Sunday, December 30, 2012

Motivation and the New Year's Resolution

While driving home from a holiday event last Friday, I listened to National Public Radio's "Science Friday."  I was delighted at clinical psychologist John Norcross's research-based recommendations about how best to follow up on New Year's Resolutions.  Many of his suggestions were based directly on the science of consequences (not really all that surprising). I love this quote:  "Motivation doesn't come in a bottle.  Motivation is, scientifically speaking, a series of small behaviors."  Indeed, as Norcross noted, arranging for suitable signals and positive consequences--like checklists and social support--has been shown to help us stick to our resolutions.  Just making commitments helps--and that of course is what New Year's Resolutions are all about!  Keep them realistic, and "reward your successes, reinforce yourself for each step with a healthy treat or a compliment, perhaps even create a reward contract with a loved one."    Great to see the science covered so well. 

Good luck with any resolutions you make, and have a very happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Karen Pryor on The Science of Consequences

Just briefly--I'm pleased to provide a link to clicker training expert Karen Pryor's comments on my book.  Here's an excerpt:  "Fascinating . . . A ten-year labor of stunning scholarship across many disciplines."

Pryor's pioneering work has helped bring positive reinforcement methods to the worlds of companion animals and zoos--and to us too!  Her best-selling book Don't Shoot the Dog is as much about people as about animals, and I cite it a number of times in The Science of Consequences.  I really enjoyed her most recent book too, Reaching the Animal Mind.

Interview about B. F. Skinner

Dr. Sophia Yin has completed her series of blog posts about her interview with me, winding up with the segment about my friendship with famed psychologist B. F. Skinner.  For those interested, here's the link!

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Structure, Function, and Asian Numbers

Asian numbers?  Unlikely as it may seem, the approach taken in some Asian languages to naming numbers can help illustrate an important behavior dimension.

When you try to get someone's attention (the intended consequence), you might wave your hand, lift an eyebrow, cough gently, or just call out "Hey you!"  These behaviors have very different structures, but the same function.  In a way, just as the many nature-nurture factors always work together, so do structural and functional factors.

Structure includes shape, color, intensity, timing, etc.:  the "what" questions about something.  What is Ellie doing?  Running at quite a clip, and we can measure what her speed is.  Function deals with the "why" questions: Ellie might be running for a train or training for a run, for example.  Same structure, different function.  You get the idea.  Any behavior influenced by consequences has structure, and so do signals for consequences. 

OK, so where do Asian numbers come in?  In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell noted that the Chinese number system, to take one of several examples, has a more logical number naming system than does English:  no irregular names like "eleven."  The numbers are also shorter to say, making it easier to remember a series of numbers.  (Imagine if instead of "one," "two," "three" we had to remember "shigaroomph," "taranug," and "froomjokey.")  These are structural features.  Given comparable consequences and (relatedly) motivation levels for learning numbers and doing mathematics with them, it would be surprising if there weren't any advantages to the more logical system, especially during initial learning.  The same principle applies to the format of the numbers themselves.  How many people would be willing to enter a math contest if handicapped by having to use Roman numerals?  How long does it take to decipher dates in Roman numerals on historic buildings?  (Do architects still follow this practice? . . .  If so, I wonder about the function!)

The structure-function interaction can be found in many places:  anatomy (structure) and physiology (function) in the biomedical sciences, for example. The science of consequences is inherently focused on function, but necessarily incorporates the structural side as well--such as how best to design an effective, rewarding online math tutoring program, or tailor a coaching session for a soccer team.  Correspondingly, psychologists who focus on structural questions--such as cognitive scientists--are also necessarily dealing with function.  Just as our new knowledge of the nature-and-nurture system with its ubiquitous interactions has immensely expanded our understanding of its flexibility and potential applications, a better understanding of how structural and functional principles interact is bound to bring many benefits.  More on this in future posts . . . and comments are welcome!

Friday, December 14, 2012

News about Reviews

I only just discovered that The Science of Consequences got a (very short) review in November in the prestigious science journal Nature!--really more of a brief summary, but still, wow, I never expected that.  I was also delighted to find a very positive review in the journal ForeWord Reviews.  Here's the excerpt I just posted on the Reviews page of my website:  "Engaging and fast-paced . . . Schneider moves agilely from the worlds of genetics and neuroscience to animal behavior, education, and ethics. She layers insights from decades of research with personal anecdotes to ask increasingly provocative questions. . . From one chapter to the next, she deftly weaves a narrative that keeps the reader turning the page. This title is provocative, compelling, and rewarding." 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Link to Interview by Dr. Sophia Yin

I referred to Dr. Sophia Yin's blog back in August in my post on scrub jays.  I got to meet Dr. Yin, a well-known veterinarian and animal behavior expert, when I gave a talk at the downtown Davis, CA bookstore last weekend.  We chatted about everything from my take on B. F. Skinner's views about nature-and-nurture to intrinsic reinforcement in kids and in dogs--great fun!  She's doing a series of blog posts based on interviews with me, and here's a link to the first post in the series:  click here