As with all aspects of life, clear communication between caregivers, trainers, and behaviorists is vitally important if we are all to help each other solve behavior problems with our birds. One tenet of clear communication is the vocabulary used for such communications. To foster clear communication I will be posting a series of short articles here that define and examine some of the most used and abused terms of behavior science. This will not be a complete list, merely an attempt to improve all of our communication skills and through that improved communication develop our relationships with our birds through better training.
All of the definitions used in these articles will be taken from “Learning and Behavior” by Paul Chance. Anyone who is interested in getting good solid information about behavior science should seriously consider purchasing a copy of this book.
I will begin the series with a term that many people feel they completely understand. However, one only needs to monitor a few of the many Internet lists and forums to realize it is often misused.
The procedure of providing consequences for a behavior that increase or maintain the strength of that behavior.Learning and Behavior, Paul Chance.
This single sentence embodies several important concepts that many people appear to either gloss over or misunderstand. First and perhaps most misunderstood is that reinforcement is a procedure and not a tangible thing or object. One often hears people say “I offered reinforcement …” Reinforcement cannot be offered like a peanut. It is the process of giving the bird a peanut immediately after a behavior and seeing a future increase or maintenance of that behavior. This is the second important point in this sentence; the process followed by the trainer/caregiver is only defined as reinforcement if, after the consequence is provided, the behavior it follows actually is maintained or increased. No matter what our intention reinforcement has only been used when one is able to observe its effect on future behavior.
Closely related to reinforcement is “Reinforcer.” This is not a term directly defined by Chance in his book, however I will write about Reinforcers and Punishers in a future article that addresses the term “Stimulus.”
I hope you enjoy these short articles, if you have a term that you find confusing or would simply like better defined and explained
please feel free to email me.