages, the motivations of the individual in question become more complicated and more difficult to reconcile with drive reduction.

Expectation Theory

Theories of motivation based on expectations are the most complicated and, in part due to their complexity, the theories that differ from drive-reduction theory most drastically. According to expectation theories, each individual is motivated by a set of expectations he or she adopts in reference to a potential outcome or a set of potential outcomes. Expectations are informed by three factors: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy.

Valence is the value an individual places on the potential outcome in question. An outcome that holds little value for an individual has a low valence while an outcome that an individual considers desirable has a high valence.

Instrumentality is the role an individual sees himself or herself playing in making a potential outcome come to fruition. The more control an individual feels he or she has over a potential outcome, the more likely they are to feel motivated to adopt a course of action likely to produce the outcome in question.

Expectancy refers to an individual’s assessment of their own ability to perform his or her role in producing an outcome. If an individual feels they are incapable of playing his or her role effectively, they are unlikely to attempt the relevant course of action. On the other hand, an individual who feels confident in their ability to play his or her part will be more motivated to do so.

Examples of the Drive Theory?

One of the most famous examples of drive theory comes from an experiment conducted by Clark Hull while he worked at Yale University. Hull put two groups of lab rats in identical mazes with food at the conclusion of each maze. One group of rats was fed in this manner every three hours while the other group was fed every twenty-two hours. Hull’s hypothesis was that the under-fed rats would develop a stronger sense of how to get through the maze based on a greater tension or drive born of their unmet physiological needs.

In this example, the “drive” is the hunger experienced by the rats who are only fed once a day and the commensurate behavior is the successful navigation of the maze. The results of this experiment were inconclusive, but it still serves as an excellent guide to establishing the theoretical framework of drive-reduction theory.

Naturally, motivations or drives become substantially more complex when the subjects of observation are human. This fact is seen clearly in the observations of the social psychologist Norman Triplett. Triplett observed competitive cyclists at the University of Indiana and he found cyclists increased their speed dramatically when they trained with their peers as opposed to training alone. Triplett later quantified these results by assessing individual time trials compared to athletes times in races where other athletes competed simultaneously.

In this example, the drive is the pressure the athletes feel to compete with their peers and feel as if they are competent competitors in their chosen sport and the behavior is faster cycling. Hull would maintain that the need to belong and feel competent in reference to one’s peers in ultimately physiological although the field of psychology as a whole has since come to prefer an assessment of motivation in a context like this through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy instead of Hull’s drive reduction.


The most important things to internalize about drive theory during exam preparation are as follows. Drive reduction was developed by Clark Hull in the 1940s and 50s. Hull postulated that all behavior of any variety had its foundation in an unmet physiological need which created a state of tension which in turn motivated the organism to act and meet the need. Hull attempted to codify this theory in a mathematical equation but that effort was seen as overly convoluted and insufficiently expository. Drive-based theories have been largely disregarded by contemporary psychologists although the impact Hull and his adherents
had on the field is still regarded as valuable based on reverence for scientific rigor.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Instrumental Behavior

Some movements and actions are reflex. When someone puts their hand on a hot stove, they instinctively know to pull away. Otherwise, they will be burned, and this causes pain. The removal of the hand from the hot surface eliminates the chance of feeling pain, which will encourage that person to have the same reaction when they come in contact with another source of heat. However, if that person were to intentionally put their hand back on the hot stove to burn themselves, this would be called an instrumental behavior.

Because most actions are done as a response to a stimulus or as a reaction to another person, there isn’t much planning involved, if any. These behaviors are called respondent behaviors. This is the class of practices commonly discussed when talking about classical conditioning, as most of the connections that are made between stimuli and actions are made unwittingly.

What Is Instrumental Behavior?

Anything that is done on purpose, or with a particular goal in mind, is considered instrumental behavior. If the action has been thought out and planned in advance, it is deemed to be instrumental behavior. These acts are performed in order to reach a goal, such as gaining a reward or removing a punishment. The behavior will cause the desired outcome.

Instrumental behavior is commonly seen when problem-solving is being employed. Direct actions (for example, opening a door) do not always work. The door might be locked or otherwise jammed, so instrumental behavior is employed to find another way to open the door, which would be considered a reward. The instrumental behavior, in this case, would be to locate and use a key to unlock the locked door.

This is a type of behavior everyone employs, as long as there is a goal involved, big or small. Any time you have to perform an action to achieve the desired result, it is considered instrumental, instead of the respondent. The conscious intention behind the action is what sets this type of behavior apart from all others.

When Do You Apply Instrumental Behavior?

One place you will see instrumental behavior is in instrumental conditioning. This is a type of conditioning where the object must first perform the action before it can be conditioned. For example, if a child says a curse word for the first time, parents will chastise them, and they will get into trouble. The behavior had not occurred before this instance, so there wasn’t behavior to condition. However, by punishing the child, they learn not to say the curse word.

This process is also known as operant conditioning, where reinforcement and punishment are used to either increase or decrease the likelihood that behavior will be repeated in the future. By nature, rewarding and punishing others for their behaviors is typically instrumental and planned.

Reinforcement and Punishment

There are four main subsets of instrumental conditioning: positive punishment, negative punishment, positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement. These aspects of operant conditioning, identified by B. F. Skinner, either aim to increase or decrease a specific behavior. As an example, let’s talk about a misbehaving child.


Positive reinforcement presents the desired outcome, and in our example, this could mean that the child is praised whenever they do not perform the adverse action. Negative reinforcement, however, is the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. For example, if the child were crying, they could be told to go to their room until they are done crying. Once they finish crying, they are allowed to leave their room and move freely about the space, which encourages the child to not cry in the future.


Positive punishment is when an unpleasant stimulus or event is applied after a behavior. A classic example is a parent spanking a child; this adds an unpleasant stimulus after an undesired behavior. Negative punishment, on the other hand, involves removing a desired event or incentives after an individual behavior. In this example, it might mean that the child can no longer play with their friends because they did not clean their room like they were told to.

Instrumental Aggression

Another area that popularly displays instrumental behavior is instrumental aggression. While impulse aggression is a feeling of hostility that pops up at the moment, goal-oriented and instrumental aggression is thought out and sometimes even planned and calculated. Goal-oriented aggression is an act of aggression that is done to achieve some sort of goal. This can range from name-calling to purposefully hurting another person.

In some cases, instrumental aggression is a precursor to goal-oriented aggression. This form of aggression is calculated and planned well in advance of the act itself. In most cases of instrumental aggression, there is a goal or a means to an end, and, those who act out in this sense seek to avoid the consequences of their actions. Some famous examples of instrumental aggression include the bombing of the World Trade Center, the mass shooting at Columbine, and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Everyday Uses

Instrumental behaviors are not always malicious. Everyone, at some point in the day, will execute instrumental actions. This could be as simple as deciding to cook food because you know you are hungry and wish to eat. Or, it could be attending class because you want to succeed and get a good grade. As long as there is a motive behind the action, it is considered instrumental.

Top 4 Things to Know About Instrumental Behavior

There are a number of things to keep in mind when thinking about instrumental behavior and keeping this type of behavior separate from other types of behavior. This is far different from respondent behavior, where it is said that learning does not take place and it is merely a reaction to an outside source.

1. Manipulation of Instrumental Aggression

Often times, instrumental aggression is used in order to shed a positive light on the aggressor. You might have heard this referred to as someone “putting themselves on a pedestal” or “putting others down to make themselves look good.” While the two are not mutually exclusive, patterns of instrumental aggression mixed with this type of attitude can be indicative of a narcissistic personality. Many times this depends on the motive of the aggressor and what spurred the instrumentally aggressive action.

2. Generalized Aggression Model

If you are prone to aggressive behaviors, you can use the Generalized Aggression Model (or GAM). The GAM’s primary function is to combine different theories about aggression and aggressive behaviors into one more extensive umbrella theory that aims to explain why people behave aggressively. It takes into account the different circumstances in a person’s life that might cause them to act aggressively. This collection of theories helps scientists and layperson alike to understand where aggression and unkind behaviors stem from.

3. Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov is known for his famous experiment with dogs that salivated at the sound of a bell. Through classical conditioning, the dogs were taught to associate the sight of their food with the sound of a bell and therefore learned to salivate at the sound of the bell, even though the food was not present. However, it was E. L Thorndike, his experiment with cats, and his theory of “trial and error” learning that caused B. F. Skinner to define positive and negative punishment and reinforcements later.

In this experiment, Thorndike placed hungry cats in a puzzle box where they had to learn how to escape. At first, they clawed at the sides and other unhelpful behaviors, but they began to learn to push or pull at the escape route, leading them out of the box and to their food. Skinner thought there had to be more to learning than “trial and error,” so he began to look into how new behaviors became conditioned. This is where operant conditioning came to life.

