Friday, December 18, 2009

Punishment Part I

A week ago we started a new discussion on the topic of punishment and launched a survey question:

A covered bird stops screaming. What method changed the behavior?

A. Positive Reinforcement
B. Negative Punishment
C. Negative Reinforcement
D. Positive Punishment

7 of you answered the poll, with the following results:
1 selected Positive Reinforcement1 selected Negative Punishment5 selected Positive Punishment

In the form of a refresher:

Positive punishment occurs when something aversive is presented to a learner, and it results in a behavior decreasing in frequency.

Recall that an aversive is something a learner will work to avoid.
Aversives/punishers and reinforcers are changeable, situational and personal.
There are 2 types of punishment:
1) Positive Punishment
2) Negative Punishment

In terms of the science of behavior, the word 'positive' does not mean 'good'. Likewise, the word 'negative' does not mean 'bad'. In other words, 'Positive' punishment does not mean 'good' punishment, and likewise 'Negative' punishment does not mean 'bad' punishment.

'Positive' means to add something;
'Negative' means to remove something.

Positive punishment (as already defined above) is when something is added or presented to the bird, that it finds aversive, and it results in a decrease in the frequency of a behavior.

Likewise, Negative Punishment occurs when a positive reinforcer is removed and it results in a decrease in the frequency of a behavior. Using negative punishment can serve to create great frustration in a bird. It could be viewed as a brief time out from something the bird finds reinforcing. But if used, it should be managed carefully, sparingly, and exceptionally briefly (as in seconds).

I kept the poll question basic, so let's take a look a bit deeper.
The order of the poll responses was not random; they were listed in order of the least obtrusive method of behavior change, to the most obtrusive method of behavior change (most likely to have a detrimental affect on the relationship between bird and companion).

A. Positive Reinforcement
B. Negative Punishment
C. Negative Reinforcement
D. Positive Punishment

One might think that negative punishment (because of the word "punishment") would be "worse" than the use of negative reinforcement when working to change behavior. This is another reason it is important to know the hierarchy, understand the behavior terms, and be aware of the effect they are likely to have on the relationship with a bird.

A possible scenario:
A bird is screaming.
The companion walks into the room and covers the cage.
The bird screams less.

What method was used to change the behavior?

We see something being added or presented (the cover), and a decrease in a behavior (screaming). Therefore, in this particular scenario, behavior change was accomplished through Positive Punishment.

Eventually, the mere sight of the companion grabbing or carrying the cover during the day, while the bird is screaming, may result in a response from the bird. However, that same cover being used at night could be neutral or reinforcing. (Thus the Changeability of Reinforcers/Punishers post I linked to above).

While one might say "my bird isn't afraid of the cover, or doesn't find the cover aversive, because he doesn't mind being covered at night", we need only look at the decrease in the behavior to determine that in a specific situation the cover is aversive. Whereas in a different situation, it may not. We all experience the changeability of reinforcers and punishers when a ringing phone is exciting if we are waiting for a call from a someone we love, and annoying when a telemarketer calls during our nap. It is not about the phone, but what happens when we answer it/the situation involving its ringing. Likewise, it is not the cover, but what the bird has learned happens when...

Consider this: What if a bird were screaming and the owner used their hand to bang on the cage? If this resulted in the bird screaming less, it would be an example of positive punishment. What experience would the bird receive in conjunction with the hand pounding on the cage? After a number of these experiences, what might the bird have learned to expect when it sees the companion and the hand coming toward the cage?

A discussion of this topic, however, would not be complete without writing about other available options for addressing the screaming bird. That is, options other than covering the bird, screaming back, squirting with water, or banging the side of the cage with the hand. Any of these, if resulting in a decrease in the screaming behavior, would be examples of positive punishment.

Stay tuned - obviously, from the picture below (taken at 2:30 today), I won't be going anywhere! Since this picture was taken, we have received several more inches, a total of 11 inches so far!


1 comment:

Marianne said...

Sooooo cute pics! I want one of Captain like that! :D

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