In our increasingly populous world, to a see a few beggars on the street is quite common. Poverty is a global epidemic. But before we start looking for a cure, we must understand the disease itself.
Let us examine the act of begging itself through a behaviourist viewpoint. In terms of operational conditioning, the act of begging is the target behaviour. Then the charity received by the beggar is the ‘positive reinforcement’ that increases the likelihood of that behaviour.
However a layman would argue that not all people are so charitable. Then the beggar should lose hope and stop begging. No! The layman has overlooked one thing, one thing the psychologist will not miss. The schedule of reinforcement. The behaviour of the beggar is partially reinforced. It is a scientific fact that a ‘partial reinforcement schedule’ for providing positive reinforcement to a behaviour is much harder to extinguish than a ‘continuous reinforcement schedule’. Here the beggar would be given charity each time he begged for it.The partial reinforcement schedule will lure the beggar into a false hope that every time he begs he might receive some charity.
Hence the beggar will never stop begging and would only become more and more dependent on it. Does that mean that a beggar’s ways cannot be changed at all?
I leave that question to you