4. Reinforcement

Skinner created the “Skinner Box” to test mice to see if they would press the lever in order to get food, even though they had no prior knowledge that this action would give them a reward. This is what he termed a positive reward, so the hungry mice would continue to push the lever over and over. Inversely, those same mice were put in a box that had an electric current that went through it. If they touched the lever, they would no longer receive the shock. They quickly learned to go straight to the lever.


The thing you need to remember about instrumental actions is that they are intentional. There is some goal behind the behavior, and there, at times, is even planning that goes into executing the behavior, if it is more involved or sophisticated. This makes it calculated and planned, whereas respondent behaviors are in response to external stimuli.

In some cases, these actions are malicious and aggressive. However, this isn’t always the case. Every day, choices are made, and when they are made, they are created with an end goal in mind. The actions that go along with these decisions, positive or negative, are the instrumental behaviors that B. F. Skinner worked so hard to define.

Guide To The Different Types Of Psychologists And What They Do

Psychology is a broad field of study applicable to every part of human life. This gives budding psychologists a number of specialties to pursue. In fact, it seems as if there is a subfield for every interest. We believe it is never too early to consider your academic and professional options. Listed below are some types of psychologists practicing their craft today and short descriptions of each. This is a great starting point for further investigation of professional psychology careers, but remember, you are not limited to the subfields on this list.

What Is a Psychologist?

While most of us think immediately of a therapist when we picture a psychologist, this is only one aspect of the field. Psychology is the study of the human mind, how it works, and how it influences behavior. Psychologists specialize in more than personal therapy. These professionals work with individuals, businesses, and other organizations focusing on mental health, but also employee selection, consumer behavior, government policies, learning disabilities, group behavior, and more.

Is There a Need for Psychologists?

As mental health becomes less stigmatized, and the use of psychology in such diverse fields as cross-cultural psychology and consumer behavior continues to become more recognized, the need for psychologists is increasing.

How to Become a Psychologist

First, major in Psychology in college. All Psychology students study the breadth of the field, to begin with, with more specialization possible as you progress. There are different requirements for each of the types of psychologists out there, but most require at least a Master’s degree after college. Investigate the field you want to pursue for more detail.

Types of Psychologists

Aviation Psychologists

Aviation psychologists work on flight crew behavior, airline safety, design training equipment, and use psychological techniques such as tests and interviews in-flight crew selection. The high-pressure work of piloting an airplane requires stable candidates with excellent coping skills, for example. Engineers often work with aviation psychologists to design airplane cabins and flight decks.


Biopsychologists, also known as biological psychologists or physiological psychologists, work on human behavior and the brain. These psychologists look to the neural root of human behaviors to understand the impact of biology on human actions, thoughts, and feelings. Biopsychologists also study the impact of brain injury and disease on behavior, which can lead to a new treatment, management, and prevention approaches.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists are one of the most commonly encountered types of psychologists because they work in all areas of mental health. They work directly with people with mental illnesses and psychological conditions. In addition to diagnosing, clinical psychologists offer psychotherapy and overall treatment plans. Some specialize in particular areas, such as adult mental health or substance abuse issues.

Cognitive Psychologists

Cognitive psychologists study thinking itself, including the way the brain handles and uses information, from learning to memory to problem-solving to language. These mental health professionals may work with patients or engage in research. They often concentrate on subjects like language development or learning disabilities. Cognitive psychologists work in many healthcare settings and can offer practical approaches to improve decision making, enhance memory, or improve learning.

Community Psychologists

While many types of psychologists work directly with patients, community psychologists work on broader social and health issues affecting communities. They work with the public on education and prevention that will bring positive changes through action.

Comparative Psychologists

Comparative psychologists work with both humans and animals to gain insight into human psychology. They study the behavior of different species to understand the differences and similarities between human and animals. These professionals work from the basis that many aspects of psychology are universal across species, but not all. Pavlov’s famous experiment with dogs is just one example of comparative psychology research.

Consumer Psychologists

Consumer psychologists, also known as marketing psychologists, are one of the types of psychologists who work primarily with businesses. They use knowledge of consumer buying behavior, such as what gets consumers to make a purchase and how consumers respond to advertisement design, to improve marketing and design. They also research consumer emotions, decision-making, target demographics, and attitudes toward products and brands. They even create products to appeal to particular consumer groups.

Counseling Psychologists

Counseling psychologists, like clinical psychologists, work with individuals on mental health issues, such as stress, grief, substance abuse, depression, and related problems. These professionals may specialize, perhaps in behavioral problems or family counseling. Like clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists are licensed. Out of all the types of psychologists in the field, counseling psychologists are the most common.

Cross-Cultural Psychologists

Cross-cultural psychologists investigate the way different cultures influence human behavior. They look at the way human behavior can be different between cultures, or how it can be similar. Cross-cultural psychologists investigate the difference in parenting approaches in individualist and collectivist cultures, for example, and how those differences affect later behavior.

Developmental Psychologists

Developmental psychologists are concerned with the way humans develop, from birth until death. Many focus on one period of life, such as old age or early childhood. This group of psychologists may assess children for developmental delays, research adolescent issues, or work with individuals on coping with developmental issues. Psychologists who work in this subfield might also focus on moral understanding, personality, language acquisition, motor skills, or identity formation.

Educational Psychologists

Educational psychologists are concerned directly with learning and education, focusing on how the learning process is affected by cognitive, emotional, and social factors. Applied work might include creating teaching and instructional strategies and materials. Research might focus on ADHD, gifted children, or the learning process.

Engineering Psychologists

Engineering psychologists work on enhancing human abilities through the work environment, technology, and equipment, such as healthcare equipment, cell phones, and cars. This is largely an applied field, where these professionals create practical solutions.

Environmental Psychologists

Environmental psychologists are concerned with people and their relationship with their surroundings, artificial or natural. Research in this subfield could include the human impact on the environment, while applied work might have an environmental psychologist shaping government policies.

Evolutionary Psychologists

Evolutionary psychologists investigate how psychological changes have affected human behavior during human evolution. This subfield holds that human psychological traits have adapted humans to survive over thousands of years.

Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists work at the intersection of psychology and the law, which could include consulting on criminal or civil legal cases, providing therapy to crime victims, testifying in court, handling child custody evaluations, or assessing an offender’s risk of returning to crime. This subfield has become increasingly popular because of pop culture depictions of forensic psychologists; please note that these portrayals are inaccurate, and the reality is not so dramatic.

Health Psychologists

Health psychologists focus on the way psychology, behavior, and social groups influence health, from wellness to illness. Some professionals work directly with clients, through psychotherapy, coping skills, psychological assessment, and healthy behaviors. They focus on the whole person, considering behavior that might impact the medical problem, such as medication compliance, and the patient’s education, background, or economic status. Practitioners commonly work in medical settings.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists

Industrial-Organizational Psychologists largely work on business concerns, by researching behavior in the workplace, focusing on worker productivity, assessing employees, and training. They might create training programs to reduce injuries and increase efficiency. They also are employed to assess a business organizationally and suggest ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase employee retention.

Military Psychologists

Military psychologists work in military settings and can provide therapy for military members and helping discharged soldiers adjust to civilian living. Others use their psychological knowledge for recruiting, training, and leadership, or researching aspects of military life.


Neuropsychology considers the physical brain, both structure and function, as it relates to psychology and human behavior. A neuropsychologist might be called in if a patient has lesions in the brain to test the electrical activity in the brain or to assess whether a brain injury might cause behavioral problems.

Personality Psychologists

Personality psychologists investigate personality and the traits that affect human behavior. This broad topic can have practical applications, such as research into changing one’s personality, investigations of personality traits that might connect to specific health problems, or how personality affects decision making.

School Psychologists

School psychologists help school children cope with academic, social, emotional, and behavior problems at school. They provide support and advice to students and direct intervention when necessary. They can also help students create a plan to deal with their school difficulties. These professionals work with parents, teachers, and school staff to make sure that the school environment is supportive and safe.

Social Psychologists

Social psychologists investigate group behavior, including behavior in social environments and how individuals are influenced by groups. Other topics explored cover a broad range, from persuasion to prejudice. Social psychologists might use their knowledge to influence groups towards healthier behavior and productivity.


Studying psychology can be an exciting career path, with a multitude of possibilities and opportunities. If none of the types of psychologists listed above are quite what you want, just do some research. Somewhere in the psychology field, there is a place for you.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Perceptual Constancy Definition

Not everything is at it seems.

The world around us appears to be what it is.

Your car looks the same today as it did yesterday. That tree outside in your front yard hasn’t changed much over the last few hours.

So how do our body and our mind process the existence of things, based on how we perceive them? The presence of an object must be the combination of it being there and how we respond to it, surely?

What if these inanimate objects all around us changed, according to their external environment?

Why is it, then, that we see them as consistent?

Let’s take a look at this phenomenon called perceptual constancy.

