Friday, June 5, 2009

Conditioned Aversives - Part II

Yesterday we identified that my leaving the room with the coffee cup has inadvertently become a conditioned aversive. Coco learned to associate my picking up the coffee cup, and leaving the room, with being gone for an extended period of time. Coco does not 'hate' the coffee cup; nor does she 'hate' me holding it. Naturally, those are human emotions. She has no observable reaction to it in other situations, such as playing with it on the floor, if it is sitting on a table next to the chair, or if I am sitting in the chair drinking from it. She happily drinks from it as well. Specifically:

It IS NOT about the "coffee cup".
It IS about what she has learned/experienced
happens when I leave the room with it in my hand.

A human example:
I don't "hate" the dentist. In fact, he's a wonderful guy when he does not have a syringe in his hand and a sinister desire to inflict pain upon me and then ask for money! When I meet him at a party (in a different situation), my reaction and experience is markedly different than when I am strapped into the torture chair. It is not about the dentist (the object); it is about what I have learned and experienced (my history) happens when I am in the dental chair (the situation).

Hang onto that thought... we are going to come back to history shortly.

Recall in yesterday's post I posed this question:
What would I need to do to turn this situation around if I chose to?

One approach would be to change the environment (the antecedent).

Examples of this would be:

1. Stop drinking coffee;
2. Stop drinking coffee in the bird room.


A Little Bit More About History:
Barney has learned to associate riding in the truck with going to Whizney world, a high value reinforcer for him. The truck is a conditioned reinforcer; it provides him transportation to Whizney Worlds all around the area! He has a great deal of positive
history associated with riding in the truck.

Occasionally, the truck takes him to the vet. A trip to the vet is not a reinforcer. Notwithstanding an extremely aversive situation at the vet's office, the following day, he would be as excited about getting in the truck as he was the previous, due to the positive history associated with riding in the truck to visit Whizney World.

What would it take for Barney to view the truck as something other than a conditioned reinforcer? Two weeks straight of going to the vet every day, while never going to Whizney World? Three weeks of going to the vet every day? Four weeks? How many aversive experiences would it take to reduce the value of the truck as a conditioned reinforcer? What would it take for the truck to become neutral or even a conditioned aversive?

If the truck were to become neutral or a conditioned aversive, what would happen if we did not get into the truck again for two months? It is likely that when presented with an opportunity to take a ride, the truck would once again be a conditioned reinforcer. (Another example of the changeability of reinforcers).

Naturally, it is not quite this cut and dried. There are a variety of factors that could come into play such as what happened at the vet, if it was aversive how aversive was it, and so forth. Additionally, counting history in days, weeks or years is not meant to imply that it takes the same amount of time to reverse it, or that there is a 1:1 correlation. The example, however, helps to illustrate the role that history plays in the learning and responses of animals.

We can understand this in our own lives, with the example of a telemarketer. If our history is that they do not take 'no' for an answer, and we cannot get them off the phone, then one experience of a telemarketer pleasantly hanging up after our initial 'no thank you' response, would most likely not be sufficient to result in us changing our response to all other telemarketers in the future.

Conditioned reinforcers and aversives are both learned through the same process of experience and history. It is what enables conditioning to work!

Now, back to Coco and my caffeine issues!

1. Can I live with giving up drinking coffee in the bird room? If so, this is a resolution.

I would need only to take care not to create a new conditioned aversive such as putting on my shoes, picking up my purse, taking out my keys, and then leaving the room (for the day).

2. Given the history and the conditioned aversive that exists, is it worth my time and effort to work toward changing this? This would involve changing the consequence of leaving the room with my coffee cup. Working toward this would not be the quick solution that changing the environment (antecedent) would provide.

What would it take for Coco to view my leaving the room with the coffee cup as neutral or even a conditioned reinforcer?

Stay tuned!



scotty said...

Coco's very smart, get a toy coffee cup and put something yummy in it.The same color cup as yours of course, have your coffee's together,might be a positive reinforcement Hmmm!!!!!!

mom938 said...

I reread ...don't walk out with your cup, finish it and leave it there for her!

mom938 said...

Is that a garbage pail next to my suggestion???

Robin said...

Thank you for your comments everyone! (Oh, and mom938... the garbage pail is only there for you to delete your own message if you don't like it!) ;)

Interesting... we do know that leaving the room with the coffee cup is the problem. If I leave the room without the coffee cup, how does it get out of the room? Hmmmm.....

Arlene said...

That Coco is something else. This is a sticky situation isn't it. Don't ever let her see the dreaded cup ever again.
Will she be fooled if you left an identical cup with her?

mom938 said...

your hubby can get it and wash it later,Hmmmmm...

Sherry said...

Does Coco ever come out of the bird room? Take Coco and the cup with you, let her watch you rinse it out and put it away. Then get Coco a treat, take her back into the room, deposit her and her treat on a perch. Then leave the room for work. What happens during the weekends or on days off?

Robin said...

Sherry, thank you for a great comment! Coco does come out of the bird room; for example, we go to the kitchen to cut up veggies, she goes to the into the bathroom to watch me get ready or to take a shower, into the closet to play in the clothes, etc. But you bring up an excellent point - because what you are suggesting could actually be used as part of the plan to turn the conditioned aversive into a neutral or a conditioned reinforcer! Great stuff! :)

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