Monday, April 28, 2014

Making Health Addictive: Use Unpredictable Rewards

The concept of unpredictable rewards brings us closer still to the vision of what Making Health Addictive might look like on your mobile device. This tactic is what the mobile industry has capitalized on to get you to check your device 150 times a day. Now, we just need to corral the power mobile devices yield, to call your attention to relevant, personalized health messages, and change our behavior for the better. This tool for behavior change is not new. In 1948, when B.F. Skinner did his famous operant conditioning experiments, he measured rat salivation in response to presenting a food pellet to the rat. In the background, he also rang a bell when the food pellet was presented. After a while, he observed that the rat would salivate when the bell rang, whether the food pellet dropped or not. The response was even stronger, however, when the food pellet was presented randomly. This observation was the beginning of the science of variable rewards. Advertisers use this concept often, as they know how effective it is. more

1 comment:

Jeffrey Shamow said...

This is appalling. Skinner had nothing to do with salivation. The 1948 paper had to do with non contingent reinforcement of key pecking in pigeons, but that is the least of the errors. Salivation – couldn't be Pavlov, could it? Pavlov was a gastric physiologist studying salivation in dogs. Food placed in a dog's mouth produced salivation. He noted that when the lab assistant approached with the food, the dog salivated. The underlying model was the reflex – Food (stimulus) produced salivation (response). The assumption was the dog came”wired” that way so the food-salivation reflex was unconditional. The assistant had no physical connection with the dog, and Pavlov thought he had discovered a “psychic reflex.” The new reflex was conditional on preceding the food (Unconditional stimulus- US) with the assistant carrying the food (Conditional Stimulus – CS). The 1927 report of the work was translated by Georg Anrep who's English wasn't good and he translated Conditional to Conditioned, so we have been living with Conditioning ever since. The french translation is more accurate. The response in the S-->R reflex is controlled by it's antecedent. Skinner was studying, behavior maintained by consequences. In the case of the key peck (or bar press), food following the bar press reinforced the response. There is more, but one of the most egregious is confusing reinforcement with reward. A reinforcer is a response contingent stimulus that increases the probability of the response that produced it. Reinforcers do not have to feel good. As humans (the purpose if all of this is ultimately to understand why we do what we do) we frequently walk into the same table over and over again. Why does the collision with the furniture maintain the behavior that produced it? There is no time for this here, but that it is necessary is saddening. Ignorance displayed in his article is staggering. The author has confused Operant and Respondent behavior, completely misunderstood the notion of intermittent reinforcement, and cheerfully painted a picture that resembles nothing that over a hundred years of research (Skinner's 1938 The Behavior of Organisms was in a long line of work) has produced. I was thrilled when “Current Directions...” appeared. This massive blunder got past an editor? Now have to wonder how much I can trust anything that appears here.

Jeffrey M. Shamow, Ph.D.