What is Perceptual Constancy?

hand holding ball

Encyclopedia Britannica explains that perceptual constancy is also often called constancy phenomenon, or object constancy.

This theory describes the way that both animals and humans can see an object in the same way, regardless of external effects. This means that the object appears to have the same size, color, shape, and location regardless of distance, perspective, and lighting.

This impression of what is around us tends to align with the object as it is assumed to be, rather than its existence in response to outside stimulus.

Perceptual constancy helps to explain our ability to identify objects regardless of the condition they’re in. The impact of their surrounding environment seems to be taken into account when we attempt to recall the object mentally.

An example of this is our perception of snow, regardless of environment. Snow still appears white to us, whether illuminated by low moonlight or bright sun.

Perceptual constancy minimizes when you aren’t too familiar with the object. Decreasing the number of environmental factors that help to identify the object will also reduce the abilities of perceptual constancy.

Different Theories Around Perception

Why does perception have such a significant impact on the world around us? Let’s explore a number of different theories that try to explain the role of perception.

Wikipedia explains that cognitive theories around perception believe there is a lack of stimulus. This is the claim that purely experiencing a sensation is not enough for us to interpret and understand the world sufficiently.

James Gibson rejected this theory, investigating instead the information fed to our systems of perception.

Gibson continued his work by coining the term “perception-in-action.” This intended to describe the theory that perception is a necessary aspect of animated action.

He believed that without perception, action would have no compass. He also felt the opposite, too – that without action, our perception would serve no purpose, either.

Gibson believed that animate actions require both motion and perception to exist. This is based on his theory that singular entities already exist in the world.

All that perception does to them is shed light upon their existence.

A view that opposes this theory is the concept that there is a continual adjustment of action and perception, affecting the external input.

This theory is known as constructivism.

Other theories that explore perception include philosophers like Jerry Fodor believing that the purpose of perception is knowledge, and evolutionary psychologists devising that guiding action is its primary purpose.

Looking at Visual Perceptual Constancy

Now that we’ve looked at a little background on the definition of perception and how its connected to psychology through theories, let’s discuss the visual and auditory aspects of it.

Wikipedia says there are many different types of perceptual constancies in our visual perception. Let’s take a look at them:

  • Size Constancy: This is a subjective visual constancy. It helps to explain the concept that within a reasonable range, a person’s perception of an object will remain the same. This is regardless of any change in distance of the size of the video on the retina. The perception of the image you see accounts for the actual size of the characteristics you’ve perceived.

  • Shape Constancy: This type of perceptual constancy is similar to size constancy because of its use of distance. Regardless of any changes in an object’s location or orientation, our perception of its size remains the same.

  • Color Constancy: This type of perceptual constancy is because of the human color perception system. It makes sure our perception of an object’s color remains the same, regardless of changes in external conditions.

Visual Perceptual Constancy Continued and Auditory Perception

Let’s continue to look at other types of perceptual constancy found in visual perception:

  • Light Constancy: This type refers to our ability to perceive the lightness of an object, regardless of how much external light projects upon it.

  • Distance Constancy: This helps to explain the link between perceived distance, and actual physical distance. A good example of this is the moon – when it is closer to the horizon, we see it as larger.

  • Location Constancy: This type of perceptual constancy refers to the connection between the object and the viewer. This is when an inanimate, stationary object appears stationary, despite any movement caused by the viewer either walking away or towards it.

Now that we’ve explored visual constancy, let’s address two different types of auditory constancy:

  • Music: Subjective constancy in music is the correct identification of a musical instrument remaining constant, despite its changes in flow, timbre, pitch, and loudness.

  • Speech: Speech perception is the idea that when we listen to somebody talk, we can recognize vowels and consonants as constant and the same, despite any changes in dialect, tempo, acoustics or general environment.

Perception of Motion

Free Encyclopedias look to another perceptual constancy theory that’s been the subject of much debate and research.

The argument lies in the mystery of how perceived movement cannot be accounted for based on the motion of that object across the retina of the viewer. If this were the case, then we would base any movement of an object on the movement of the observer.

A good example of this is when you ride a bike. If this theory were correct, then the rest of the world would also appear to be moving as well.

Another interesting phenomenon within our perception of motion involves the saccades of the eyes. These are otherwise known as rapid direct eye movements, which are responsible for picking up minute details when we see something by sending repeated information to the part of the eye responsible for this.

What’s strange about this is that any stationary objects within the image remain the same, despite the multiple pieces of information.

As well as taking contextual environmental factors into account, you also have to allow for specific receptor cells that additionally allow for the inclusion of up and down movement. Despite all the evidence we have, there are still many unanswered questions about the exact workings of motion perception.

Looking at Form Perception

The idea of form perception is how we identify objects and differentiate them from one another. Rather than seeing a random, loose grouping of stimuli, we see the world as an organized place where objects have definite forms and shapes.

The Gestalt psychology school discovered many rules and principles around how we group and organize separate elements in our external environment.

Gestalt postulated the figure-ground rule. In perceptual constancy, this helps to explain how we separate familiar objects from foreign ones. When looking at a new scene, our perception tends to make familiar objects stand out, while strange objects fade into the background.

An example of this is when we look at an abstract painting. An abstract painting holds little concrete consistency when it comes to solid objects. If we perceive anything to be familiar in the picture, we’ll notice it a lot more than the rest of it that we’re not so sure about.

Theories around the perception of form suggest that it comes from learning, experience, and parts of the nervous system. However, there is no single theory to account for our perception of form conclusively.

There also isn’t one concrete concept that brings our many different types of form perception.

Key Stages of Perceptual Constancy


The experience of sensory stimulation in this part of the perception process includes contact with a distinct stimulus. The world is chock full of stimuli that can draw our attention through several senses. So we are able to define the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that populate our perceived experience. Stimulation involves selective focus and selective exposure. Selective concentration happens by anticipating to fulfill obligations and live enjoyably.

For instance, friends talking to you, but you were daydreaming the whole time. You will not hear what they are saying until they call out your name. Selective exposure happens by exposing information that will confirm existing beliefs, contributing to objectives, and having a state of joy. As we are not able to observe everything that is happening around us at the same time, we tend to engage in selective perception; perceiving only positive things.


The ability to identify and place objects and events is crucial for normal perception. Without that capacity, people cannot adequately use their senses in a perception that is organized by rules, and scripts. Organized with laws, people perceive things that are physically close together constitute a system. People developed this from actual experiences as well as common experience from daily activities like television, reading, or gossip. Some familiarity represented in remembrance will be some kind of schema.

This would help a person’s perception of categories be placed into numbers. However, it may cause perception issues as it influences a person to see nonexistence things or miss seeing things that are in reality. A script is a form of stimulus that focuses on an action, event or procedure. It is a method of how we behaved in the past and how we organized the event with our own action, which then organized by a pattern.


After going through the stages of stimulation, organization and interpretation-evaluation, there is another stage that comes called memory. We use this stage everyday! It is the storage of both perception and interpretation-evaluation that are kept according to scripts, events, or experiences. Memories are based off of perception.


After some time goes by, the memories stored are the ones individuals want to recall with certain information contained inside of them. Recall stage redesigns what people heard in a way that are meaningful to them. Recall information forces people to think or even rethink.

Looking at Perceptual Constancy

ball under sunset

We don’t see the world as it is.

We see the world as we are.

This well-known quote helps to explain how our perception of things acts as a filter when we look at the world around us. Our external environment is affected by our body’s ability to perceive things, regardless of the accuracy with which we perceive them.

Many theories attempt to explain the phenomenon that is perceptual constancy. It’s tempting to say that this is just how our body processes information.

However, there’s so much more to our view of the world than this.

Perceptual constancy helps to explain why it is we see things in a certain way, regardless of how they are. It also helps to keep our external environment ordered and predictable, helping us to feel a sense of safety.

Humanistic Perspective: AP Psychology Study Resource

Everyone has been through something.

Whether it’s small or big, positive or negative, the experiences we have growing up shape who we are as adults.

The brain comprises many layers of memories.

Some of these memories we suppress, while others come back to haunt us from time to time.

Some are voluntarily brought out for enjoyment.

As human beings, we are complex.

Our needs and desires have been the center of many psychological debates over the last few decades. What drives our behavior and responses is a fascinating topic that’s unlocked many possible theories.

Let’s take a look at one of these theories.

What is the Humanistic Perspective?

human shadow

So, what is humanistic perspective, then?

Humanistic perspective, otherwise known as humanistic psychology, is the emphasis of an individual’s ability to realize their creativity and capabilities.

Wikipedia explains that the humanistic perspective grew popular in the 20th century. It was an answer to the limitations brought on by Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and Skinner’s behaviorism model.

The humanistic perspective helps the client to conclude that everybody is inherently good. Through this, it promotes a holistic approach to the human existence and focuses on areas such as free will, creativity, and positive human potential.

