Steve Wood, Ph.D. & Bill Kanasky, Jr., Ph.D. discuss the concept of operant conditioning and how it can be used with witnesses, particularly during deposition prep. Dr. Wood defines operant conditioning as the creation of an association between a behavior and the outcome. There can be both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, though its important to understand that negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment. Negative reinforcement is the elimination of a negative stimulus, not punishment.
When working with witnesses to make them feel comfortable and confident about their performance during witness prep, its important to balance the negative feedback with the positive and be specific with the positive feedback so the witness understands what they are doing well and can draw on that as the prep continues. Negative feedback has to be constructive and the timing of any feedback, positive or negative, must be given at the moment that it is recognized. The witness must be able to recognize the association between their answer and the feedback.