Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ignoring vs. Reinforcement

In my travels, it is not uncommon for me to read statements similar to this:

"I'm
ignoring that behavior, because I don't want to reinforce it."

In today's post, I want to explore the correlation (or lack thereof) between ignoring and reinforcement.

Let me begin by reviewing (the first sentence of) the definition of
positive reinforcement from the behavior terminology as defined on the Good Bird, Inc. website:

Positive Reinforcement
: The presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. (Emphasis added)

There are several elements in this sentence:

1) A behavior
2) A stimulus
3) The maintenance or increase of the frequency of a behavior

I'll use this as a working example:

(A) The dog enters the room
(B) The bird screams
(C) The dog barks


If, in this example, the screaming behavior is maintained or increased, it is being reinforced by the stimulus of the dog barking.

A standard response of ignoring undesirable behavior in our birds is, at best, a stab in the dark toward changing it. It will be ineffective unless our response of ignoring is replacing something we were previously doing that was in fact the stimulus responsible for maintaining or increasing the frequency of the behavior.


Therein lies the importance of identifying what stimulus is in play.


It begins with a concept called a
functional analysis of behavior.

Again quoting from the Good Bird, Inc. website of behavior terminology:

Behavior Analysis: The science of behavior change; the study of the functional relations between behavior and environmental events. It attempts to understand, explain, describe and predict behavior. In many ways it is a study of how animals learn. (Emphasis added)


A functional analysis has 3 elements (A, B and C):

(A) The dog enters the room
A - stands for 'Antecedent' - that is, what takes place before the behavior occurs.

(B) The bird screams
B - stands for the identified 'Behavior'

(C) The dog barks
C - stands for 'Consequence' - that is, what occurs after the behavior takes place.

There it is - where it all begins - the ABC's!

It is straightforward, but not necessarily
simple, as we strive to objectively identify the 3 elements, absent our own emotion or assigning human emotion to our birds.

For example, "I don't know - my bird just hates me!" would not qualify as an antecedent.

===
I pause for a moment to refer back to a previous post on
The Changeability of Reinforcers. We know that a stimulus (reinforcer) that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior can be:

Situational

Changeable
Personal


In identifying reinforcers, it is important to bear in mind these factors.

===

In the example we are using, the consequence of the dog barking is serving to maintain or increase the bird's screaming behavior. It is clear to see that leaving the room, even going to a different country, would have no effect on the stimulus. That is, unless we took the dog with us!

(However, if the dog did not enter the room - thus changing what took place before the behavior (the antecedent) - that would also likely have an effect on the bird's behavior. Perhaps more on that in a different post!)

When might 'ignoring' have an effect on behavior? Let's look at a different scenario:

(A) The dog barks
(B) The bird screams
(C) The human yells at the bird to be quiet.

If, in this example, the screaming behavior is maintained or increased, it is being reinforced by the stimulus of the human yelling.
However, if we chose not to respond, would it be 'ignoring' that had an affect on the bird's behavior, or ceasing to provide the stimulus of yelling?! A distinction with a difference!

So before we consider ignoring as a standard response to undesirable behavior, it is important to take a moment to identify the:

(A) The Antecedent
What takes place before the behavior

(B) The Behavior

(C) The Consequence
What takes place after the behavior

Positive Reinforcement
: The presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior.

Changing a behavior begins with a functional analysis, including identifying the stimulus following the behavior that serves to maintain or increase its frequency.


COPYRIGHT © 2009 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

3 comments:

Les Mitchell said...

Animal Sociology at it's best. They have tried to make this work with humans. Our prisons are full of their efforts! LOCK UP THE POOCH!!!(lol)

Shirley Morgan said...

Clear, understandable - (still looking forward to your book :-) ) - and this is a lesson we can all benefit from by studying it until it's internalized, and becomes automatic in understanding and application.

School is starting -- Teachers - Please apply this science in your classrooms.

Jim Stewart said...

Another important and clear, post about changing undesirable behavior. Great stuff! Not reinforcing undesirable behavior is different, in my mind, than ignoring. Ignoring alone, in most situations, as never worked for me.

Thanks for all the time and effort you put into your blog.

Jim

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