What do we mean by conditioning and learning?

Classical conditioning:- Ordinarily dogs salivate when food touches their tongues. This is an innate reflex. But dogs also salivated before the food was in their mouths, when the dogs saw food coming they salivated and even when they heard footsteps of persons bringing food to them. The salivating that occurs in the dog, other than ordinarily, happens through the process of conditioning. Here we are not considering psychological processes but rather physiological terms and responses. In a particular experiment a dog was placed in a restraining harness in a dark room and a light was turned on. After 30 seconds some food was placed in the dog’s mouth, eliciting the salivation reflex. The light was a conditional response in this case; its effect required conditioning. How can the learning of a person be enhanced through the formation of a game in which the person looks at a couple of words and looks for the next word. If the word can be used, the person uses the word or phrase by making it into a sentence which is posted on a forum for all to see. Example: Constellations: Corona Austrina Phrases: By the sweat of your brow Song title: I can’t quit you babe / Led Zeppelin Governors of USA: John Rowland, Connecticut Sentence made: - If you live by the sweat of your brow, I can’t quit you babe. The game is just like Hangman where instead of guessing the word, you just click for the next word or phrase and wherever possible use the word or phrase to make a sentence and post it to the forum. Learning occurs when one makes notes and tries to understand the meaning of the sentences and connects it to the next sentence or does not otherwise. Learning also occurs when I encounter a phrase I do not understand the meaning of and google search it to understand the meaning of the same. Learning also occurs when I understand the meaning and consequence of the words and set of words that follow. So by making notes mentally or on paper of the meaning of the word or phrase, I learn and I move on. Let us add a twist to the game. The major issue dealt with is whether a person can be conditioned according to the climate in which he behaves i.e. a word or set of words that he sees which are not useful for making a sentence until he reaches the next word to make a sentence and what effect does the making of a sentence have on that person.

I bring a twist to the tale. Suppose we assume that it is the U.S. Department of Defense which is putting these words on the forum and it is a U.S. covert agent who is waiting for the right message to reach him. We are looking at conditioning here and watching how the U.S. Department of Defense can condition a covert agent using a simple game as the one I suggested. Let’s look at examples. Example: Phrase: Cold Shoulder Phrase: A face only a mother can love Phrase: I don’t want to see your face again. Sentence made: - We are giving you the cold shoulder cause you have a face that only a mother can love and I don’t want to see you again. Song title: It can happen / yes What have these three phrases in the above example resulted in. The covert agent has learned that he is not liked very much at the U.S. Department of Defense. The song title reinforces the phrases “It can happen” by the band ‘yes’. Let’s look at the conditioning end. The U.S. Department of Defense is actually conditioning the covert agent by using the messages that suit its purpose of conditioning. Such learning or realization on the part of the covert agent is not real learning but is conditioning. Learning occurs when the covert agent searches google for a phrase or a word, the meaning of which is not known to him. So learning occurs when the covert agent is looking for the meaning of the word and finds it. Conceptually learning and conditioning are two opposite ends of the same pole. However conditioning has powerful effects on the mind of the person conditioned which can only be removed by learning. However conditioning is a craft. Suppose the initial conditioning being over, the covert agent finds himself conducive to covert messages from the forum and decides to show it’s effects to a friend and perhaps convince him that the game is not just a game but a covert message system for the U.S. Department of Defense. And the U.S. Department of Defense get’s wind of such a move. I can explain with an example of learning: The examples that show on the system when the covert agent shows the game to a friend. Song: Watership down/ Richard Adams Movie: Bionic Woman Song: Whole lotta love/ Led Zeppelin

The friend does not see any covert message in the above example and moves away to the next room. I am exaggerating here but maybe the friend is a fat guy. The next message that shows up on the game is Phrase: I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. What does the covert agent learn a) He is being tracked, his every move is being tracked using internet and satellite surveillance b) His every move is being noticed. c) The U.S. Department of Defense doesn’t want his friend to know his covert activities d) The above mentioned statements is what he learns and conditions him to the fact as to remain covert. Otherwise, one might notice that the game is just a game Example:Phrase: Up to Scratch Song: Hey Joe / Jimi Hendrix Song: Jukebox Hero / Foreigner Phrase: Stretch the truth Phrases: Live and learn Biggest mountain peaks: Pular, Chile Phrase: Pay through the nose Phrase: I won’t take no for an answer Legend of King Arthur: Sir Percival Basketball team: New York Knicks Phrase: No man can serve two masters Why don’t you try making a sentence or two with the words that I just typed and maybe you will get the point. Conditioning requires reinforcements time and again. Conditioning shows responses to reinforcements in the form of sentences made and meanings understood.

