Operant Learning.

Considering what you have learnt about Operant Learning, discuss how this information has now helped you to understand either your own behaviour, or the behaviour of someone in your immediate circle.

The best example to help my understanding of these different types of learning techniques is the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon & Penny scene. This, more than any theoretical understanding, has helped articulate in real world application what operant learning is – how it looks, how it feels, how it is put into practice. Operant conditioning is reinforcement given to a desirable behaviour to encourage that behaviour happening again. It can also be used to modify or slightly alter an existing behaviour, or to stop an undesirable behaviour occurring altogether. The Big Bang Theory example alludes to the idea that if the conditioning can happen subconsciously, without obvious reinforcement, it has a better, more intrinsic, chance of being effective.

 

 

I reflect on the times in my life when this may have happened to me without my immediate knowledge. Perhaps when I was very young, I was rewarded by using bathroom breaks correctly. That type of learning is an obvious necessity to become part of functioning society (who wants to be associated with an adult who still pees their pants?). And I think that is quite a point to make. A lot of what we learn and adapt to is based on the societal standards we have created for ourselves – be it learning to go to the bathroom, or how to conduct ourselves in a conversation.

By being the curious creatures that we are, we cannot help to see the world and want to make sense of it. Perhaps by our own understanding of the happenings around us, we are interpreting our own reinforcement to actions. Imagine if every time you went up a lift and held your breath, the lift worked just fine. Imagine if one day you just didn’t do this because you were talking to someone, and the lift shuddered, or stopped completely and you were stuck. Perhaps you would associate the holding of breath to the lift working ok, and have been conditioned to continue that behaviour.

What if every time you cooked dinner for you parents, they gave you chocolate for dessert. You really love chocolate, but still live at home without a job so you can’t go and get your own. You’d probably cook dinner more, yes? By the time you leave home, you’ll be so used to cooking dinner that you’d be great at it! You might even want to become a chef (if the prize was an endless supply of Cadbury’s).

Closer to home, however, operant conditioning becomes a very precarious tool. Do I now hold this power over people close to me who don’t understand the mental technology I am implementing? The power to subtly reinforce behaviours from my roommate that I like. When she takes the rubbish out, I offer her a cigarette. I take extra care to ensure she notices me emptying the rubbish, then I will initiate a smoke break. This modelling/imitation is working well so far. Our bins are nearly always clear. (then again, the smoking habit is a tougher nut to crack – working on it!).

I start to look outside of my immediate circle. What about the people I work with, what about the customers I talk to. Why do they have certain habits, why do they do things a certain way. Is our office manager employing such tactics to manipulate his staff to his own, or the companies, desired attributes? Is it even a bad thing? Our company recently employed a Future Recruiter – a young school graduate – to develop their career in recruitment. Career development now seems to be a socially acceptable term for Operant Conditioning. “We will reward you for adapting your behaviour for our desired results”. We train our Future Recruiters how to interact with clients, what the best tactics are to get the result you want, how to schedule your daily calendar to be the most productive. All the while, praising your adapted behaviours highly. Modifying your initial instincts to something more preferred.

What behaviours have I since adapted or changed because of operant learning? How did I end up being the person I am today? Who did this to me, who made me like this?! I know for certain that I do not act the same as my 15 year old self would. I have a different understanding of how to behave to garner the reaction I desire, be it in personally life (on a night out) or in work life (on a visit with a new client) or in my daily wind-down (at home with my roommate and closer friends). The reasons I act the way I do in any given situation is a result of previous actions and consequences I have learnt from them. Thus moulding my own behaviour with my own learning and interpretation of reinforcement. I guess the methods of conditioning are so subtle that over a lifetime, they are difficult to pinpoint. It plays more to the idea of Nurture more so than Nature shaping the people we become. If I had grown in isolation, like a lone tree in a desert, I would have grown very differently to a tree in a forest grove.

 

S.

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A Licence to Reproduce.

Adlerian parental training programs have led to some suggestion that parent training should be a prerequisite for parenthood or that parenting should somehow be a ‘licensed activity’. Discuss this idea keeping in mind the following questions.

