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[personal profile] psy
Cesar Millan (aka the "Dog Whisperer").  Distressed mothers.  Police officers.  We've all seen individuals and institutions, in public and private settings, deal with undesirable behavior in different ways.  Operant conditioning is a learning procedure in which the probability of a paricular behavior occuring is increased or decreased, based on the consequence (positive or negative) that is administered.

Positive Reinforcement:
A behavior is followed by a pleasant stimulus, which increases the probability of that behavior.
Negative Reinforcement:
A behavior is followed by the removal of an unpleasant stimulus, which increases the probability of that behavior.
Positive Punishment:
A behavior is followed by an unpleasant stimulus, which decreases the probability of that behavior.
Negative Punishment:
A behavior is followed by the removal of a pleasant stimulus, which decreases the probability of that behavior.


An example:  Little Billy throws a temper tantrum every time his mother puts him in a shopping cart when she enters the local grocery store.  There are four ways in which Little Billy's mother could deal with this undesirable behavior.

Positive Reinforcement:
  Little Billy is given a lollipop (or a toy, or something else to keep him satisfied).
Negative Reinforcement:  Little Billy is removed from the shopping cart (and allowed to run around).
Unfortunately for the mother, both methods of reinforcement are reinforcing the UNDESIRABLE behavior in this case.  She is essentially encouraging Little Billy to throw a temper tantrum every time she puts him in a shopping cart, because he knows that he will either be given a lollipop, or be removed from the shopping cart altogether.  In short, this is a temporary solution to the problem, and can lead to children becoming spoiled.

Positive Punishment:  Little Billy is given a spanking.
Negative Punishment:  Little Billy loses his TV-watching privileges.
On the other side of the coin, these methods could be both highly effective or highly ineffective, depending on how consistently the mother uses these forms of punishment (and assuming that she will not escalate to beating or otherwise abusing/neglecting Little Billy).


So which form of operant conditioning should we use?!  The answer is simple, yet (surprisingly) rarely used: A combination of both reinforcement and punishment.  Let's address all three examples now.

1) Cesar Millan
Any dog-lovers reading this entry?  What do you do if your puppy pees on the white carpet?  Not only do you punish your dog ("BAD DOG!!!"), but you also reinforce good behavior ("You're such a gooood boy/girl!" and a treat), such as peeing outside or on the puppy pads.  Victoria Stilwell (host of "It's Me or the Dog" on Animal Planet) uses positive reinforcement to correct the same aggressive behavior that Cesar Millan attempts to.  Some critics argue that Cesar Millan should use more positive reinforcement when dealing with troublesome dogs, and that he uses too many positive punishment techniques, such as forcing aggressive dogs into submission by pinning them to the ground on their sides.  So which famous dog trainer should be trusted?  Mrs. Stilwell, Mr. Millan, both, or neither?

2) Distressed Mothers
It's easy for mothers to either give in to their child's demands, or use a great deal of force to suppress their children's undesirable behavior.  Why not a combination of the two?  Punish the undesirable behavior, then reward the child once they are behaving appropriately?  Many mothers would argue that this is easier said than done.  It's not easy to immediately notice and reinforce positive behavior, especially when the parent(s) are busy with work, household chores, and other tasks.  Nor is it easy to immediately punish negative behavior, with the same intensity and consistency every time.  What other factors could prevent or make it more difficult for parents to "train" their children effectively?

3) Police Officers
Police officers, prison wardens, etc. undeniably use a great deal of positive and negative punishment when dealing with offenders.  Speeding drivers receive tickets.  Criminals lose their freedom when incarcerated.  Given the dangerous, and sometimes violent nature of these crimes, who can blame police officers and prison wardens from using these punishing techniques?  But as one subscriber quoted in a recent journal entry, "prison in its current state isn't rehabilitating, which is really what it should be doing, instead it provides a prime environment for gang related activities" (Robin Herman, Khalil Osiris, Tony Villa Sr., The Psychology of Incarceration).  Is there any way to incorporate positive reinforcement into the current prison system?


Your thoughts regarding all three examples are welcomed.  Let this information not only entertain you, but also prompt you to discuss with other subscribers.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-19 04:05 am (UTC)
crazymule: elephants are not purple. this is wrong (Default)
From: [personal profile] crazymule
*raises hand* dog lover, dog trainer, horse trainer. Here!

1. Honestly you dont really want to get me started on Millan. I've studied with an dog behaviorist who would shit a brick if some one suggested to him the best way to deal with an aggressive dog was to 'alpha roll' it, he specialized in aggressive dogs and as his trainee I feel I am pretty well qualified to say that Millan's methods are dangerous and unnecessary. I've seen people get bitten when working under Millan's theories. Stillwell, while has some good ideas and better at keeping people safe than Millan still misses a lot of points in my book. She goes out of her way to make thing complicated. So... just in my dog training snob opinion, Millan is NEVER to be trusted. Stillwell only when you can pick and choose her methods.

2. I work in a toy store. I see children demanding things (and most often getting them) on a daily basis. I've seen two examples in the last few months of what I would say would be 'excellent' parenting. They praised the child for every single thing they did right, when the child threw something across the room they punished them in what I would deem was an acceptable and equitable manner. Most of the other parents in the store either reward bad behavior or ignore good behavior. It makes me want to pull my hair out sometime. There is a reason I dont really want to have children.

3. As for the prison system, there is one program, a program that uses prisoners to train dogs for various purposes, mostly shelter dogs for pets. The program has a really good result of 'rehabilitation' for the prisoners and most of them do not become repeat offenders. So...maybe there is hope.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-19 06:35 pm (UTC)
forgetregret: (Default)
From: [personal profile] forgetregret
I think that could be really helpful program for prisoners. In fact, programs of any kind that trained prisoners or allowed them to do something constructive in the world could have amazing effects on them. All of that time sitting in their cells with only their own thoughts can't be beneficial to anyone's mental health.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-20 03:21 am (UTC)
crazymule: elephants are not purple. this is wrong (Default)
From: [personal profile] crazymule
As far as I can tell the program is win-win. Prisoners gain skills that they can use once released (dog trainers make pretty good money depending on where they are located). Most of them shape up dont end up back in legal trouble.

The dogs are pulled from high kill shelters, and there is a waiting list a mile long for them once they are trained as the make excellent pets. I think some service organizations are looking into it too. So even more people win.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-19 06:34 pm (UTC)
forgetregret: (flowers)
From: [personal profile] forgetregret
I think operant conditioning is complicated with humans, because humans are so complicated that conditioning can be difficult to level out. There are certainly ways that we can be conditioned. I think that a combination of punishment and reward is the only method that will make it work most effectively.

1) I don't know enough about dog training to say, but I've seen both shows and I prefer Stilwell's method.

2) It is difficult and complicated when raising kids. I have seen a lot of people that I want to smack, but I can't say for sure what's the best way of doing something without having been in that situation myself. I think the combination is the best route, again, but the whole situation is complicated.

3) The problem is that there's all of these rules and regulations with prison, but they're not used consistently. My professor said that everyday COs and administration purposefully and knowledgeably don't follow through with some of the regulations in set. They're little things usually, but it sends mixed messages.

I think there is a way to have positive reinforcement both by increasing rehabilitation programs and by letting people go when they have exhibited good behavior and have served their time. Good behavior can be rewarded by giving them maybe extra food. I read that so many of them are hungry all the time, because they're fed less. But it's hard to figure out what constitutes good behavior in prison.

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