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The Effects of Age, Sex, and Socioeconomic Class on Responsiveness to Two Classes of Verbal Reinforcement

Greenwald, Jean A.; Rosenhan, David L.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute of Mental Health, United States Public Health Service (USPHS), Abstract Reasoning, Age Differences, Child Development, Reinforcement, Sex Differences, Socioeconomic Influences


The effects of two classes of verbal reinforcers, one more abstract (performance reinforcers) and the other less abstract (person), were examined among lower- and middle-class children. Previous work that had shown lower-class children to be relatively unresponsive to abstract reinforcers was not substantiated. The experiment suggested serious deficiencies in the experimental methodology (and hence in conceptualization) for examining the psychological properties of lower-class children. A second experiment examined the developmental implications of responsiveness to person and performance reinforcers. The results suggested that, in growing older, children become more sensitive to a broader band of reinforcers and particularly to abstract reinforcers, without declining in their responsiveness to concrete ones.

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