carl4300: October 2011 Archives

So You Think You Can Shape?

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During class we learned the significance of Skinner's discovery of shaping. Shaping is commonly defined as the reinforcement of gradual steps towards desired behavior which is applied to operant conditioning. This is very important in improving the learning process for animals and humans. The process itself is very simple though it may take a substantial amount of time to achieve the behavior desired, depending on how complex the behavior is. For example, Skinner provides the example of training a dove to turn in a circle--he reinforces every little motion in the direction of turning with positive reinforcement, food. Once the dove figures out what is going on, it is turning circles in no time at all.

This idea may even be applied to humans in developing therapies for autistic children as we learned in lecture. Lovaas furthered the idea of shaping by creating his own therapy known as Applied Behavior Analysis which uses the basic ideas of operant conditioning's shaping techniques--autistic children are rewarded when they use correct language or social behaviors, and as a result, autism has been proven to be 'curable.' This effective technique may be seen in this video:

I find this most interesting as I have been apart of a group that interacts with autistic kids in my high school. The program called Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) helps autistic and other kids with disabilities interact with the public through various activities and events. I have seen first hand how important positive reinforcement is in helping these individuals learn appropriate behavior. I have also seen how it does not always work which leads me to wonder if maybe this idea of shaping can be tweaked even more to be the achieve the most efficiency with bringing the autistic individuals into our society.

Ashli Carlson

The Cat in the Box

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In the last lecture, Professor Peterson discussed a few concepts of learning; the one I found particularly interesting was Thorndike's Instrumental Conditioning. He studied learning from the relationship between behavior and its consequence, also known as response-consequence learning. To study this, he devised the cat puzzle box, or what Professor Peterson called the problem box.

As you can see from the video above, the cat must figure out the response needed to get out of the box to receive the treat waiting on the other side. Thorndike found that after repeated trails, the trials after the first always went quicker because the cat learned how to adapt its response to get out from the box. Also, he concluded that because the reward, the actions needed to get the reward become engraved in the mind; thus the greater the reward or punishment, the greater strengthening or weakening of the mind engraving. This all summarizes his Law of Effect--behavior changes due to the effects or consequences of that particular behavior.

I found this particularly interesting because I plan to go into the field of occupational therapy where the objective is to teach people how to perform basic functions after some sort of ailment not allowing them to perform such basic functions. I have had some experience with this two summers ago when I was caring for an elderly woman suffering from severe dementia--one of my duties was to help her with her physical therapy exercises and to exercise her memory by playing games that engaged her mentally. I have seen first hand that people do learn how to adapt their responses to receive the greatest reward and avoid the consequences. I am not necessarily proud of having to flaunt a chocolate milkshake or an ice cream bar in front of the lady's nose to get her to do her exercises, but it got the job done. I did find that the lady caught on to my scheme--she would do the exercises as prompted, but she would do them too fast and sloppy for me to know that the exercises were effective. I would then have to say no to the request for the chocolate milkshake or ice cream bar until she completed the exercises in a satisfactory manner. This would at first made the poor woman cry, (she always employed this as a way for her family and I to let her off the hook) but after staying firm with her in the midst of the water works, she learned that that particular response was not going to work, and she complied with doing the exercises correctly in the future.

I really found Thorndike's Instrumental Conditioning beneficial to the understanding of the learning process--without this study, I feel that we would never be able to explain why people respond better to rewards than to punishment. I personally feel my actions of feeding an elderly woman junk food as a reward justified. Though I do wonder one thing about the cat puzzle box--what do the animal rights activists say to this treatment of cats?

-Ashli Carlson

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by carl4300 in October 2011.

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