The humanistic perspective encourages us as humans to see ourselves as a while being, as opposed to just being the sum of our parts. It helps us to explore ourselves rather than focusing on the behavior of others.

Another interesting aspect of humanistic psychology is its recognition of spiritual aspiration. This psychological theory believes that our spiritual hopes are inherent in our psyche.

The primary goal of this theory in client therapy is to encourage the client to change negative behaviors by replacing them with positive ones. The client does this through becoming more self-aware and practicing mindfulness.

Essentially, this therapeutic approach combines the concept of mindfulness with behavioral therapy.

A Brief History of the Humanistic Perspective


So, where did the humanistic perspective come from, then?

A few key theorists were involved in the development of this theory.

These included Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Very Well Mind also mentions Erich Fromm and Rollo May as influential theorists behind this concept.

In 1943, Maslow published a written article in the Psychological Review journal. This article was titled “A Theory of Human Motivation,” and it specifically described the hierarchy of needs that he was promoting through this theory.

After this article was published, Maslow met with other like-minded psychologists to discuss the possibility of starting an organization that focused on this new-found theory. The organization’s primary goal was to pioneer a more humanistic approach to therapy and psychology.

These like-minded psychologists all agreed on the three fundamental principles that the humanistic perspective exists on. These are self-actualization, individuality, and creativity.

Carl Rogers followed Maslow’s published article with one of his own in 1951, which he called “client-centered therapy.” In 1961, this group of psychologists established the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

Shortly after this journal was created, Maslow published another piece that detailed the three forces of psychology. He believed that these were behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and humanistic psychology.

Fundamental Principles of the Humanistic Perspective

What are the basic principles of the humanistic perspective?

Study reminds us that this revolutionary theory was in contrast to the behaviorist approach, which believed that human beings weren’t entirely aware of the reasoning and motivation behind their own behavior.

  • Holistic: As has been mentioned, one of the essential principles of humanistic perspective is that a human being is a whole, not the sum of their parts.
  • Environment: The humanistic perspective believes that their environment directly influences a human’s behavior. A side principle of this is that social interactions are inherent to a human’s development.
  • Awareness: Humans are aware that they exist, meaning that they are fully conscious of themselves and their surroundings. They have an appreciation of the past and use past experiences to influence present and future behavior.
  • Free Will: Humans have free will. This means that they are entirely in charge of the conscious choices they make. Unlike behaviorism, they do not act on impulse or by instinct alone.
  • Intention: Human beings are intentional about their behavior. This is evident in their motivation to work on life goals and bring unique meaning to their life.

Personality Aspects of Humanistic Perspective

Ideal Self vs. Real Self

The famous psychologist Carl Rogers, an expert of humanistic perspective psychology, split each human being into two separate categories. These two are the ideal self and the real self. The ideal self is the person you would like to be in a perfect world; the real self is the person you are in this one. Carl Rogers proposed the idea that we need to achieve unity between these two selves.

We experience harmony in self-acceptance when our beliefs about our real self and ideal self are alike— meaning our self-concept is accurate. High congruence (harmony) leads us to a bigger sense of self-worth and a healthy, productive life. On the other end, when there is a significant inconsistency between our ideal and actual selves, we experience a situation Carl Rogers called incongruence, which can lead to failure to cope in reality, both socially and personally.

Unconditional Positive Regard vs. Conditional Positive Regard

In the construction of the self-concept, Carl Rogers hoisted the value of unconditional positive regard, also known as unconditional self-love. People who are raised in a setting that offers them unconditional positive regard (where their worth is not challenged), have the opportunity to actualize themselves fully. When people grow up in an atmosphere of conditional positive regard, a reality where value and love are offered only when certain conditions are met, they must reach those conditions to gain the love or positive regard they wish to have.

These are the environments where their best is never enough. Sometimes these standards are given by parents, teachers, or other people in leadership and authority. Others, with influance on them, determine their ideal self based on these conditions, and they are forced to develop apart from their personal and genuine actualizing inclination; this adds to incongruence and puts a more significant gap between the real self and the ideal self.

Achieving an Ideal Life

Carl Rogers described life in illustrations of principles instead of stages of development to reach or achieve; he formed (or put into words) principles we live by as humans. This famous psychologist claimed that a healthy person would steadily strive to meet their potential by using these principles, which gains them the best and healthiest state of being. These people would let personality and self-concept come up from the experiences they have in daily life, allowing them to reach their ideal life and self.

Critical Evaluation of the Humanistic Perspective

While this sounds like a move in the right direction for psychology and therapy practices, the humanistic perspective does have its critics.

Simply Psychology explains that because the humanistic approach has applied to so few areas of psychology, its contributions to branches like abnormality and therapy are somewhat limited.

One potential explanation for this lies in the humanist side of this theory. The humanistic perspective has deliberately taken a non-scientific approach to the study of humans. Psychologists that believe this theory wanted to study the human mind without completely dehumanizing it.

Humanistic psychologists believe that rigorous scientific study around the conscious mind takes richness out of the experience as a whole and doesn’t account for the organic flow of the human consciousness.

As we’ve mentioned previously, much of why the humanistic perspective exists in the first place is as an answer to the dominance of a behaviorist approach in psychology before the middle of the 20th century.

Another challenge that humanistic psychologists face is the simple fact that areas like emotion and consciousness can be difficult to study. The limited outcome of scientific experiments around parts of the human brain that are like this means there’s a lack of evidence to support the proposed theories.

Humanistic Perspective Therapy

We’ve looked at the definition of the humanistic perspective and its limitations as a branch of psychology. How is it applied in a therapeutic setting?

The American Psychological Association explains that there are currently three different types of humanistic therapy:

  • Client-centered: Client-centered treatment is a particularly popular method executed under the humanistic perspective umbrella. Client-centered therapy aims at rejecting the idea that the therapist is the final authority on their clients’ inner emotions and experiences. Instead, therapists help their clients change through understanding and empathy.
  • Gestalt Therapy: The second approach to the humanistic perspective of therapy is Gestalt therapy. This approach places a strong emphasis on “organismic holism,” which is the importance of being aware of yourself in the present. It also encourages the client to take responsibility for their choices and behaviors based on the theory that they have free will.
  • Existential Therapy: This type of humanistic therapy focuses mainly on the concept of free will and the client’s overall search for meaning in life. Existential treatment also addresses the importance of self-determination when overcoming negative behaviors and patterns of thinking.

Humanistic Perspective: Societal Application

How is the humanistic perspective applicable to society?

Wikipedia continues by discussing the importance of social work concerning this theory. Directly after psychotherapy comes social work in the humanistic perspective’s hierarchy of methodology.

In fact, this theory has led the way in revolutionizing the definition of social work itself and how this role impacts on a societal level. The values and principles that humanistic social workers hold include human creativity, developing the self and one’s spirituality, obtaining resilience and security, flexibility and accountability.

The humanistic perspective has also branched out into the corporate world. Its emphasis on wholeness and creativity has encouraged corporate organizations to embrace more of a creative approach to the work environment.

The presence of humanistic perspective in a corporate setting also seeks to encourage more emotional interactions, too.

Previously, in a work situation, the idea of creativity was reserved strictly for artists. However, with an increase in the numbers of people working in the cultural economy over the last few decades, companies have looked to creativity as a way to stand out and become noticed, especially when it comes to branding.

This shift in office environments and attitudes has led to the development of corporate creativity training, executed within the office with a particular focus on employees.

Looking at the Humanistic Perspective

woman standing in front of the window

Psychology has come a long way since the Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and Skinner’s behaviorism approach.

Slowly over time, psychologists have begun to explore different approaches to studying human behavior. When thinking outside the box and wondering where else our reasoning for behavior could come from, they came across the concept of humanistic psychology.

While this approach has its limitations like all other theories, its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.

Seeing a human being from the humanistic perspective means encouraging them to take responsibility for their own behavior.

We are more than just the sum of our parts – in fact, we’re a whole.

We’re a whole with free will who is in charge of how we behave and respond to stimuli. This allows for a much more empathetic approach in modern-day therapy, motivating the individual to participate in their own treatment for a positive outcome.

Dodge the Burnout and Boredom!: How to Improve Your AP Score

AP exams are unlike anything high schoolers have been through before. We found the ultimate expert advice on how to get the best AP score in your class.

When it comes to improving your AP score, the struggle is very real.

For perhaps the first time in your academic life, you are experiencing pressure from every direction.

You have to study, you have to score well, and you know that you have to become an expert in your chosen subject — all on your own.

Well, we’re here to tell you not to fret.

You’ve got this!

We found you the best tips and tricks on the internet explicitly designed to help you score as high as possible on every AP exam you have coming up.

But first, let’s cover some of the basics.

Let’s Talk About Your AP Score

For starters:

It’s vital that you understand how your AP test will be scored.

