On the first day of the year I was watching as a good friend of mine was engaging in pretty ridiculous behaviour. She is a very intelligent person, with high profile job and she spent 15 minutes trying to use a lighter that didn’t work. But it didn’t simply not work, it would just give a little spark and go off. Just enough to keep her hooked. And this variable rate of reinforcement was killing her, it took a long time before she eventually set the lighter aside. And then she did something completely out of character. In her pyjamas, on a morning of New Years she went to knock on neighbours door to ask for a lighter, and when that neighbour didn’t respond she went one floor up. To understand my surprise you have to know that next to working million hours a week for a big consultancy she is also a social worker helping unprivileged youth and part of her work is teaching them manners, and social behaviour. So I would not expect her to think that it is acceptable to wake someone up to get a lighter. And I don’t think she does. BUT her motivation to smoke a cigarette made her engage in bit, well…silly behaviour (prior to trying to use broken lighter she spent 2 hours looking for it).
I find observing behaviour absolutely fascinating, not only dog behaviour (which I’m completely hooked on) but also human. Seeing how we are influenced by priming, reinforcers, punishments, instincts, hormones in no lesser way than other animals makes me smile.
Today I was also observing behaviour, this time Fenix’s. I want him to have more impulse control around ball on a string and we were working on him waiting for a command before he goes for the ball. Initially in the session his out was really fast but as we progressed he started to take longer (instead of spitting the ball). The behviour of spitting the ball out on a command was decreasing. Circumstances stayed the same. What did it mean? That I was punishing him. If we look at ABC of our session it will become clear. A (antecedent) was my command “out”, B (behaviour) was him spitting the ball the minute he heard the command and C (consequence) was me having the ball, moving it around before I give him command to get it. The fact that he was more reluctant to spit the ball out means this behaviour was in fact punished. (I also think that depletion in self control could take a part in the equation but that’s a topic for another post).
It’s a funny realisation. I wrote a plan on how we will do this training. I didn’t expect that few seconds delay in reward will have this effect. That’s the tricky part with punishment because we cannot 100% be sure what the organism will perceive as punishment and what it will connect it with. Which makes is a risky game. Now back to the drawing board.