Darwin Learns the Limbo!

The third installment in my Fish Academy series. My precision in delivering reinforcement continues to improve. Factors such as location and time of delivery are very important to consider in training sessions. If I deliver a reinforcer too far away from where the trick is performed, or if I deliver too long after the trick is performed, the fish can associate an incorrect behavior or an incorrect form of the behavior with reinforcement. When reinforcement is delivered with precision, the benefit is that learning becomes more efficient for the learner. See how it helped Darwin learn this trick extremely quick!

Darwin the Goldfish: Extended Tunnel

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.

(Fish) School is in Session!

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!

Let’s Get Ready to Tumble? (ABA-style)

Recently I spent some time observing my daughter’s cheer squad practice before a competition. All the girls and even the coaches showed clear signs of frustration throughout the practice. Several girls were continuing to struggle learning dance routines and tumbling maneuvers they had been working on for months.

Suddenly I thought that surely there would be a great deal of behavior analytic literature relating to sports performance. A search of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis does provide a list of about 30 articles relating in some way to the use of applied behavior analysis principles for enhancing sports performance (You can see that list here).

In my opinion, there is a lot of potential for the use of behavior analytic principles and procedures to teach sports related skills that involve complex behavior chains. There are some promising treatment packages currently out there, such as TAGteach, that have been used in several sports related applications. There is some empirical evidence supporting it at this time, such as Stokes et al (2010), however I would like to see additional research on it.

That being said, I am definitely intrigued by the prospect of using ABA procedures in teaching tumbling and gymnastics. I’m a big fan of using my own kids as test subjects (I don’t think my daughter remembers being clicker trained to discriminate colors when she was 6 months old).

Always fascinated by the vast spectrum of possibilities for the field of applied behavior analysis!

A Belated Thank You and a Dream Revealed.

Recently many of you supported my idea in last month’s Pepsi Refresh Project. Despite our best efforts, sadly we did not get enough votes to become finalists. I’ve taken some time to reflect on this over the past couple of weeks. I would lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. The funds would have gone a long way to the realization of a dream. However, it’s hard to cry over money that was a) never mine to begin with and b) well earned by someone else.

There were many great ideas proposed and the finalists went to great efforts to become finalists. I know this because we all put forth great effort. Through it all I discovered many people with other great ideas and none to be diminished by the fact that they weren’t successful in the vote.

I come away from this experience even more driven. Writing a proposal helped me formalize a vision I dreamed of a little over a year ago. While researching best practices in social emotional learning I realized that all the evidence points to the fact that we don’t do enough for our kids today. Children are having more behavior problems in school than ever before. People are joining the workforce without the necessary social, emotional, and interpersonal skills they should have learned while in school.

We often shelter our children so they don’t get hurt or hurt anyone else. By doing so we only hold them back. In the process they don’t learn the valuable skills to be successful and independent. A family is only as strong as it’s weakest member. We do this because it is hard to place trust in someone else to help us do it. But what if there was someone you could trust? People who could not only help your child be successful, but also help you be successful as a parent?

That’s where BASES comes into the picture. My vision is a place where both children and parents can engage in social emotional learning and wellness activities. A place where children can learn the skills to succeed and where parents can learn that they are not alone. I was not convinced that anyone would buy into the idea, but your feedback let me know that I was on to something.

It has been a long process of reflection, but thanks to your support, I now have the commitment to make this dream a reality.


P.S. I’m working on a website which should be coming out soon! I will post an update to let you know when it’s ready!

My Behavior Change Project, the short version…

My project: A intervention plan based on Piazza et al’s An Evaluation of the Effects of Matched Stimuli on Behaviors Maintained by Automatic Reinforcement (Piazza et al, 2000), Shore et al’s An Analysis of Reinforcer Substitutability Using Object Manipulation and Self-injury as competing responses (1997), and Groskreutz et al’s Response Competition and Stimulus Preference in the Treatment of Automatically Reinforced Behavior: A Comparison (2011).

Experimental question: What is the effect of substituting object manipulation for self-injury on a student with the comorbid special education eligibilities of emotional disturbance and mental retardation?

My shortened conclusion: Basically I came to similar conclusions. We were able to reduce self-injurious behavior (skin picking) of a student by providing the student a squeezable toy (that provided tactile, visual, and auditory stimuli) as freely available as the reinforcement schedule for self-injury. However long term maintenance of the behavior may only last as long as the item is preferred. Another factor to consider is accounting for all possible sensory-matched consequences. Although the object matched many dimensions of the reinforcing effects of self-injury, such as tactile (resistant pressure), visual (seeing blood), and auditory (squishing sound), it did not match them all (specifically pain). Introducing a stimulus that induces pain to would violate moral and ethical standards.

Therefore intervention could continue providing an object that matches many suspected sensory stimuli which can be manipulated as an alternative to self-injury. However, the intervention must also include moral and ethical methods for reducing pain or minimizing the reinforcing effects of pain on self-injury. Additionally, a procedure to provide differential reinforcement for behaviors that are incompatible (DRI) with the self-injury would enhance intervention plan.

Implications: This project took place in a school setting. Putting such an intervention in place although not labor intensive, was time intensive in the beginning. It required the very controlled environment of a self-contained special education classroom. This was done in order to minimize extraneous variables that can confound the intervention variable. Although this intervention appears complicated, it was actually very simple. In essence, if self-injurious behavior is suspected to be reinforced by automatic reinforcement, try to provide alternative activities that are both incompatible with and provide as much of the same sensory stimulation as the self-injurious behavior.