Defying the laws of behavioral physics

July 20, 2010 at 7:16 am 5 comments

I’ve blogged here before about Daniel Pink’s ideas on motivation and how they may relate to dog training. Here’s an excellent video from RSAnimation on Pink’s thesis that treats, financial incentives and other extrinsic rewards are demotivating in tasks that require even rudimentary conceptual efforts.

If we believe that dogs are capable of rudimentary cognitive skills, perhaps it’s time for dog trainers and behaviorists to throw the narrow, outmoded obsession with Skinner’s quadrants – and all the hype and confrontation associated with them – into the recycling bin.

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Delta sells its soul to Purina Missing the point?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ed  |  July 20, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    But where do you start? What’s the Helen Keller moment? As far as I can see, even with two humans who speak the same language, it can be difficult to tease out the differences between rewards and results and feedback.

    And sometimes there’s probably more than one thing going on. Not that I’ve tried all that many things, but the one thing that will always enable my issue dog to make friends is to have the new friend ask her to do things (go to her place, fetch, go out, sit, just simple things). That’s simple training and going through drills but also – I hope and believe – the larger and more complex lesson that this new person is predictable and fun to work with. (I would never bring food rewards into this, btw, but I’m not a food reward person in general.)

    There’s also the point that really simple if-then scenarios are relaxing and help you get your confidence back – or at least they are for me. That’s why I go do a load of laundry when a query or some other work problem is giving me fits.

    Yes yes a thousand times yes I want my animals to be thoughtful and engaged, but there’s as place for the ABCs and gozintas.

  • 2. SmartDogs  |  July 20, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    It’s fine to start with quadrants, ABCs and gozintas. And to use them judiciously to explain things.

    But I see a very annoying number of trainers and canine behaviorists who expend a crazy amount of energy performing complex mental gymnastics in the effort to fit everything into those four itty bitty little boxes. And then to vilify anything they can fit into two of them as ‘abuse’.

    The only box that fits into is the one labeled ‘crazy’.

  • 3. Eleanor Herrick  |  July 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

    I think that it is impossible to regard dogs as incapable of rudimentary cognitive thought.

    I also think that many people would rather mentally maturbate by trying to determine what goes into (or gozinta) which box than actually interact with, communicate with, and train a dog. It never fails – any training conversation is going to be derailed by some reference to a quadrant and after that, it’s all about semantics and the lingo. The dog and the training issue ALWAYS fall by the wayside.

  • 4. LabRat  |  July 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Nothing to do with dogs, but I was surprised Pink never went into the massively multiplayer gaming industry. Their entire bottom line is packaging this experience- autonomy (it’s a game, of course you don’t have a boss), mastery (games that are not challenging are not fun), and contribution (the single-player content is quickly dull, most are there for the cooperative modes) into something that people will pay for, monthly, for *years*.

    It doesn’t result in productivity except on the part of the game companies, but it absolutely works on harnessing motivation, and those game companies that have tried to use the straight Skinnerian model haven’t been nearly as successful.

  • 5. Pooch Professor  |  July 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Reading the book right now and pondering just that: can we look at dogs’ skills and say that they are creative enough to fit into the paradigm where rewards stop working?

    What would that look like? I have seen it in a few dogs, mind you. But it doesn’t seem as common as it does in humans.

    I do like the parallels bewteen human motivation and dog training. And you are absolutely right that many “trainers” will do everything they possibly can to fit all learning into Skinner boxes and the OC model. What a waste.

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