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Three miles into my run and I’m dragging my feet and gasping for every breath. But something is compelling me to push forward. It’s like my body is telling me it has to do it. ”Keep on going!”, my body says. Call it an urge, sensation, or feeling if you will. From the combined viewpoints of running and behavior analysis, the concept of the runner’s high is intriguing to me. I can think of a few of reasons for continuing the run at this point. So I wanted to offer up a very brief, and not overly technical, functional analysis of my running behavior.
First, I have 2 more miles to go before I get home. I could stop now and all will be well. For some people completion of the exercise is a reinforcing “event”. I am one of those people. There is a satisfying feeling obtained when the run is finished. If that is the case, then my reinforcement history would lead me to think that I would finish the run because completion of the run itself is reinforcing. Therefore running is maintained by positive reinforcement, right?
In addition, there often comes a point in a run when I feel no discomfort, no pain, no worries during a jog. For a guy with chronic back pain and multiple knee and foot injuries, this is amazing consequential event. So in my case, running could operate under negative reinforcement because I am able to escape (even if temporarily) the pain effects of chronic injuries?
However, running does satisfy an urge, sensation, or feeling associated with what is commonly called “runner’s high”, which indicates that running serves a sensory function. Sometimes I cannot wait to get home because of the urge to get a run in. Lately when I am approaching the end of a run, I begin to think I should keep on going because I have not felt “the high” indicating that I might need to run more. Then I continue a little longer in order to obtain the sensation of “the high”. In that sense, wouldn’t running be maintained by automatic reinforcement?
So perhaps my running behavior is multiply controlled behavior. It is positively reinforced merely by completion of the run. The behavior is negatively reinforced due to the pain-alleviating effects it allows. But still running is automatically reinforced due to the access to sensory stimulation that it provides.
Now it’s time to move on to analyzing my nail biting behavior….. 🙂
I love clicker training! Over the years I’ve used clickers to train chickens, dogs, fish (using a visual “click”), and even students in the classroom. My first experience using a clicker for shaping was back in 1999 when I attended a two day workshop by Bob Bailey and his wife, Marian Breland Bailey. I learned to teach a chicken how to discriminate between and peck colored discs. In the 1940s, Marian and Keller Breland, both former students of B.F. Skinner, trained animals for animal acts.
A clicker is a device with a metal strip that when pushed, makes a “clicking” sound. The most common form is the box clicker you would find at the checkout counter at PetSmart. See the picture above to see some examples. These days, animal trainers and teachers can buy all kinds of clickers (and accessories) as well as receive clicker newsletters, attend seminars, books and other training materials. Do a search for “clicker training” on Amazon.com and you can see for yourself.
How does the concept of shaping work? Shaping is a procedure based on the principles of operant conditioning. To use behavior analytic terms, we say in clicker training that an unconditioned stimulus, such as food, is paired with a neutral stimulus (the click), and the neutral stimulus eventually becomes a conditioned stimulus. In plain English, you pair the click sound with giving the learner a treat so that eventually the “click” becomes something that is desired because it is always associated with getting a treat. But that is only the beginning.
Shaping is a process of systematically reinforcing successive approximations to an end behavior. Actions displayed that are not approximations to the end behavior are ignored and not reinforced. Through these experiences, the learner acquires the new behavior. So if I was trying to teach someone to sit in a chair, I would click and reinforce behaviors that brought her closer to the chair until eventually she sits in the chair. (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007)
If you’ve never done clicker training, you can easily get warmed up by playing the Shaping Game (also known as the Training Game) with a group of friends or students. You’re going to use a person as your “animal”. You’ve probably played this game before in another form. Remember the Hot and Cold game? The shaping game is similar to the old kid’s game where something would be hidden for a child to find. As the child got closer to the hidden object, someone would say, “You’re getting warmer.” Functionally, “you’re getting warmer” is like the click that tells a learner he is doing the right thing. We actually did this with some special Christmas gifts for our kids. I’ve used a variation of this game, as well as clicker games, in the classroom to teach my EBD students awareness of the response consequence chain. See below how you can play the Shaping Game in the classroom.
The Shaping Game
1. Have one person agree to be the learner (the person whose behavior will be shaped), and have the learner leave the room.
