Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Satiation Principle -- It feels a little backwards, but it works

I love movie theater popcorn, but halfway through my large tub I get tired of it and don't want to eat it anymore. This is an example of satiation, having one's fill of something preferred. Satiation is an important term in behavior modification that is sometimes overlooked.

When a child satiates on a reinforcer

You came up with the be-all-end-all of sticker charts. You learned that Johnny loves a certain TV show, and you developed a behavior chart that includes all his favorite characters. He had the best week ever. It's like he's a brand-new kid! All his teachers have come to you and noted leaps and bounds of a difference in his behavior. You come in the next week, and you excitedly hand Johnny the sticker chart. His morning is okay, and in the afternoon he truly couldn't care less about the sticker chart. What happened? Johnny experienced satiation.

This happens to humans all the time. Think about New Year's Resolutions. We are so excited to get back to the gym and start our new diets, but after a while we grow tired of some health foods and our workouts. That's why it's important to change it up and add some variety if we're going to stick with it. Imagine how boring even your favorite dinner would be if you had to eat it every night for the rest of the year. This is what we do to our students when we try to use the same behavior management system after they've experienced satiation.

The positive idea that can be taken away from this experience is that Johnny does work well for reinforcement. Try making a collection of charts and providing a selection of reinforcers. Have  Johnny choose which chart and which reinforcer each morning. Try letting Johnny design his own behavior charts, or seek his input/feedback. Ongoing assessment of preferred reinforcers is key.

Using satiation to our advantage

The awesome thing about satiation is that it can be used as a behavior modification technique. Huh?? Didn't we just discuss how it can get in the way of reinforcement? How can we possibly use it to our advantage?

Let's say we have a student who climbs excessively. Day after day, she climbs on top of a table. You've tried every possible technique you could imagine, but still, she climbs.

Try using satiation to your advantage. Tell her, "It's time to climb," and make her climb on the table, over and over and over again. Eventually, she will get tired of climbing. It may take a while, but she will experience satiation, and she won't want to climb anymore.

I do this with classroom routines and procedures, too. I teach them at the start of the year, and we practice them until students don't need to practice them anymore. Mid-year, when I find students are getting a little lax with routines, we practice them again. This is usually the only time we need to do this, as they satiate on practicing and are again ready to follow procedures alone.

It seems a little bit backwards, doesn't it-- make a student do something undesired to stop them from doing it? But it works. When using the satiation principle as a behavior modification technique, we can stop a behavior by insisting that a child continues performing the act until she grows tired of it.

Pretty cool, right?

What have been your experiences with satiation? What do you think about it? Please share in the comments below!

Happy satiating,

A Peach for the Teach


  1. I have never tried it. I have told some kids that if they want to play with their shoe, spin a pencil, etc...I'll let them do it through the whole recess. Most of the time they stop.
    I'm Not Your Grandpa, I'm Your Teacher

  2. That's a really good idea! You're still allowing the desired behavior but teaching that there's a time and place for it. I'd say you have tried satiation. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I've learned that the more you WON'T allow something, the more drawl it has. The same is true when I say "it's too hard, you can't do it" or "no, that's for (the grade above) and you're not ready." Making something "just" out of reach is a powerful tool. I've never tried the comb until you're sick of it routine, but it makes complete sense. And I've had behavior modification approaches work, and DIE within a day. It's having enough options to satisfy, but not too many to make a choice impossible. I believe my biggest problem is that I want to offer only options that are possible for the future grades too. I don't want to jump through hoops and promise the world, if the next teacher can't/won't do it. So I plan really small and slowly move up. It's not bad, it's just time consuming.

    1. That is so true, Catherine-- the more you disallow, the more enticing it often becomes. That's especially true with our students who have oppositional defiant type behaviors. I agree that it can be so time consuming. I actually had my students brainstorm what they want to earn, but they have to be things that don't require us to jump through hoops. That makes it a lot less time consuming. Granted, I do have a highly verbal population, which makes that easier. Let me know how the approach works for you! Thanks so much for commenting!

  4. I LOVE this idea! I have a student right now that this may be the answer to his behavior issues. I almost can't wait to get back to school after Thanksgiving to try it. Thanks for sharing! I LOVE your blog!

    1. Thanks, superteach! I really hope it works for you! Let me know how it goes. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I actually just started following yours!

  5. I have found this really does work. I have taught for over 30 years...we used to call this technique "overkill"...I like The Satiation Principle much better!

  6. Patricia, that's awesome! Thanks for sharing! I like that name, haha! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. I had a student once who kept spitting on others. I got so fed up, that I gave him a cup, sat him down while other students were out of the room and had him spit into the cup for several minutes. He never spit on anyone again, at least not in my classroom!