Operant conditioning was featured in the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory, above, but of course it finds its way into our news cycle every day (see today's news headlines appended at bottom of this post).
Notice what Sheldon says about the relative speed of using pleasant rewards alone, as compared to a more balanced approach that pairs rewards with less pleasant consequences.
Of course in the real world things are a little less simple than the scenario presented here, and many issues have to be factored in, such as what behavior is being shaped, how long it has been going on, whether it is neutral, or whether it is strongly self-rewarding.
For example, would chocolate alone have been enough to prevent Leonard and Penny from having a sexual liaison? Don't count on it!
Would it be possible to "train a different behavior" for Leonard and Penny and have it reliably stop all geek love? Don't count on it!
What if the behavior that Penny was presenting was not just annoying -- it was extremely dangerous to her, and a single wayward incident could kill her? Would it be OK to engage in a little aversion then?
This last question is not a contrived situation, but one which Karen Pryor glosses over in her book Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer.
The porpoises and whale themselves, in their quests for entertainment, often created problems. One summer a fashion developed in the training tanks (I think Keiki started it) for leaning out over the tank wall and seeing how far you could balance without falling out. Several animals might be teetering on the tank edge at one time, and sometimes one or another did fall out. Nothing much happened to them, except maybe a cut or a scrape from the gravel around the tanks; but of course we had to run and pick them up and put them back in. Not a serious problem, if the animal that fell out was small, but if it was a 400-pound adult bottlenose, you had to find four strong people to get him back, and when it happened over and over again, the people got cross. We feared too, that some animal would fall out at night or when no one was around and dry out, overheat, and die. We yelled at the porpoises, and rushed over and pushed them back in when we saw them teetering, but that just seemed to add to the enjoyment of what I'm sure the porpoises thought of as a hilariously funny game. Fortunately they eventually tired of it by themselves.
Yes, fortunately, they eventually tired of it by themselves.
One has to wonder, however, if perhaps a little aversive natural consequences had something to do with it.
For instance, what about those scrapes and cuts? If a trainer did those that would be horrible, but if the animal did it to itself and changed its behavior by itself, can we then say "fortunately"?
And what if the trainers were a bit late or a bit slow to get a porpoise back into the tank? Did the animals get both hot and uncomfortable? If a trainer did that on purpose, of course, that would be horrible and cruel, but if it was simply "one of those things" and the animal learned and changed its behavior, then can we use the word "fortunately" again?
And what if we have the exact same situation, but instead of a porpoise, it's a dog climbing out of its kennel? Freedom for a dog (especially an intact male that can smell a female in heat) is a very self-rewarding behavior, and most dog owners have had a dog climb out of a kennel as a result. The age old solution is a fabric kennel cover and a hot wire. Is it OK for an owner to put in a hot wire to create an "unnatural" consequence that, to the dog, will seem as natural as any other? If not, why not? If so, why so? Does it matter that the dog may die if it gets out even once?
OPERANT CONDITIONING IN THE NEWS
- Doug Collins Fined $15k for Verbally Abusing a Ref, and He Apologized
- Deion Sanders' wife jailed for assault
- Ted Nugent fined and sentenced to 2yrs probation
- Rod Blagojevich, jailed ex-Illinois governor's new job: washing dishes
- Former City Finance Commissioner Fined $22000 for Conflict
- Man gets probation for head butting cop
- Jason Siegel 'forced' to lose weight for new film
- Seth Greenberg fired after nine seasons at Virginia Tech
- Fired teacher who appeared in porn plans appeals