After you take the test, you will earn a score of one through five — here’s what the scores mean:

5: extreme qualification for college credit

4: well qualified to earn a college credit

3: qualified to earn a college credit

2: you may qualify to earn a college credit

1: you will not qualify for college credit

You can do it!

Around 13% of the people who take an AP test score a 5.

If you have a higher AP score, you will qualify for more credits than you would with a lower number.

Here’s the deal:

The only way to guarantee that you will qualify for college credit is to make sure you score a 3 or above.

The Many Benefits of a High AP Score

There are many benefits to nailing it on your AP exam aside from just earning credit towards your college classes.

old photo of Dr. Suess holding the book he wrote entitle "The Cat In the Hat"

“The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Image via Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 First, research shows that typically students who score a three or higher on their AP exams experience more academic success in coll​​ege over the kids who don’t partake in AP classes.

But that’s not all:

If you have a high AP score, you are also more likely to graduate from college on time — which could save you thousands of dollars.

AP scores are global!

If you are considering studying abroad, here’s what you need to know about your AP score: Qualifying AP scores can earn credit in nearly every university in the United States and Canada. Globally, over 100 other countries worldwide accept qualifying AP scores. And, In Europe and the UK, scoring a three or four will fulfill admission requirements.


You already know that you could earn college credits with a decent score, but what does that mean for you?

Well, it means:

Advanced placement in classes

Fulfilling requirements to graduate early

Skipping introductory or general-education classes

In summation, if you’re planning on going to college, you can save tons of time and money by scoring well on your AP exams.

You can do it!

Around 19 percent of the students that take an AP exam score a 4.

And, if you want to score a 3 or higher, you’re going to need to study your butt off.

Watch out for the Dreaded Burnout

Studies show that these days, students are burning out faster th​​an ever.

You might be burned out if you:

  • Keep getting sick

  • Procrastinate or feel overwhelmingly disinterested

  • Struggle with self-criticism or anxiety

  • Find yourself over-reacting to everything — even the small stuff

  • Are always exhausted

  • Are always distracted when you are eating

  • Feel numb or work to numb your feelings with drugs, alcohol, or food

  • Have trouble concentrating

  • Don’t feel like taking care of yourself anymore

  • Keep skipping school

  • Take out your frustrations on others

Does this sound like you?

Well, keep reading.

How to fight back against burnout

Now, if you just realized you’re feeling burned out lately, don’t worry — we found some ways you can deal wi​​th it.

Let’s dive in!

portrait of Jean Shinoda Bolen​

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”

Image via Facebo​​ok

The “Avoiding Burnout” Toolbox

  1. Get more rest: exhaustion can make you burn out faster
  2. Say no to things you don’t have time for
  3. Ask for help: talk to your friends, parents, teachers, or counselors
  4. Eat healthy foods
  5. Find an interest outside of your studies
  6. Reward yourself for a job well done
  7. Plan something fun
  8. Set boundaries
  9. Set aside time for something fun: no studying allowed
  10. Get more exercise: a ten-minute walk can help improve your mood for two hours

But, that’s not all.

There’s more.

Expert Tips on How to Fight Back Against the Boredom Monster

Burning out isn’t the only thing that will hurt your AP score.

Can you guess what is?

I’ll help you.

Boredom is another silent killer.

Yes, boredom. No matter how much you love the subject you’re studying; everyone gets bored or sleepy after a while.

Luckily, we managed to find some expert advice on how to deal with the boredom monster when it attacks:

Studies show that exercise is more beneficial to your academic success than you might think.

“It is remarkable how one’s wits are sharpened by physical exercise.”

First, exercise increases serotonin production, which will help you feel less anxious and depressed.

Secondly, and most importantly, we know that exercise also helps i​​mprove concentration, alertness, motivation, memory, and learning ability.

So, the experts say that a short 30-minute cardiovascular workout is most effective for the best results — and the best part is that you will notice the effects immediately.

You can do it!

25% of the people who take an AP exam score a 3.

However, not everyone is the same.

Perhaps you’re saying to yourself:

“There is no way I can do that.”

It’s OK!

If you aren’t capable of a workout like that, just do what you can to get that heart rate up for as long as possible.

It’s that simple.

A few more tips for beating boredom into submission

Exercise isn’t the only way to kick boredom in the butt.

Here are a few more t​​ips:

You might be burned out if you:

  • Limit your sessions: study for 30 minutes, then take a 10-minute break

  • Don’t focus too hard on results: concentrate on the process and the subject your tackling at that moment

  • Vary your setting: try to study in different areas like the library, a book store, or a cafe

  • Go outside

  • Reward your inner child: treat yourself for getting through that rough spot

Do you think you can do those?

Now Let’s Talk About How to Supercharge Your Study Habits

We get it. Maybe those suggestions just aren’t quite right.

Don’t worry!

Exercise isn’t the only way to boost your learning potential.

We found several more scientifica​​lly proven way to supercharge your study habits.

Some of these are easier than you think!

      No cramming

a female student looking outside while inside the classroom

Image via Pex​​els

You already know that studying for short bursts of time with little breaks is a great way to beat boredom.

However, you also need to remember to spread out studying your subject as well — this means no cramming.

Can you believe it?

Everyone crams, right?

“Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”

Well as it turns out, cramming isn’t all that beneficial.

See, if you cram for your exam, your brain will only store the information in its short-term data banks.

On the other hand, if you study for your AP exam spread out over as much time as possible, you will commit the information to your long-term memory.

Once the information exists in the long-term memory section of your brain, it will be there forever.

So, change it up and give this no-cramming rule a try!

      Teaching someone else

group of girls studying

Image via Pixabay

Studies overwhelmingly s​​how that if you teach someone else what you’re learning — it will help you learn the information yourself.

Here’s how it works:

If you read the material with the intention of teaching it to someone else, you actively understand and store the information in your memory.

Pro tip!

Studies show that if you read through the exam before you take it, that could help your score.

Whereas, if you read the information passively, that’s how your brain remembers it.

      Test yourself

a man looking at the notes posted on the whiteboard

Image via ​Pexels

Next, we understand that the test itself is the true stressor in your life right now.

However, there are a ton of practice AP tests out there — and you truly want to boost your AP score, you will take as many of them as possible.

Research shows that testing yourself will help you:

  • Ease test anxiety

  • Show areas of weakness

  • Learn/recall the information more proficiently

Reading the material is all well and good.

You can do it!

In 2018, 21.2 percent of the people that took the AP psychology exam scored a 5.

It’s essential, though, that you can recall that information when you’re going to need it, and a practice test is the only way to know for sure.

Once you’ve got a few practice tests licked, your confidence will be flying sky high!

      AP practice tests

We know, what you’re wondering:

“Where can I find some of these practice tests?”

We’ve got you covered.

Here are some excellent links to pages with a ton of free practice tests.

      Get some sleep

a teenage boy sleeping

Image via Pexel​​s

Another way to boost your AP score is to get plenty of rest.

In addition to combating burnout and boredom, getting plenty of sleep has a significant impact on what you’re brain will be able to recall.

Here’s how it works:

When you sleep, your brain goes through physical changes.

portrait of writer, Audrey Niffenegger

“Sleep is my lover now, my forgetting, my opiate, my oblivion.”

Audrey Niffe​​negger – The Time Traveler’s Wife

Image by Michael Strong, CC BY-SA​​ 3.0, via Wikimedi​​a Commons

After your brain intakes information during the day, it grows new​​ connections and pathways after you fall into a deep sleep later on — which commits the information to memory.

If you aren’t sleeping well, however, your brain won’t have a chance to perform that essential function, and that won’t help your AP score one bit.

      No more all-nighters

Regardless of what Hollywood might lead you to believe, all-nighters are not an effective way to make sure you nail it on your AP exam.

Pro tip:

The mind/body connection is a strong one. Experts say that striking a powerful pose, hands on hips, AKA the Wonder Woman pose before the test helps you face it like the superhero you are.

Sadly, in the real world, missing out on a night’s sleep will inhibit your brain’s ability to process and store information.

As a matter of fact:

Res​​earch shows that skipping out on sleep could cut your ability to recall the information you learned by up to 40 percent.

How Music Can Help You Turn Things Up

Next, we have great news for music lovers.

According to research, listening to music while you study is incredibly beneficial for more reasons than one.


First, according to the University of Ma​​ryland, listening to music helps students with stress and test anxiety feel better.

Secondly, other studies found that music helps in overall performance and even with pain management.

Most importantly, though, let’s talk about what music will do for your brain’s ability to learn.

You can do it!

In 2018, 13.4 percent of the people that took the AP chemistry exam scored a 5.

According to a study out of Stanford, “Music moves the brain to pay attention.”

Interestingly enough, by using classical music,  the stu​​dy found that:

“Music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions, and updating the events in memory.” 

Check out the video below of what Mozart does to someone’s brain:

But that’s not all.

It turns out that music is also an incredibly influential factor when it comes to memory and cognitive functions.

