Have you ever watched a movie where a dog was extremely well trained? Have you ever seen dolphins jump out of the water and do tricks? Have you ever looked at your own dog, not as well trained? Do the dolphins in the wild jump out of the water for the amusement of fishermen? The answer is probably no to your dog, and to the dolphin. Is this just Hollywood magic, or just dolphins at the top of their class? The answer to this is revealed in chapter six with the introduction of Operant Conditioning. Through shaping and chaining, animals can do tasks by human design. This groundbreaking discover was found by none other than B.F. Skinner and students here at the U of M.
Through the techniques of shaping and chaining animals are more than just lovable pets; they are animals capable of "training" to do complex tasks. The process is actually quite simple. The animal is offered a reward for doing anything that resembles what the task is. For example if you were trying to teach a dog to fetch the newspaper, it would be rewarded for walking to the door. Then maybe rewarded for going through the doggy door, next walking to the paper, picking it up, and finally returning with it. Another interesting thought is that these techniques are relatively new, which makes one thinks that we have barely tapped its potential.
When does the usefulness of operant conditioning stop? I mean can you teach your animals how to live their lives? Is it possible to in a sense make them go against nature and live life like a different animal? I wonder about the consciousness of animals, if they have it is it simply overwritten? If so what is to say that we are selves are not slaves to operant conditioning of society. We all seem to get out of bed, go to school, and for the most part stay within social norms. Is this natural for us to do, or is it a product of operant conditioning? Thoughts?