Lighten quarantine with Premack's principle

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Joe Dispenza
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Lighten quarantine with Premack's principle

The Premack Principle can help us simplify daily life in these quarantine days. The theory of operant conditioning also serves to improve the relationship with food and to be more productive.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Premack's principle can lighten quarantine by making it more tolerable for several reasons. First of all, because it allows us to discover ideal psychological resources to improve productivity and implement more desirable behaviors. Secondly, because adults and children can apply it to many areas of their life.



Let's face it, in these days when we find ourselves living in such an exceptional situation, many are doing everything to keep themselves busy. On social media, videos, posts and direct from hyperactive friends, acquaintances and influencers abound who when they are not doing gymnastics, cooking, doing DIY or studying something new.

Everyone handles the quarantine differently, filling the time as they want. Everything is legitimate and positive, from resting to beautifying the house five days a week.

Whatever our personality, our character or the way we face the current reality, exploiting the Premack principle can be interesting and beneficial to lighten the quarantine. Let's see why.

Premack's principle can ease the quarantine

Before delving into the reasons why Premack's principle could make the period of isolation more bearable for us, it is necessary to clarify what this theory says and where it comes from.

It originates from the theory of operant or instrumental conditioning formulated by the psychologist BF Skinner and starts from a simple principle. Human beings, and even animals, implement or abandon certain behaviors based on psychological dimensions that motivate them or that, on the contrary, cause extinction.



Let's take an example: I abandoned the study of German because it bored me or I found it too difficult. On the contrary, I spend several hours on streaming platforms because I love TV series.

Well, the purpose of Premack's principle is to exploit the most motivating behavior as a reinforcement of behaviors that are less interesting and make sure they are produced. In this case, I could use my passion for TV series as a reward mechanism for studying an hour of German.

Although this technique may seem elementary, it is often used to modify behavior and even to treat addictions and phobias. Now let's see how Premack's principle can be useful to lighten the quarantine.

Organize time and establish a routine

A piece of advice that we hear often these days is to establish a routine in order to better manage the isolation. The routine must include time to devote to duties, but also moments of rest and fun.

Premack's principle can ease the quarantine if we organize the day between motivating and positive commitments and others that we like less. For example, it is possible that as soon as you get up you feel apathy or dejection and it can be very depressing to do the housework.

In this case, Premack would tell us that the ideal is to start the day with the least motivating activity. We will know, however, that we will dedicate an hour and a half to that boring job and that at the end we will allow ourselves an episode of an unmissable TV series.


The same happens in the case of teleworking. We need to start the day by taking care of work commitments, but keeping a short break on the horizon for an enjoyable activity.

Can you help us with the diet?

A side effect of quarantine is neglecting your diet and getting into the habit of snacking between meals. We consume too many snacks and products that calm anxiety but are not nutritious at all. The Premack Principle can also help us take a healthier attitude towards food. How?



  • Whenever you are assaulted by hunger or a craving between meals, do this: take the food you can't resist and an apple.
  • You will eat the apple first (or a healthy, but less appetizing food) and then the snack. Considering that apples are a filling food, the snack may not seem so appetizing when finished.

How to apply the Premack principle to ease the quarantine for children

This principle can also be very useful for organizing the time of the little ones. It will make quarantine easier for our children as well because it will help them be more productive with their studies and homework.

Children have an attention span of about 40/4, therefore, the ideal is to start the day with the most strenuous homework (for example with math). However, they will have to get to work knowing that after three quarters of an hour they will be able to take a break for a few minutes to devote to a fun activity.


It would be good to concentrate study commitments in the morning and leisure in the afternoon. But even so, we need to include some brief motivating moments in the morning.

As you can see, this strategy is based solely on positive reinforcement which is, after all, what we need most now. If it helps us organize our time better, be more productive and even eat healthier, it's worth a try, what do you think?

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