Snow White or the Wicked Witch: Behavioral Poison and Understanding

There are two polarities of thought in the world of behavioral control. Snow_White_the_Witch_and_the_appleThat’s a problem. Behavior is not a one-dimensional phenomenon. It’s almost never a choice of positive or negative to solve a single behavior problem, let alone to guide a life. That is because it’s about the human or animal you are trying to teach or help. It’s not about your personal preferences or ideology. It’s not about your laziness or passion that causes you to be skilled with only one end of the spectrum. If you say the words reinforcement and punishment with any emotion, you shouldn’t be offering behavior services. If you use those two poles to guide your efforts you will paint yourself into a corner. Using an either/or mantra may put money in your pocket or elevate your status but it doesn’t help the person or animal who needs the help. Continue reading

Restraint: Violence for Violence, Forever and Ever, Amen.

In the world of veterinary medicine, shelter management, police enforcement of civil laws and modern behavioral treatment of the mentally disabled, restraint is an acceptable response to violence. If a dog, cat or human attempts to initiate violence they will be subdued. The problem is that such restraint does not prevent the violence from occurring in the future. In the case of mentally disabled animals and humans, it may lead to a perpetual nightmare of attack and defense that never goes away. Imagine how a person incapable of controlling their behavior internally responds to being jumped by thugs on a daily basis, ad infinitum. My question is, why is such restraint acceptable? It is risky, reactive, chaotic and dangerous. It triggers fear (and often escalates the violence) and can cause pain and damage, no matter how careful the restrainer may be. The literature of behavior analysis and common objective observation of nature suggests that contingent punishment can stop or dramatically reduce such violence. That is almost never mentioned and is opposed, routinely. That generates some interesting questions.

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“What Science Says”

coke-vending-machine-47815It is quite popular for animal trainers to claim that they use “scientific” methods. They also like to use the word “evidence-based” which implies that a higher standard of proof was used to find knowledge. Hogwash. It’s actually a cheap attempt to elevate their status and shut up the competition. Nothing more, nothing less. If you doubt the sweeping range of my accusation, let’s look at the real evidence – evidence that would stand up in a criminal court of law. Continue reading

The Ideology of Restraint vs. Punishment: Paradoxical and Odd

“Splasher” on his sleep-number bed.

  Consider this rather interesting paradox. Let’s say by pulling a stuck dog free from a rapidly filling drainage culvert, you break its leg. If you refrain from doing it, the dog drowns. Meaning your logical choice is a broken legged dog vs. a dead dog. Animal emergency people make these kinds of choices on a regular basis. This is not a hypothetical situation. I’ve been in similar situations dozens of times. I once pulled a dog out of a large irrigation canal. He didn’t want to come to me – he was a street dog. He had a big gash in his leg and by pulling him out it was going to hurt considerably and possibly further injure the cut. It’s the same basic choice – a dog with a damaged leg or a drowned dog. I pulled him out – he tried to bite me. Splasher lived to be 17 years old.
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Response to a Facebook post: Bullies and Behavior Analysts

img_Little-Bullies-BoyRecently a person posted on Facebook a wish that all children be trained with “positive” methods. The specific Facebook page is run by the largest professional organization of behavior analysts. Comments of that ilk are common along with grandiose promises of behavior analysis as the tool to save the world. I think not. Here’s my reply to that wishful thinking.
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Cartesian Dualism: Say what?

9969462_orig“Dualism is closely associated with the philosophy of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today.” Wikipedia Continue reading

Logical Analysis of Blind Trials – A Rare Commodity

blindfoldIn the war of positive vs. negative training there is something sadly missing – logical analysis. This is ironic because the people most responsible for “positive” training call themselves “behavior analysts.” These are scientists who claim to use scientific investigation to learn how to predict and control behavior. They have lots and lots of statements about aversive control that sound incredibly wise and are supposed to be the result of objective research – but they aren’t. They are actually ideological statements that reveal an underlying philosophy that is anything but scientific. I know that because of something that is totally missing from their arguments – blind trials. (Note: There is no such thing as “negative” or “punishment-based” training. Those are simply pejorative terms used by “postiive” trainers to limit objective discussion and vilify evidence-based trainers) Continue reading

Articulate Brutes with Cattle Prods: Waldo has left the picture

image_t6But don’t applied behavior analysts use electric shock and other forms of physical punishment?

“Throughout his career, Skinner opposed the use of all forms of punishment; he advocated positive ways of changing behavior.
Standards for practice in applied behavior analysis severely restrict the use of electric shock and other forms of physical punishment. For example, it can be used only when other methods have failed, and when the behavior involved is a threat to the safety of the individual or others.An autistic child who repeatedly hits himself in the eyes with his fists, for example, is likely to cause blindness. If other forms of treatment (e.g., positive reinforcement, extinction) are unsuccessful, the child might be sprayed in the face with a water mister each time he hits himself. This mild form of physical punishment is usually effective in reducing the frequency of self-injurious behavior. Stronger forms of physical punishment, such as brief and mild electric shock, are seldom used and then only as a last resort with severe behavior disorders that have not responded to gentler procedures.” Continue reading

Aversive Control: A biological and evolutionary perspective. Part 1

 Punishment is generally considered the human application of naturally occurring forces that influence behavior. That’s about all you can say about the subject before hitting a fork in the road: the traditional, colloquial use of the term and the attempts by science to describe the phenomenon. Both roads, guided by good intentions, lead to perdition.
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Aversive Control: A biological and evolutionary perspective. Part 2.

(Note: Part 1 is here…

To refresh your memory about the topic, I have presented a case for the idea that punishment is innate in humans and a key survival behavior of both individuals and groups. For millions of years this fact has not been questioned.

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