Behavior and Training · Operant Conditioning

The Quiz

 Imagine that you have enrolled in a college math course. You have been attending lectures for several weeks and although the material is quite difficult, you feel that the instructor has been explaining the concepts very clearly and that you have been able to learn a great deal from his lectures. You have completed and handed in three homework assignments and received over 90 % on each one.  You are feeling pretty confident about your math skills and are happy with what you have learned so far in the course.

This afternoon, you enter the lecture hall for the weekly lecture and the instructor informs the class of 50 students that he will be administering a surprise quiz.  He has two options for taking the quiz; one in Classroom A and the other in Classroom B.  The instructor has randomly assigned students to each room.  He tells you that the questions on the quiz are exactly the same in each room, but the consequences for answering quiz questions are slightly different.

Classroom A:  There is an enormous bowl of candy sitting on the front desk.  The quiz instructions are as follows:  The instructor will put an equation to be solved up on the overhead screen.  When a student has correctly solved the problem, he or she should raise a hand and provide the answer aloud.  If the student answers correctly, he or she will receive a candy.  The student may then either remain to try for another correct answer (and another candy!) or can be dismissed with the remainder of the day off.  If the student provides an incorrect answer, he or she is simply asked to try again.  All students must answer one question correctly to complete the quiz.

Classroom B:  The chairs in this room have been electronically wired so that a mild but quite unpleasant electric shock can be sent to each chair by the instructor.  The quiz instructions are as follows:  The instructor will put an equation to be solved up on the overhead screen.  When a student has correctly solved the problem, he or she should raise a hand and provide the answer aloud.  If the student answers correctly, he or she is dismissed and may have the remainder of the day off.  If the student provides an incorrect answer, he or she will receive an electric shock and must remain in the class and try again. All students must answer one question correctly to complete the quiz. 

Which room would you rather be in?

(And……Which room’s approach would further encourage your interest in learning math)?

(Dogs may not learn math, but they do respond to aversive and pleasurable stimuli in the same manner as do math students – we will take a look at the science of this soon)

Adapted from: Canine and Feline Behavior and Training: A Complete Guide to Understanding Our Two Best Friends, LP Case, page 107-108, Cengage, 2010.

UP NEXT – DECONSTRUCTING CLICKER TRAINING (THE SCIENCE IN THE CLICK)

9 thoughts on “The Quiz

  1. Not at all Linda! First to explain my comment about being painfully ignored. I just think ignoring unwanted behaviors be it the wrong answer in class or in dog training is not always appropriate. But then I am not a trainer. With humans it may initiate the a feeling of the inability to control events in their lives and in some create a helplessness which can be generalized. I an not by any means negating the benefits of clicker training. I am simply pointing out that the behavioral/social model that many of us apply to our dogs/4 legged family members is only 1 model of 5 others that can be applied interchanably to humans. Why only 1 to our friends? This gives a dee
    per look and asksl more questions and may hopefully give more answers. Why apply just one model, and make that the beginning and end. I hope there is not too many typos and this helps to clarify. Can’t wait to hear what you are getting at Linda!

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    1. Ahhh….Got it! That is a subtlety about Room A that I missed, Melissa (and I wrote the darned parable – no candy for me! 🙂 ). I completely agree that ignoring can actually be a form of -R, for both people and dogs. There was an interesting comment posted in “Extinction” blog, by Leonard Cecil, I believe regarding the inherently frustrating nature of ignoring unwanted responses during free-shaping with clicker training. His point, and it was a good one, is that this is a form of extinction and can be a tremendously upsetting experience for the dog, even when the consequence that we are focusing on is +R. Room A makes the same error, I think. So, perhaps a third room would be the charm – a room that had candy for correct responses, a “Nice answer, but just try again” for incorrect, rather than ignoring (or some luring…..”here, try this equation instead”…..). Which, in essence is what most clicker trainers will do with a dog (and why, I personally prefer doing a lot of luring rather than free-shaping during training). Thanks for catching that, Melissa! I think I need you as my editor! Linda

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      1. P.S. Oh – And yes, we are also in complete agreement regarding the various models that may be examined/used to explain our dogs’ inner lives and behaviors – very anthropocentric to limit non-human animals to a single (behavioristic) model, while happily affording ourselves lots of different and complex models. Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

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      2. On that subtlety about Room A:

        Wait a minute here…that means that any attempt at +R which does not succeed produces -R, except that these have definitions that include the results and not only the methods. So if he does not succeed, you did not actually use +R, and if ignoring him did not reinforce the activity, then it did not result in -R.

        And if we stay in the behavioral school, what about the “inherently” frustrating nature of ignoring unwanted responses during free-shaping with clicker training, and that it is a form of extinction? Isn’t this degree and temperament mediated, and not inherent? Doesn’t typical resulting behavior often initially demonstrate increased effort which only slowly changes to increased frustration leading towards extinction?

        Yes, we could take that down some levels further (cognitive, etc.), but not in the behavioral school. My point is that there is only confusion and no utility in this type of decomposition, unless it is of a type, intensity and duration such as to produce a change in behavior.

        So, in practice for Room A, you would observe the efforts to intercede before frustration sets in, and make any needed alterations. Similarly with dogs starting clicker training, so if free shaping produces quick results, it’s just fine. If not then luring or shaping or whatever. Just applying the Principle of Least Effort and knowing that one size does not fit all.

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  2. Sorry, neither. I don’t like physical pain nor painfully rude attitudes. I’d drop the class and find a professor, perhaps more humanistic, whicj is more conducive to my ‘personal’ thought process

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    1. Hi Melissa! Thanks, as always, for your comments. Not sure I understand the “painfully rude attitude” comment, though. (Don’t you like candy? 🙂 ). Kidding…..everyone loves candy….. 🙂 Regarding your prior comment, I wonder if your skepticism is perhaps with behaviorism as a science, overall? If so, I completely agree that the reliance upon behaviorism as an approach that explains everything that an animal may do is ill-founded. Most importantly, purist practitioners of behaviorism deny that we can even discuss an animal’s (or another person’s) internal and subjective state – some even still deny that subjective states even exist). I clearly am not of that school of thought. However, I do think it is important to not toss out the baby with the bath water, in that when we train dogs, for example, in clicker training, the responses that we see do conform to learning via both classical and operant conditioning. Just because those models work well in explaining how a dog learns is not (imho, anyway) exclusive of considering that there is a lot more going on that is subjective in nature (i.e. emotional states, motivation, social effects, cognition). In other words, cannot we have both conditioning and internal states of psychology simultaneously? I know this little “quiz” is overly simplistic, but its intent was simply to illustrate the differences that +R vs. -R may have upon the subject’s enjoyment of learning (i.e. their internal emotional state), not as a promotion of behaviorism as the single way to approach training, living with and loving our dogs. (If I am misinterpreting your comments, well just completely ignore this entire paragraph! 🙂 Thanks, Melissa! Linda

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  3. In the psychology of ‘personality’ 6 schools of thought are used, in which just one is not solely used to gain knowledge, each have something to add. They are: Cognitive, Trait, Biological, Humanistic. Psychonalogy and Behavioral/Social Learning.

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