Check out this video:

As you can see, when it comes to memorization and recall, music is your friend.

Tips Specifically for Boosting Your AP Score

By now, you realize that your upcoming AP test is unlike any exam you have taken before.

So, we checked in with the experts to see what you can do to specifically help you improve your score on your upcoming AP exams.

Wnat to know what they say?

Keep reading.

      Make a study schedule

First, whether you are taking one or several AP classes, make a study schedule.

Most students find that starting to study for the final AP exams around three months out is the most effective strategy — but you should figure out what works for you.

Check out the video below:

To come up with the most effective plan, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many weeks/days/months away are the exams?

  • What time of day do you feel the most focused?

  • How much time each week/day/month can you devote to studying for each exam?

  • When will you do the work? (for example, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 5 p.m. study for AP psych)

      Start with older material

Did you know the order of the material matters?

It does!

When you sit down to review for your AP exams, experts say to start with the old material first.

Refreshing your memory consistently is the best way to make sure you recall the information you need.

You can do it!

In 2018, 30.2 percent of the people that took the AP physics exam C (mechanics) scored a 5.

Keep the AP exam in mind as you approach new material

Next, as you go through the school year, approach all your new material with the AP test in mind.

It’s easier than you think.

When you take an AP class, you can’t just forget the material once you’re graded on it the first time.

As you learn new material in your AP subjects, make notes about what you’re up to.

Pro tip:

Not all music is created equal when it comes to learning. Experts find that instrumental music like classical, ambient hip-hop, and electronica help the most.

Later on, you will want to have noted both the essential points in each lesson as well as the areas in which you struggled.

      Don’t rely too heavily on your teacher

portrait of Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, you already know that your AP course is unlike anything you have done before.

It stands to reason, then, that preparing for the AP test is also a new experience for you.

For what may be the first time in your school career, you can’t count on your teacher to deliver all the essential information.

It’s your teacher’s job to ensure you have your information for the school year.

However, no teacher has the time to cover everything on the AP test; and counting on them to do so will hurt your overall score.

This calls for reinforcements.

      Invest in an AP prep book

The good news is:

You aren’t entirely on your own when it comes to learning everything you need to know for a fantastic AP score.

First, there are a ton of AP prep books like this one on the market these days covering every subject you can think of.

You definitely want to get yourself a prep book for the AP subjects you’re studying this year.

In addition to essential information on your AP subject, sometimes those prep books will have practice tests in them as well.

She Scored a 5 on Her AP Psych Exam – Here’s How

Now, we have heard enough from adult experts, let’s hear from some students going through the process.

Check out the video below:

As you can see, she used a few of the ideas we are talking about today to study for her exam.

Not taking the AP psychology exam?

No problem!

Handy Memorization Techniques

Anyone who has ever studied anything knows that no matter how hard we try not to, sometimes learning comes down to straight memorization.


We found some interesting techniques to help you memorize all that stuff easily.

Check out this video:

But that’s not all, there’s more!

The Link Method

First, we have the link method.

Check out the video below:

It seems simple enough.

You just create links between what you already know and what you want to remember.


The Story Method

Check out this one!

The video below to learn about the Story Method for memorization:

Like the Link Method, the Story Method for memorization creates a pathway for remembering more stuff than you can imagine.


The Loci Method

Next, instead of a story, the Loci Method for memorization uses physical items and locations to help you remember.

Check out the video below:

Feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t worry!

You don’t have to learn all of these techniques — we simply want to give you as many options as possible.

Mind Mapping Technique

Finally, we round out this list of memorization techniques with the Mind Mapping Technique.

You’re going to want to see this one.

Check out the video below:

It’s Test Time


Now that we have covered how to study leading up to it let’s talk about the week of the exam.

So, lets get down to business.

Top foods to eat on the day of the test:

  • Fish to get those Omega-3’s
  • Dark fruits and veggies: berries, apples, beans, artichokes
  • Complex carbohydrates: whole grains, fresh fruit, beans or legumes
  • A quality protein: eggs, lean meat, low-fat milk, or soy
  • Water: you need to be adequately hydrated to get 100 percent performance out of that brilliant brain of yours]

Hopefully, you have given yourself plenty of time for studying, so the final week should be as relaxed as possible.

Here are some pro-tips for exam time:

  • The night before: get a good night’s sleep

  • Don’t study right before the test

  • Stay calm

  • Don’t engage in negative talk with your peers before the exam (for example, “I am so nervous right now.”)

  • Ask the instructor for a scrap piece of paper for mind-mapping/math

  • Don’t pay any attention to the students that finish before you

  • Make sure you read through the exam in full before you start

  • Read the instructions on the test carefully before you begin

Easy enough, right?

You’re Going to Nail It

Congratulations, you have just taken the bull by the horns, and you are more prepared than ever to get the highest AP score possible.

Just remember:

Give yourself plenty of time.

If you follow the simple steps we laid out for you here, starting with a study schedule, you will find you’re capable of more than you ever imagined.

Featured Image: CC0 via Pexels

AP Psychology Study Resource: About Definition Associative

Most of us have heard of Pavlov’s dogs but we may not be aware of the term associative learning in relation to Pavlov. This post will delve a little further into the concept.

What Is Associative Learning?

Child reading a book

Associative learning occurs by either classical conditioning or operant conditioning and it follows the principle of If I do this…then this will happen.

Pavlov and His Dogs

In 1902, a Russia physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, was studying salivation in dogs when he realized that his dogs had begun to salivate whenever he entered the room. At the time he was focusing on the fact that dogs don’t need to learn to salivate, they naturally know how. It’s an instinct, not a learned behavior.

Pavlov easily proved his theory as when he presented a bowl of food to a dog, the dog began to salivate. However, once he discovered the dogs salivating before they received their bowl of food, the beginnings of classical and operant conditioning began to evolve.

When Pavlov realized his dogs were salivating when they saw something that they associated with food, he began to experiment with them. He used what is known as a neutral stimulus, in this case, it was a bell which he rang whenever he gave the dogs food, an unconditioned stimulus.

After repeating the process several times, he stopped giving the dogs food and just rang the bell. Sure enough, as soon as the dogs heard the bell they began to salivate, whether food was present or not. This meant that the neutral stimulus (bell ring) had become a conditioned stimulus. This learned behavior from the dogs was termed a conditioned response.

Pavlov’s Law of Temporal Contiguity

The results of Pavlov’s experiments proved that for the process to work, both stimuli (the bell and the food) had to be presented to the dogs close together so that they would associate the bell and food as two parts of the same thing.

In this case, the same thing is the dogs being fed. The law of temporal contiguity is the term Pavlov gave to the association of the bell and the food.

Classical Conditioning

Pavlov’s work became known as classical conditioning in Psychology as it was the beginnings of behavioral psychology. Pavlov had proved that if a person is presented with a neutral stimulus at the same time as an environmental stimulus, a behavioral reflex or instinct would occur.

The important thing to note about classical conditioning is that it a behavior brought on through a reward. The dogs had learned that if they saw the bell, they were about to get rewarded by food, and this caused them to salivate.

All reliable results from experiments need to be tested time and time again to ensure the results you receive are consistent and not just coincidence. When Pavlov tried it the other way, meaning when he rang the bell but didn’t give the dogs food anymore, they soon stopped salivating at the sight of the bell.

Operant Conditioning

Thorndike’s Law of Effect

Mother and child

Edward Thorndike developed his law of effect in the early 1900s but he used cats instead of dogs and this was the theory that B.F. Skinner took and developed into operant conditioning.

Thorndike believed, and set out to prove, that we learn from consequences rather than rewards. His experiments involved putting cats in puzzle boxes.

Once in the puzzle boxes, the cats were encouraged to escape by a piece of fish being placed outside the box. After a few false starts the cats would find the lever that opened the box to let them out. Once they were out, they were put back in the box and went through the whole process again.

It took the cats a few times, but they eventually remembered where the lever was and went straight to it and let themselves out. Thorndike’s law of effect stated that any behavior that is followed by something pleasant is usually repeated which means that any behavior that has unpleasant consequences won’t happen again.

The development of psychological theories often occurs as a stepping stone process as each psychologist builds on the work of a previous psychologist. B.F. Skinner took the law of effect just that bit further to develop operant conditioning.

Reinforcers and Punishers

Skinner stated that behavior that is reinforced will be repeated and behavior that is not reinforced, won’t be. Skinner placed rats or pigeons in his own version of a puzzle box (Skinner box) and we have him to thank for the following terms:

Neutral operants – these are environmental responses that have no effect on the probability of behavior being repeated. They neither increase or decrease the probability.

Reinforcers – these are either positive or negative environmental responses that increases the probability of behavior being repeated.