  • Should our society require a license for parenting?
  • If so, what prerequisites should there be? (education, training, financial, others?).
  • Who should have the power to set the licensing standards?
  • To what extent should licensing be sensitive to cultural diversity?
  • What type of corrective or punitive actions should be available to the authorities regarding parental licensing? 

 

Parenthood should not be available to just anyone. It is a biological process, and our evolutionary purpose to reproduce. However, humans are more than animals. We have the capacity to make choices, analyse decisions, strive for the betterment of mankind. Why are we still breeding beyond our capability, and why are we fostering harmful environments for innocent children to be brought into unwillingly? Actually, let’s put it simply. Why is it still possible for a crack addict to produce children without pause, and pollute the population with defective humans, burdening the healthcare systems and the wider society with their poor life choices. Nice one, Gary.

Birth control is widely available. But it’s not free. What we are creating is an environment where people with a higher level of socio-economic status are breeding selectively, whilst those who are at the lower/lowest end of the ladder have little control over their choice to reproduce. To exaggerate, what I can imagine is one child who has the capacity to contribute positively to society against 10 kinds that cant. The scale will soon be so unbalanced, humanity will dissolve into Mad Max, Fury Road. Can’t wait…

License for parenting? Education, training, schools for would-be parents? Birth control? Submit an application to be a parent, have the right kind of income. Think about it. How does it make logical sense to go through a lengthy process to buy a home to make sure you can afford it, but you can just have kids no worries? Anyway, I digress. All of these measures and prerequisites need to be free for all to attend. Otherwise, what’s the point? Actually, why stop there. Re-write the whole school curriculum so that children have a better understanding of parenthood and how to raise a child. Actually get a handbook together and teach it to kids so they’re not so unprepared. Change the way our government supports parents and children so they’re better equipped and resourced to raise our future so humanity doesn’t go to shit. Just a thought.

S.

Wake Up, Mr West.

How might Eastern psychotherapists handle the issue of diagnosing psychological problems differently from their Western counterparts? What are some potential advantages/disadvantages of each approach to diagnosis?

Western psychology looks at changed states of consciousness as an affliction that needs to be fixed. This avenue of psychology lives in a constant state of reactiveness. People seek help due to a perceived fault in themselves. For example, the idea that hallucinations are “wrong” is only because of a social construct that was created in our Western environment. It seems that a lot of what is right and wrong is not bred of moral ideologies, but of what is currently socially acceptable. Much like fashion, personality traits of the time seem to be #ontrend with any outliers being a serious faux pas.

The Eastern views of the consciousness focus on acceptance and learning to channel that reality effectively for the individual. Here, it is commonly acceptable to practice meditation, or yoga for the individuals own enlightenment and better state of being, throughout their whole life, seeking to alter the state of consciousness. This is a lifestyle, this is proactively seeking a healthier state of body and mind.

In regards to what is better or worse is really dependant on the point of view of the person considering that opinion. On one hand, ignorance is bliss. How do you know if there are different levels of consciousness and being if you don’t know about it? If you consider yourself happy in your day to day life, why seek to change it without a reason? On the other hand, seeking enlightenment is the only way to live. Is there a disadvantage to either the Easter or Western method of diagnosis? It depends on who you ask, and what you want the answer to be.

S.

Life: Love it or Loathe it, it’s here to end.

The eternal paradox of life and death tightens its grip on us, whilst at the same time being challenged by modern science. Centuries before our time, the cycle of life and death was readily accepted. The afterlife was worshipped to be everlasting, with many cultures investing a lot of their time and energy into ensuring a good afterlife (see, Egyptians, Myans, Vikings etc). Life was cyclical. It came and went as the seasons changed.

A fantastic marketing ploy in only the past 100 years has made time liner and fashioned it into a commodity to be earned and spent. A line stretching straight on into the void. This shift in scope has changed our current view of the passage of time. Instead of accepting death as a part of life, science and engineering has aspired to extend our normal cycles to be everlasting. The search for eternal life continues in earnest. Science fiction movies envision suspended hibernation, beings who live beyond our normal human stretch of years. New aged health care, medicines, lifestyles are marketed with the possibility of extending your life, at a price. We can exchange one currency for another. Money for time.

