David Premack: Psychology of Education & Principles

Instructor: Theresa Spanella

Theresa has taught college Writing for 15 years and is two classes from completing a doctorate in Education

David Premack is an American psychologist whose work reinforces what we know about behavior and cognition. This lesson will review David Premack's work, specifically The Premack Principle and Theory of Mind.

David Premack

David Premack was an American psychologist who was born in South Dakota in 1925. His contributions to the field of psychology have advanced what we know about behavior and cognition. Premack studied experimental psychology at the University of Minnesota and began studying primates (specifically chimpanzees) in the mid-1950s. His work with chimpanzees focused on behavior reinforcement as well as cognition, and through his research, he developed theories that have greatly affected the fields of psychology and education.

The Premack Principle

The Premack Principle is a form of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a theory that states that behavior can be learned through its consequences. In other words, we will behave a certain way in order to get things we want or to avoid things we don't want. In every day life, this equates to rewards and punishments. This is known as reinforcement.

According to Premack, some responses are more probable than others, meaning that most organisms will do things they enjoy doing (higher probability) over things that they do not enjoy doing (lower probability). The Premack Principle is the theory that organisms will do something they don't quite like doing (like homework) in order to do something that they do like to do (like playing a video game). The Premack Principle is often referred to as 'Grandma's Rule.' Does 'You have to eat your veggies before you can have pudding' sound familiar to anyone?

The Theory of Mind

Premack and his colleagues also introduced Theory of Mind, which has contributed greatly to the field of neuroscience. Theory of Mind is the intrinsic understanding of one's own - and other's - mental states. This means we are capable of recognizing other's thoughts, desires, beliefs, perceptions, and intentions. It's almost like mind reading...but not really! It's more like putting yourself in someone else's shoes and recognizing the way that they're feeling.

Based on her face, how would you think she is feeling? Happy? Angry? Sad?

Take a look at the above picture. You're probably thinking 'Wow! That teacher looks really angry!' or 'Someone really upset that teacher.' What makes you think that? Is it the look on her face? The way she's holding her glasses? Whatever it is, your assumption that the teacher is angry is a great example of Theory of Mind. When we look at others, we try to figure out what's going on in their heads, using physical behavior as clues.

Premack and Education

Premack's work not only affected psychology. His theories have also been used by teachers to manage their classrooms and help their students learn.

Imagine this...

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