Saturday, September 22, 2012

Extra Signals

Compose a new message in gmail and it's hard to click on the Send button by mistake:  It's the only button in red.  (Wonder why the programmers didn't set up this "extra" color-coded signal for the "Reply" function as well . . .)

In a similar manner, I appreciate the "extra" raised dots on the "f" and "j" on my keyboard, helping me touch-type truly by touch, no peeking needed.  They signal when my fingers are on the right keys, indicating that certain key strokes will be reinforced by enabling me to type what I need to (such as this blog post).  I've often wished there were more such extra signals on the standard keyboard.  In fact, to help me move the arrow keys efficiently, I put sticky paper on one--and that lets me navigate to the adjacent ones easily just by touch.  My focus can stay on the monitor, rather than switching back and forth to the keyboard. I get things done faster.

Such redundancy in signaling has lots of practical applications.  A couple years ago, I happened to get into conversation with a motorcyclist who commented on his efforts not to disturb the neighbors when he rode in late at night.  I'd wondered why more work hadn't been done to muffle the roar of the engine.  Turns out that motorcyclists--naturally enough--want to make a big commotion when they're on the roads risking their lives among the heavy bruisers like trucks and SUVs.  Even subcompacts, for that matter.  Like ambulances, they want to be both seen and heard so that other drivers can give them a safe berth. (Of course, the attention all the noise brings them can sometimes be rewarding in itself.)

That makes sense, but wouldn't it be great if motorcyclists could turn off the roar when they don't need it, like ambulance drivers do?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

If the Sky was Pink All Day

People who live near mountains get so used to them, they hardly bother to look.  These are the same mountains others might drive hundreds of miles to see.  What's happening to the reinforcer value here?

California sunset ©Ken R. Schneider
  Imagine if the sky was pink all day, and only blue at sunrise
  and sunset. People would gather to watch the wonderful
  blue emerge, and sigh as it slowly faded away--much as
  they do now for glorious pink sunrises and sunsets.

  Frequently, things that are easy to get, like a blue sky, are
  less powerful rewards than things that are harder to get, like
  a pretty sunset.  The schedule of reinforcement is different,
  for sure: You can't just walk outside and marvel at a sunset
  any time of day.   

Another factor is satiation:  For many rewards, too much of a good thing is not a better thing.  Two or three delicious candies might be a longed-for treat, but a whole box is a surfeit with no extra immediate value.  Indeed, being forced to eat a whole box might be a punisher.

I don't know that anyone's ever had a surfeit of sunsets, but I suppose a photographer trying to capture the perfect one, evening after evening after evening, could find blue skies a lot more appealing!