Saturday, December 8, 2007

How to you improve your life (Part 2 of 3)

The second in a three part is about how we change our behaviour voluntarily. In psychology one method is called "Classical Conditioning" and the second is called "Operant Conditioning". The person to coin the phrase was B.F. Skinner. His experiments to prove operant conditioning occurs was done using what is called today the "skinner's box" or "Operant conditioning chamber".

It's operation is fairly simple. When the rat pulls the response lever, it is rewarded with a food reinforcement.

In this case the rat is getting positive reinforcement, which is to say. The response following the presentation of the stimuli is strengthened. We can also use negative reinforcement, which would be the reduction of an aversive stimulus to increase the behaviour; Like removing unwanted sound from a room to strengthen the subject's ability to focus on a subject. The opposite of reinforcement is punishment. Punishment decreases the behaviour after punishment is applied. Much like having your mark deducted on an assignment for being late.

Positive reinforcement, Negative reinfocment and punishment are all properties of Operant Conditioning.

The other important aspect of operant conditioning is the reward cycle. It can be either continuous or partial.

Continuous reinforcement schedule (CRF) would reward the desired response every time it occurs. Using the skinners box example, the rat would be rewarded with every pull of the level.

On the flip side of continuous reinforcement there is partial/intermittent reinforcement. There are four types of partial reinforcement. they are:

    • Fixed ratio (FR) - For every x amount of occurrences, reinforce the behaviour with a reward - Ex: FR5 = rat reinforced with food after each 5 bar-presses in a Skinner box.
    • Variable ratio (VR) - an unpredictable schedule for reward. The reward is delivered after a variable amount of responses - Ex: VR5 schedules deliver reinforcement after a random number of responses (based upon a predetermined average)
    • Fixed interval (FI) - FI15 = rat is reinforced for the first bar press after 15 seconds passes since the last reinforcement
    • Variable interval (VI) - VI5 - reinforcement is provided for the first response after an average of 5 seconds since the last reinforcement.

There is also a term to define a gradual shaping of a behaviour, that term is successive approximation. Its kind of like what "training" is for, if that training is supposed to mentally prepare you for something.

So the next time your learning something, ask yourself. Is it classical or operant conditioning? lol

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