Punishers – these are environmental responses that decrease the probability of behavior being repeated. In other words, Skinner found that punishment stops, or lessens the probability of, behavior being repeated.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Children in the classroom

Skinner proved his theory by putting a hungry rat in the Skinner box and watching its behavior. There was a lever on the side of the box and the rat would accidentally knock it while it was scurrying around the box. Every time the lever was knocked, a pellet of food dropped into a container that had been placed near the lever.

It didn’t take the rats long to learn that instead of scurrying around the box, they could go straight to the lever to get some food. This is also known as escape learning.

Skinner set about proving negative reinforcement by putting a hungry rat in his Skinner box and giving it an electric shock, which continued until the rat accidentally knocked the lever. It didn’t get any food this time, but the electric current stopped. After being subjected to this a few times the rat learned to go straight to the lever. This was named avoidance learning.


This is where things can get a bit confusing as punishment is often difficult to distinguish from negative reinforcement or avoidance learning.

Negative reinforcement can be explained as an action (pushing the lever and stopping a negative consequence) causing the probability of a behavior to occur.

Punishment is when the probability of a behavior occurring decreases because of the negative consequence that follows. Think of punishment as the opposite of negative reinforcement.

If a rat had learned to go straight to the lever in the puzzle box to get a reward (food) but the next time it went straight to the lever it got an electrical shock, it would not be eager to go back there again.

The problem with behavior learned through punishment is that the behavior is only suppressed, not forgotten. This means that if the punishment stops, the behavior will return. So, if the shock didn’t occur again when the rat knocked the lever, it would continue to knock the lever, expecting food, until it eventually learned it wasn’t going to get any.

Punishment can increase aggression as the rat learns that’s the way to manage problems and it can also create a more generalized fear in the rat that spills over to other harmless situations.

Associative Learning in Children

Boy holding a book

You will probably be able to think of many examples of associative learning as it’s the most commonly used way of raising children. How quickly does a teenager learn not to curse in front of their parents if their cellphone is taken away from them when they do.

Positive reinforcement can also bring problems depending on how it is done. The increase in childhood obesity may be partly explained by parents reinforcing good behavior with food.

A child who learns that if they do their homework every day without being told to will get a piece of candy, is going to continue doing their homework. The eventual consequences of that positive reinforcement, however, can be very problematic.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Instrumental Aggression

Are you an aggressive person? One of the greatest tools of psychology exists in the Generalized Aggression Model, or the GAM.

What is the GAM?

Closed hands

The GAM The GAM’s main function is to combine the theories of aggression into one larger theory that explains why people behave aggressively.

According to the model, there are definitely prompts that cause aggressive behavior in people and they can be summarized in two main categories.

Personal Influence Can Affect Aggression

The factors that affect personal aggression are mostly rooted in how that person views the world and their general outlook on life.

Sometimes, they believe that aggression is productive.

They might think that, by being aggressive, they are asserting themselves and making themselves more apt to achieve their goals. They might also be a personality type that becomes very easily irritated.  Some people are “short fused,” so to speak and easily annoyed or angered.

There is another group of people that believe, for whatever reason, that the world holds certain biases or is somehow stacked against them.  They might respond more aggressively to the world because they feel that the world is overly aggressive toward them.

Situational Aggression is Also a Factor

Man pushing rocks

Sometimes, the heat can get to us. We might also be pushed to an aggressive behavior because of the way we really are being treated by someone in our life.

We could also be struggling from particularly high stress levels or a recent hurt that is inciting an out of character response from us.

What are the Different Types of Aggression?

a shadow of two faces

It has been suggested that there are three different types of aggression.

Impulse Aggression

Impulse Aggression is fueled purely by hostility in the spur of the moment. This is the type of aggression that is to blame for things like road rage, bar fights, and crimes of passion. Your short-fused cousin is afflicted with this.

When a person is easily angered to the point of violence or other cruelty, they are struggling to control the aggression that occurs as a result of impulse.

Goal-Oriented Aggression

Goal-oriented aggression refers to aggression that takes place in an attempt to achieve a goal. Often, it takes place outside of a hostile environment. An example of this type of aggression would be someone hiring a hitman to “take out” their spouse in order to achieve life insurance. It could also relate to someone defacing an opposing school’s mascot before a particularly important sporting event.

Instrumental Aggression

Instrumental Aggression is often, but not always, the precursor to goal-oriented aggression. Unlike impulse aggression, instrumental aggression is thoughtfully calculated and planned well in advance of the actual act.

How Does Instrumental Aggression Work?

There are five main ways that Instrumental Aggression is different from the other types of aggression.

Instrumental Aggression is Planned Ahead and Intentional

When we are acting because of instrumental aggression, we are planning out our next move. As children, we are exposed to this type of aggression when we first come into knowledge of cartoon villains and their “Master Plans.” We never act out instrumental aggression by accident. It is always something that we know we are doing in the process of doing it and we do it with malicious intent.

Instrumental Aggression is Often Executed to Shed a Positive Light on the Aggressor

You’ll often hear that people who implement instrumental aggression, regularly in their lives, are driven to put themselves on a pedestal or appear better than those around them, particularly those they are acting against.

While not always related, instrumental aggression is a common symptom of a narcissistic personality.

Instrumental Aggression is Often Goal-Oriented

People often act out instrumental aggression as a means of acquiring or reaching a goal.

Again, this is not always the case.

But more often than not, when someone coldly calculates an act of aggression, they are doing so in an attempt to get something or somewhere.

Instrumental Aggression Seeks to Avoid Consequences

The point of plotting out an act of aggression is usually to plan a way to avoid consequences.

Usually, they will be simultaneously be plotting an alibi or a back up plan. That way, if the act doesn’t work out as it should, they won’t be punished for what they have done.

Instrumental Aggression is Committed With Intent to Harm Someone Else

Nobody plots aggression against a tree. Instrumental aggression is always meant to harm someone.

While harming someone might not be the main goal of the action, there is always an element of the aggression that is hurtful. That person is usually the target of the aggression, although sometimes they are simply seen as “collateral damage.”

What are Some Examples of Instrumental Aggression?

pen and paper with To Do List word

There have been numerous historical occurrences of instrumental aggression. A few of them are outlined below.

World Trade Center Bombings

The World Trade Center Bombing was one of the greatest tragedies to ever occur on American soil. The attackers plotted the event years in advance, gaining pilot licenses and moving to the United States to set up their plan locally before execution.

The morning of the attack, they boarded planes in different parts of the country, all with a similar and heinous goal in mind.

At the end of the day, thousands were dead and the world was forever changed as a result of these actions.


Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were kids that lived on the fringes of society. They were often viewed as strange and they were both known to act out with impulsive aggression at times.

What nobody knew until after tragedy occurred, though, was that they were plotting something very dark.

On April 20th, 2001, the two teenage boys walked into school armed with guns and pre-made pipe bombs and took aim at their classmates and teachers, resulting in the most disastrous school massacre to have hit America so far.

After the event, investigators uncovered diaries and videotapes outlining the plan long before the day actually arrived.

Murder of Laci Peterson

Scott Peterson reported his pregnant wife missing on Christmas. He said she had left to walk the dog, then never come home. Investigators were initially suspicious of him because he acted strangely in the days following the disappearance. They hypothesized that he killed her during an argument and had disposed of the body in haste.

As the investigation unfolded, though, they learned that Scott had actually become engaged to another woman, who knew nothing about his wife or expectant child. He had actually murdered Laci in an effort to do away with his first marriage and child while simultaneously paying for his second wedding using her life insurance.

At this point, they determined that he was actually acting out a form of instrumental aggression. His wife and child’s murder was executed with a purpose after a considerable amount of planning. This included building himself an alibi by going fishing that day (in the very same spot where he disposed of her body).

The Oklahoma City  Bombing

Timothy McVeigh wanted to exact his revenge against the American government, which he felt had been corrupted. To do this, he parked a truck-turned-fertilizer bomb in the parking lot of the Oklahoma City Federal building and allowed it to detonate, killing over 150 people and injuring hundreds more.

Among the victims were small children who were being watched in the Federal Building’s daycare facility. He later referred to those lives lost and harmed as “collateral” that had to suffer in order for him to make his statement.

The Eerie, Pennsylvania Collar Bomb Heist

On a sunny day in Eerie, Pennsylvania, a man robbed a bank with a bomb attached to a collar around his neck. When he was eventually stopped, he explained to the police that he was executing the crime because he was told that if he didn’t he would be blown up.

As they waited for the bomb squad to arrive, the bomb detonated. It killed him before he could make any statements about who had secured the bomb to his neck to begin with.

After years of investigation, it was determined that the plot was executed by a local woman and her boyfriend, who lured the man to a remote place by ordering a pizza from the restaurant where he worked. They attached the collar bomb and sent him to rob the bank. This would then give them the money to afford a hitman to kill the woman’s father so that she could get her hands on a larger inheritance.

They had used a hostage to commit the crime to avoid punishment, although it all eventually traced right back to them. This is a case of multi-layered instrumental aggression.


