How to Train Your Neighbor

Have you ever had to deal with a scenario in your life where something occurs that you really do not like, but you don’t know quite how to go about changing that. Perhaps for example, you have a neighbor that continues to allow their child (Molly) to pick your prized roses out of your yard. You may have asked them nicely, but that clearly hasn’t worked. What do you do now? A simple solution.. Operant Conditioning. Operant conditioning was created by B. F. Skinner. If a a system of rewards and punishments to either increase or decrease a behavior (McLeod, 2007). Now back to our little Miss. Molly. Molly was observed picking roses again (tut-tut), in order to decrease this behavior you could scold her (a punishment) in order to decrease the behavior from occurring. When you observe that Molly picks flowers from her own yard you could reward her with a “Good Job” and perhaps a treat such as a lolly pop. This reward would increase the likely hood of continuing the behavior. In this case, by increasing the chances of her doing another behavior (picking flowers out of her own yard) and decreasing the chance of her picking the roses, the behavior of picking your roses can become extinct.

This system is often used for training animals, but many may not associate it with people. Give it a try you may find it works well! If you make a point to tell a child every time they do something correctly that they did a good job, you may notice a continual of good behavior.

Below is a great example of Operant Conditioning taken from “The Big Bang Theory”.

This clip is a wonderful example of how punishment (his scolds or negative looks) and rewards (chocolates) can be used to modify behavior.


McLeod, S. (2007). B.F. Skinner- Operant Conditioning. Retrieved March 29, 2015, from


  1. I absolutely love The Big Bang Theory! I am thrilled that you chose this clip to enhance the ideas of using operant conditioning on Molly. This example uses both positive reinforcement (chocolates) and positive punishment (using the spray bottle on Leonard). With different situations and people, either reinforcement or punishment should be determined. In the case of Molly, you could use punishment like scolding. However, in my experience, reinforcement through candy and treats work better for children to learn what acceptable behaviors are expected.
    Reinforcement is also seen through merit systems in schools. It can range from stars to the use of colors. Using the same system at home as they do in a child’s school further increases their ability to follow rules and expectations. For example, if Molly uses the color system, (green for well-behaved, yellow for slight misbehavior, and red for not following expectations), using colors to show her how you interpret her behavior can help her learn to not act out certain behaviors, like picking the roses.

    Here’s another BBT clip:

  2. Thank you for your interesting suggestion about how to train neighbors! When I read your post it really made me laugh a little. The way to train the neighbors is so much fun. Also the big bang theory video is funny as well. I have watched it long time before, but the part how Sheldon trained Penny with chocolate is still cute.
    It is true that using positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement could help build expected behaviors, though I have a question here. In the video Lenard apparently knew what happened when Sheldon gave Penny chocolates and he performed dislike to Sheldon’s behavior. Based on that it could be assumed that once the person notices what you are doing, positive or negative reinforcement would not work for the person anymore. In other words, if the neighbor notices your behavior is in purpose of making the child to pick flowers out of his own yard instead of yours, he may show negative attitude or behaviors toward that just like what Lenard did. But your idea about training neighbor is still cute and brilliant though.

  3. I hope you didn’t run out of treats for Molly until after she had well learned that her picking her own flowers was going to get her a reward. And thank you for the funny clip from “Big Bang”, that was cute and followed closely behind me interacting with some dogs who have some behavior issues. They are good dogs and just want to be loved and after just a few minutes of me refusing to pet the one jumping up at me, she figured out that her sisters good behavior was getting her some belly rubs rubs. She was learning by concepts outlined in Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.
    But every time I see a good example of operant conditioning using positive reinforcement, I wonder if the the recipient of the reward (the positive stimulus) is actually clever enough to be using negative reinforcement on the “teacher”! If we view the delivery of chocolate as the desired response to be repeated (and it certainly is for me!), how funny this snippet from the show could have been if it was shown that the girlfriend was removing the bothersome stimulus and conditioning Sheldon to dole out chocolate. I know, not only improbable, but doesn’t fit with the characters. I do enjoy turning these theories around though.

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