I wish to further understand how a game can be made using all the principles of conditioning as outlined by Skinner. A Utopian community can be made based on the principles of conditioning as explained in the book Walden Two, a novel by Skinner published in 1948. We can term the conditioning resorted to by the U.S. Department of Defense as Operant conditioning. In Operant behavior the animal moves freely about and “operates” on the environment. Behaviour, in Skinner’s terms is controlled by the reinforcing stimuli that follow it. To study operant conditioning, Skinner constructed an apparatus that is commonly referred to as a “Skinner Box”. This is a fairly small box in which an animal is free to roam about. At one end there is a bar (lever) when pressed, automatically releases a pellet of food or water. The animal, such as rat, at first pokes around until it eventually presses the bar, and then it gets the reward. As time goes on, it presses the bar more frequently. The most important measure of learning, for Skinner, is the rate of responding; when responses are reinforced, their rates of occurrence increase. In Skinner’s apparatus, the bar-presses are automatically registered on a graph, so the experimenter need not be present mush of the time. According to Skinner, behavior is determined by it’s consequences. Skinner believed that operant behavior plays a much greater role in human life. The mere sight of a book, for instance, does not elicit reading in the same way a bright light automatically elicits an eyeblink. We may or may not read the book, depending upon the consequences that have followed in the past. If reading books has brought us rewards such as high grades, we are likely to engage in the behavior. Principles of conditioning Reinforcement and extinction: Skinnerians have performed numerous experiments showing that human behavior, beginning in infancy, can be controlled by reinforcing stimuli. For example, infants increase their rate of sucking when sucking results in sweet, as opposed to nonsweet liquid (Lipsitt,1975). Similarly, infants rates of smiling and vocalizations can be increased by making their behavior contingent upon rewards, such as the experimenter’s smiles, caresses, and attention (Brackbill, 1958; Rheingold et al.,1959) In such experiments, one is dealing with different kind of reinforcers. Some reinforcers, such as food or the removal of pain, are primary reinforcers; they have “natural” reinforcing properties. Other reinforcing stimuli, such as an adult’s smiles, praise, or attention are probably conditioned reinforcers ; their effectiveness stems from their frequent association with primary reinforcers (Skinner , 1953, p.78)

Operant behavior is also subject to extinction. As I explained in the game above, one can extinguish undesirable behaviours. Operant behavior that has apparently been extinguished may also show spontaneous recovery. As noticed and explained in the game above there is a need for immediacy of reinforcement. A number of responses at the highest rate can be established when they are reinforced promptly. A rat will begin pressing a bar at a high rate only if it has promptly received a food pellet each time it has done so. This is called immediacy of reinforcement. Discriminative Stimuli: Skinner reinforced a pigeon each time it stretched it’s neck. At this point Skinner had no knowledge of any initial stimulus; he simply waited for the pigeon to emit a response and then reinforced it. Next, however, he reinforced the response only when the signal light was on. After a few trials, the pigeon stretched it’s neck much more when the light was on that when it was off. The flashing light had become discriminating stimulus. The light controlled the behavior because it set the occasion upon which the behavior was likely to be reinforced. Stimulus Generalization: Suppose a little girl has been reinforced for saying “Da da” at the sight of her father but not at the sight of her mother or siblings. It is not unusual, however, to find the girl saying “da da” when she sees any man at all, such as strangers on the street. The stimulus has generalized. Her parents must now teach her to make a finer discrimination. They might say, “That’s right,” when she utters “da da” in the presence of her father, but not when she looks at any other man. Shaping: Operant behavior is usually learned gradually, little by little. Even teaching a pigeon to peck a spot on the wall, Skinner (1953 p.92) Skinner showed must be gradually shaped. Thus we have learnt how gaming is a form of conditioning and the principles of conditioning according to Skinner. The above text has excerpts from Theories of development: Concepts and Applications 3rd ed. William Crain.

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