The dramatic events of recent history, Chernobyl, 9/11, the Boxing Day Tsunami,  have made us even more keenly aware of how fragile life is, whilst at the same time still thinking “it won’t happen to me”. Many of us live in the ignorant bliss of our own mortality, whilst quickly passing judgement on others. It’s easier to not think about death. But right there, in really knowing you don’t get to live forever, that you only have this one shot, can we really transcend, can we really appreciate the gift of today and live the best of it. In the immortal words of Eminem, “if you only had one shot, would you take it?” Sure, your new behaviour might be seen as erratic, neurotic even, but only to the people who aren’t on your level.

Refusing to live in constraints given to you by society might be seen as crazy. It might seem enlightened. It might be the encouragement someone else needs to break free of their chains and truly live their best life today. Because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

Here is a picture of my cat, Cora, who is free from the ravages of self-awareness and other crippling paradoxes. I think.

Cora

Live in fear of the end of your life, and find freedom in that.

S.

Does Life Happen Because of we Want it to, or it was Bound to?

When you make a decision, conscious or not, how do you make it? Do you think about all the possible angles, outcomes and consequences of that decision? Do you go with your gut? Do you feel backed into a corner and there are no options, just the one route you can take? What about not just you as an individual, what about a whole state, or country? How are decisions made in a larger scope there? Do they lead us down the path already laid down at our feet or a we just as likely and free to choose the path less travelled? There are a lot of questions about free will and whether it exists, and it is exclusive to humans among any species on the planet. To define free will, we may consider “the subjective feeling of an agent either at that moment of decision or in retrospect that the decision is free, and that one might have chosen to decide differently” (Runes, 1962). To believe in free will is to believe that human beings have the power to be creators of their own futures, and to reject the idea that our actions are predetermined by external conditions or fate. The counter argument is that our lives are already determined by the actions gone before, and whatever choices we make moving forward is not actually a choice at all, but rather the only possible outcome (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999).  As one science fiction writer beautiful portrays, determinism is that “all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again” (Glen A. Larson, 2004)

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Consider the symbols that appear recurring throughout human history. Very often, there are strong similarities that cannot be thought of as coincidental between cultures separated by vast distances of time and land. The mandala, the symbol of the self, has been recreated over history showing different forms but all having the same meaning. The ancient people of Egypt projected many of their personality traits into a world of gods, enabling them to identify parts of themselves in these deities, and look for guidance from them. The Northmen of the 17th Century, Vikings, also had a hall of deities, who they believed were once human and have reached eternal life in Valhalla through a life of sacrifice and victory. They looked onto these beings to deliver them and guide their ways, interpreting meaning from the movement of the sea and the seasons of the earth.

 

Religion is a strong way to project your own thoughts and feelings and find answers. Nowadays however, religion is being shunned for a nihilistic view. Instead of adorning their lives with holy epitaphs, people are adoring their bodies with symbols that have a unique meaning to them. Tattoo their flesh to identify their own self and individuality amongst the crowd. Was there any other outcome but this? Will there be any other future but the one already unfolding?

 

Many theories have been advanced over the years to determine why humans act the way they do. It is one of the cornerstone curiosities of psychology – seeking to understand human thought, emotions and behaviors. Free will vs Determinism. Both have a huge amount of support for them, so is either one of them “right”? or do they work together to allow humans to conduct their lives?

 

To progress understanding of human behavior, theories needed to have more stringent requirements to evaluate the efficacy and empiricism of the theory. They need to be testable. the forefront of learning as a social concept was A Bandura (1969) who proposed his social learning as a theory through which the observer acquires a mainly symbolic representation of the modelled behavior. Developments in learning theory for causal analysis shifted from the hypothesized sense of inner determinates to a broader yet detailed examination of the external environment. The theory was updated to reflect how the environment, both socially and physically, shaped human behavior and action. We can learn from observation, this means instead of having to experience all the uniqueness of life ourselves to know the outcome, we are able to build large, integrated units of behavior simply by watching another example. It means that humans can save themselves a lot of time and tedious trial and error by simply observing an action and outcome. Also, with the development of cognitive ability, this also enables us to think on future actions. The wealth of knowledge gained by experience and observation can be applied mentally to problem solving, we can solve problems symbolically, without having to physically act out each possible scenario to see the consequence. When a course of action has been mentally proposed, we have the insight to adjust our behavior to support the desired outcome (Albert Bandura & Walters, 1977).

