Learning

Two interesting things I learnt about learning today:

1. Why shouldn’t passersby praise, pet, or feed a service dog while he is working?

Service dogs learn by operant conditioning, a form of associative learning in which the consequences of a behavior changes the frequency of the behavior’s occurrence. For example, a child may be rewarded with ice cream (consequence) for completing his homework (behavior). This encourages him to continue being diligent in his work. Providing rewards while the dog is working may interfere with his training.

2. Where did the idea for the Homing Pigeon in Worms come from?

B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist famous for his work on Behaviorism, tested the concept of a pigeon-guided missile during World War II. A pigeon in the warhead would operate the flaps on the missile and guide it home by pecking at an image of a target.  How could this work? When the missile was in flight, the pigeon pecked the moving image on a screen, receiving a reward of food to keep the designated target in the center of the screen. This reward produced corrective signals to keep the missile on course. It worked, but it was never put into practice. Once again, the principle of operant conditioning.

In economics, this would simply be known as incentive theory.

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