In Summary

Instrumental aggression is one of three main types of aggression that are scored on the GAD. It is calculated and cold. It is often used as part of a scheme to achieve a larger goal or to appear better than those the aggressor is acting against.

Terrorist attacks are examples of instrumental aggression because they are so often calculated. They’re used to express a larger statement or achieve an otherwise questionable goal.

Incentive Theory: AP Psychology Study Resource

Most of us do our best when we are being motivated by our goals or positive reinforcements. All of us have our own internal drives that direct the way we push ourselves into taking certain actions. The incentive theory of reaction focuses on a theme called operant conditioning.

​Incentive Theory: What Inspires You to Do Well?

Jelly look with 3 different colors, incentive theory

Operant conditioning refers to how we respond to positive and negative effects related to our actions. Most commonly, this occurs in the aspects of rewards and punishments.

Think about your personal life and your childhood. Were you spanked? If so, that is a form of the operant conditioning that takes place under the incentive theory.

For example, when a child is spanked for disregarding a rule of the home, they are facing a consequence of that action. As a result, they will think twice before breaking the same rule again. The same effect results through other forms of punishment like time-outs, loss of privileges, or writing sentences.

Similarly, you might have been motivated to do well at school by a rewards system based on your performance. You might have also earned an allowance for completing home chores regularly and on time. This is an example of positive operant conditioning under the blanket of incentive theory.

​Incentive Theory: Some Incentives Seem to Take a Stronger Hold than Others

Depending on the person, some motivators will take a better hold than others. One person might not think that the reward is worth the work, while another might see it as more than worthwhile. This is usually found in young siblings with varied interests.

An example of this would be two sisters. One of them enjoys horses and being outdoors. The other would prefer to play videogames.

Telling both children that they will get to go to horse riding camp if they get good grades will likely inspire one to immediately pick up a book. The other will likely not see the effort as worth the opportunity, since the reward isn’t aligned with her personal interests. You’d get the opposite reaction if you offered a new video game as the reward to both girls.

To inspire both girls, you need to present equal and worthwhile rewards to each child. Perhaps one will get to go to horse riding camp and the other would get a new gaming console. This would create an inspiration for both kids without having to pick one’s interests over the other.

Suppose the rewards are the same items, such as pens, and you want to maximize the reward effect. In that case, you can change these items, decorate them according to what each child likes, and use their favorite characters as designs and customizations. Producing a unique pen for each child, Custom Pens allow both children to have equal rewards but play a better role.

The same is true for negative incentives or punishments. If the girls get into a fight, you might ground one indoors and take the other away from the video games.

Picking appropriate rewards and punishments is key in inspiring people to behave in certain ways.

This can also be situational.

An example of this exists with older teenagers. A teenager might usually be inspired to do their best by the positive praise that is showered on them by a parent or relative. But when their friends are around, they will not want the same kind of parental attention. They might even be inspired to act negatively because their friends will perceive them as “cooler” if they skirt parental authority.

​Incentive Theory: Important Things to Consider about Incentives

Although incentives and punishments are very powerful tools in teaching responsibility and gaining the behavior we want from others, we have to remember there are factors that will affect the success of this tool. Some of the most common factors are outlined here.

Incentives Can be Used to Both Inspire Behaviors and Stop Them

If you are trying to stop a child from misbehaving, you can offer a positive reward for stopping the behavior. It doesn’t have to always be a punishment.

If time outs and other punishments aren’t working, you might try offering a positive reward, instead.

An example of this is to set a timeline. If the child manages to complete a set number of days without exhibiting their bad behavior, they can earn a reward.

A Reward Must be Obtainable for It to Be a Successful Motivator.

Often, people are discouraged by rewards that aren’t attainable.

If a child is near the end of the semester and pulling a failing grade, it is unreasonable to tell them that they must now finish the semester with an A grade or they won’t earn their reward. This will only inspire them to not even try.

Instead, try telling your child that they need to pass the semester to earn a reward, then offer a greater reward if they pull all As and Bs on the next one.

Incentives are Only Powerful if the Target of the Incentive Views Them as Important.

Don’t offer an empty threat or promise.

Telling someone that you will give them something they don’t care about having isn’t going to inspire them to do well.

Telling someone that you will punish them with something they don’t care about isn’t going to inspire them to stop negative behavior, either.

Make the reward or punishment fit the action and make it something that will mean something to the target.

​Incentive Theory: Incentives Can Be Powerful Tools in All Walks of Life

two men talking

There are a number of ways we work with incentives and punishments in life, sometimes without even knowing it.

Incentive Theory is present in almost all our daily actions and choices and we are continuously inspired by what happens next.

Here are some surprising examples of how incentive theory affects us.

Keeping a Job to Pay Bills

We have all had mornings where we didn’t want to go to work. We roll over and silence our alarms and think about the office drama, the pile of paperwork that is waiting for us, and all the movies we would rather stay home and binge. This is a completely normal feeling.

However, we all also get up and go to work. Why? Because we know we need the paycheck to pay our bills. If we quit our jobs, we can’t support ourselves.

That’s its own form of punishment that keeps us in line and gets us up and into the shower.

Keeping Your House Clean

Have you ever walked into someone else’s house and been taken aback by the filth? How about the way you feel when you watch an episode of one of those home disaster shows about compulsive hoarding?

If you’re like the majority of the population, they make you uncomfortable and you find yourself facing certain high levels of disgust.

This is why we keep our homes clean.

Nobody likes the process of cleaning, but we don’t like feeling dirty or being surrounded by filth either. A clean home is the reward for cleaning a home and we punish ourselves with guilty feelings when we fail to complete the necessary tasks.

Obeying the Law to Avoid Trouble

Getting a ticket is expensive. Getting thrown in jail is expensive, embarrassing, and scary. We don’t want to do these things, so we pay attention to the law and are careful about law enforcement.

We don’t want to be seen as convicts or criminals, nor do we want to face the punishment of the courts. This is why we watch our speed, maintain our taxes and registration, and follow other seemingly mundane and pointless rules that are implemented by the government.

How often have you driven down a road and thought, “There’s no reason I have to go so slow here.” Yet, you likely didn’t speed up because you were afraid of being caught doing it.

That’s Incentive Theory at work.

Paying your Bills to Avoid Financial Crisis

credit card

Nobody likes to pay bills, either. Imagine it’s payday and you look at your account.

You know you have enough money to afford a nice weekend getaway. But rent and the electric bill are both due and you’re going to need groceries and gas to get through work the next few weeks.

Chances are that you will skip the weekend getaway to take care of less fun but more responsible needs. Why? Because being out of money is punishment and the comfort of a clear mind is a positive reward for  your responsibility.

Walking the Dog Before Work

This is an almost comical scenario where your own pet uses the incentive theory to train you, whether they know they’re doing it or not. What happens when you don’t take the dog out? Do you come home to torn up garbage, chewed on furniture, and messes on the floor?

Exactly. In this case, the pet has become the training master.

Positive vs. Negative Incentives

Positive Incentives

Incentives that give a positive outcome in providing an individual’s needs and desires are called positive incentives. These incentives include the law of optimism and are ready to fulfill the employee’s psychological requirements. For example, when a supervisor celebrates a new employee for doing a good job. Other positive incentives are things like recognition, job promotions, extra allowances, awards, and badges.

Negative Incentives

On the opposite end of positive incentives, negative incentives are given to improve an individual’s mistakes and errors in the attempt to produce gratifying results. Usually, negative incentives are given if the positive incentives do not work, conditioning a person to act in a way that avoids negative incentives. Some examples of this are job demotions, punishments, and penalties.

The incentive theory says an incentive attracts a person towards it. A person will most likely behave to get himself closer to that aim. This theory is grounded in conditioning, which is done by an incentive to make a person happier.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivated actions are carried out because of the personal satisfaction they bring. These behaviors are considered ones where the reward is simply the fulfillment of doing the activity itself. For instance, if you are in school because you like learning, you are motivated intrinsically to be in school.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsically motivated behaviors, on the other end of the spectrum, are done to get something from others or avoid specific negative outcomes. The extrinsic motivator is outside of the individual. Outside rewards, such as job promotions, financial advancement, stickers, or other goodies, are good examples of extrinsic motivators. Social and emotional stimuli like praise and attention are also extrinsic motivators since they are given to the person by another person.

Extrinsic rewards are usually used to influence someone who shows limited interest in a possibly useful activity. This is like if a child shows no interest in learning to read. His or her teacher may begin to use external rewards to get him or her to engage in that activity.

Final Thoughts ​Incentive Theory

Incentive theory is the idea that we are all driven by rewards and punishments. We do well to make gains or to avoid unpleasant outcomes.

We all face incentive theory in the day to day actions of our lives, whether we are paying bills, going to work, or doing our dishes.

We can also use incentive theory to inspire those around us to perform well or stop behaviors that we find disturbing.