 

This social learning theory was developed and applied recently by Nemon (2015), who examined the relationship on parent’s scheduling to their child’s effectiveness in completing their homework. What was found that parents who have poor time management skills is reflected directly in their children’s time management ability. Improvements suggested in this study were to simply change the modeled behavior of the primary source (Nemon, 2015). There have also been further studies into the relationships between parents and peers to children and adolescent behavior that offer more support to this theory, readily identifying the modeled behavior is learnt purely through observation (Norman & Ford, 2015; Schaefer, Vito, Marcum, Higgins, & Ricketts, 2015). These more recent studies take the theory of social learning and apply it outside of a laboratory, in real world examples. The outcomes support the theory, giving it strength, and the solutions to improve the situation also are in line with the same theory. Primarily, social learning theory support the idea of determinism in the sense that our actions are so because of constructs we have learned in the past. There is only one possible outcome due to the circumstance we have intrinsically become accustomed to. To break away from the pre-determined outcome would be to display the notion of free will – which has not been supported in these studies.

 

Social learning is also supported and supports the theory of behaviorism as it equates learning to the behavior that can be observed an measured. Skinner (1953) proposed that all actions are determined, and not free, as behavioral theorist look to past or present environments to explain behavior.

 

There are still many prevailing philosophies that strive to recognize the internal human nature of “will” giving the power to override environmental causalities (Van Inwagen, 1983). If this is true, it would suggest the ability to make predictions and control behavior to be impossible. However, there is boundless support for behavior predicting and manipulation (Pavlov & Anrep, 2003; Skinner, 1953; Watson, 1913). As one of the main proponents of behaviorism, Skinner strongly supports a deterministic human nature. “We regard the common man as the product of his environment, yet we reserve the right to give personal credit to great men for their achievements” (Skinner, 1953). Riedel, Heiby, and Kopetskie (2001) have recently adapted behaviorism theories to apply to bipolar patients to investigate the effects of conditioning and understanding behavior, building the application of these theories to transition from theories into practical treatment and therapy processes.

 

A challenging argument to those theories lies in this humanistic approach to psychology. It was first introduced by Maslow and Lewis (1987) as an emphasis to study the whole person. The humanistic approach considers a person’s behavior through the eyes of the person, as well as the observer, which in this case in unique to the theories discussed previously. This enables the observed to consider all angles that has led a person to come to a decision. The basis for humanistic psychology is existential assumption that people have free will, and are capable of exercising that freedom at any time (McLeod, 2015). For humanistic psychologists, it is argued that objective reality is less important than how a person perceives and understand their world as their subjective reality (McLeod, 2015). It relates all events and experiences not just for what they are but the emotional and psychological impact it has on the person themselves. This approach allows us to have a much more holistic view of an individual and their experience in this world, as nothing but our own unique experiences shape the person we become. Rogers (1995) has found profound understanding in simply listening and hearing what a person has to say about their experiences. As a person strives for self-actualization, being heard and having their peers understand the plight gives strength and positive reinforcement to continue forwards (Frankel, Sommerbeck, & Rachlin, 2010).

 

The limitation of this theory of self-actualization is very limited in the sense that it cannot be generalized to a larger population as every person is unique, and no two experiences are the same. This in turn means the theory has no empirical strength, and would take a lifetime to complete. It also has a strong bias to a person’s ideal self, where they actions may be justified by their own ego. The arguments for social learning and behaviorism are easily hypothesized and transferrable to real-life studies with proven results. Based on previous research and evidence to support, the argument for free will is in stark contrast to that of  A Bandura (1969) and Skinner (1953).

 

Whilst there is support for both arguments to the human condition, it is difficult to surpass the alignment of determinism. It’s a nihilistic view, but you don’t really have a choice. Based on your environment and upbringing, everything you’re exposed to has an influence on your personality, traits that you pick up, your behavior in certain situations. No decision could ever be “free” of yourself, unless you had someone else make a decision for you, blind of all your influencing factors.

 

 

S.