2. Whoever is left in the room will choose a behavior that will be shaped. For example, you may want the person to come in, walk to a particular table in the room, and pick up a glass. Know what you want the learner to do BEFORE you start! Choosing a behavior is important in playing the shaping game. You want to be a humane trainer, and people may be reluctant to do something considered socially inappropriate (like hugging someone they don’t know or who doesn’t like to be touched). Participants are also unlikely to try a behavior they simply can’t do and will result in embarrassment if they try.
3. Now that the desired behavior has been determined, have the learner reenter in the room. She does not know what the behavior is.
4. As the learner starts moving in the right direction, click the clicker. If she goes the wrong way, say and do nothing. Click each time she is approaching or moving toward what you want her to do.
Don’t have a group of students to work with? That’s okay, ask friends or family members to help you practice shaping. This is also a great icebreaker and a fun staff development activity for teachers in behavior support classrooms for EBD and Autism.
Check out Karen Pryor’s site for tips and variations on the shaping game:
See TAGTeach use shaping strategies to teach humans and animals alike.
Cooper, John, & Heron, T., Heward, W. (2007) Applied Behavior Analysis Second Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Training is going extremely well. Darwin is making quick progress (and he has the belly to show it). We’ve gone from swimming through a hoop to swimming through a short tunnel to swimming through a longer tunnel. It’s neat to see how both fish have their own personalities and temperaments. They are debunking the myth that a goldfish only has a 3 second memory!
Some notes: Both fish perform tricks swimming away from the light. Therefore I will need to work harder on shaping the behavior of swimming in both directions, or modify (soften) the light source. Also, in order to maintain the EO (desire to eat) I need to be mindful of maintaining the feeding/training schedule and avoiding too many trials in sessions. Otherwise the fish get full (satiate) and food is no longer valued as a reinforcer.
Darwin, my fantail goldfish is taking to training like a duck, errr fish in water. Today he performed his first trick, swimming through a hoop (which you can see in the video below). In fact, he loved it so much, when it was Sisco’s turn, he kept sneaking underneath the curtain to get more chances! We couldn’t stop laughing because he wouldn’t stop. Sisco on the other hand, is not taking to training as well. I’m using softened and cut pellets. He definitely seems to be more of a flake food type of guy. I’m finding that yes, even fish have reinforcer preferences! I’ll try to post more videos as training continues. Enjoy!
This holiday season as you go out looking for that perfect gift try to think about what you can do to foster social emotional growth in your children as well. I don’t remember a lot of the gifts I received as a kid, but I do remember the traditions and fun activities we had as a family. Kids remember what you do with them more than the things you give them. Below I’ve included just a few ways to spend time and use the holiday season to provide some social emotional bonding for you and your kids.
Trip to the park: You and your child do not have to be “productive” in order to have fun. Get outside and explore or just enjoy the outdoors for a little while. Most cities have a few neighborhoods open for viewing all the holiday decorations and lights.
Help them plan a holiday party for their friends: As children get older their social world is ever-expanding. Teach them (not do for them) how to be a host and prepare for having guests. They’ll appreciate you showing them now, instead of learning how when they are adults.
Let them help “fixing” something broken: I remember helping my parents fix things that were broken. I think it dispels the myth that you must call for help anytime something breaks. I learned how to problem-solve fix problems on my own. Anyone who has hung up Christmas lights knows, it almost never works the first time. Kids can help you problem-solve how to fix it!
Go someplace special with Dad or Mom: Build some one on one time with Dad or Mom, build on your relationship by going somewhere that is just for the two of you.
Bedtime story: Many holiday stories touch on building character and social well-being (with a holiday twist of course). This time of year there are so many great holiday books and stories for young children out there.
Decorating the home for the holidays: Building a gingerbread houses, putting up decorations, trimming the tree. Let the kids take an active part in the process. Let them put their own stamp on your holiday traditions. It’s fun seeing what they come up with!
Christmas day scavenger hunt: Hide a gift and leave successive clues as to how to find them. Ten years down the road they may forgot the iPod you gave them, but they will most definitely remember solving the mystery of how they found it!
Hopefully I was able to include something for every age level. Some are good for any age!
Enjoy the holidays!