Thursday, August 20, 2009

Increasing Desirable Behavior

If we take a look closer at the positive reinforcement section of yesterday's post:

Positive Reinforcement (if):
A - The Dog Barks
B - The Bird Screams
C - The Human Yells at the Bird to Be Quiet
**
Results in the screaming increasing**

This brings about an interesting dilemma. While positive reinforcement is at work in the above example, most likely we would not be happy with the result! From this we discover that making the statement, "I always positively reinforce my bird" does not tell the whole story; we may be positively reinforcing desirable or undesirable behavior!

While in our examples from yesterday, positive punishment and negative punishment both resulted in a decrease of the target behavior (screaming), we know that while these methods work, they are more intrusive methods of behavior change than is positive reinforcement.

So what might be a way of approaching the result of the bird screaming less by a method of positive reinforcement?

You may recall a previous post - Half Empty or Half Full - we focused on looking at behavior from a different perspective. That is, instead of considering what we do not want to happen (looking at a decrease of an undesirable behavior), we can instead focus on what we do want to happen (an increase of a desirable behavior)! And, we can use that approach to great benefit.

So, instead of considering how to decrease the screaming, we can instead identify a behavior that we would like to see increase, and one that will help us begin to change the bird's screaming behavior.

Hold that thought - as we will be coming back to selecting a behavior that we would like to see increase. But before we go down that road, it is important to take a moment to point out one thing:

In the initial post on this topic, where we began with the example of the dog barking and the bird screaming, my friend, Les (hi, Les!) lovingly commented 'lock up the pooch'! In actuality, Les brought out an important aspect of the discussion - that is:

Changing the Antecedent

Naturally, if the pooch did not enter the room and bark, it is likely this would have an affect on the bird's behavior. (Unless the bird heard the dog barking from a different room and the same result occurred).


For me, changing the antecedent is my first consideration when analyzing behavior. It is a proactive approach; changing the consequence feels more like a reactive approach. It may not be practical, feasible or desirable to prevent the dog from ever barking again, or from coming into the room to bark. However, when looking at behavior change, the antecedent is one of the first stones I uncover.

In our example:

A-Dog Barks
B-Bird Screams

We first need to select a behavior that we would like to see increase. For example, we could begin with selecting a word/phrase that the bird has already learned such as 'pretty bird'. (Coco has learned to say this, and has also learned that it receives my attention and often a treat.)

A-Dog Barks/human asks bird to say 'pretty bird'
B-Bird Says Pretty Bird
C-Bird Receives Valued Reinforcer (treat)



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