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Meetup : Mountain View: More on Reinforcement

Karen Pryor, writing in Shoot the dog:

I went through Werner Erhard's "est" course, a program with overtones of hucksterism but that, from a training standpoint, I found to be an ingenious and often brilliant application of shaping and reinforcement. The program was called, rightly I think, the Training. The leader was called the Trainer. The shaping goal was improved self-awareness, and the principal reinforcer was not the Trainer's responses but the nonverbal behavior of the whole group.

To develop group behavior as a reinforcer, the 250 people in the group were told to applaud after every speaker, whether they felt like applauding or not. Thus from the beginning the shy were encouraged, the bold rewarded, and all contributions, whether insightful or inane, were acknowledged by the group.

At first the applause was dutiful and no more. Soon it became genuinely communicative—not of degrees of enjoyment, as in the theater, but of shades of feeling and meaning. For example, there was in my training class, as I expect there is in every est group, an argumentative man who frequently took issue with what the Trainer said. When this happened for the third or fourth time, the Trainer started arguing back. Now, it was apparent to all that from a logical standpoint, the argumentative man was perfectly correct. But as the argument wore on and on, no one else in the room cared who was right. All 249 of us just wished he'd shut up and sit down.

The rules of the game—shaping rules, really—did not permit us to protest or to tell him to shut up. But gradually the massive silence of the group percolated into his awareness. We watched him realize that no one cared if he was right. Maybe being right was not the only game in town. Slowly he sputtered into silence and sat down. The group instantly erupted in a huge burst of applause, expressive of sympathy and understanding as well as of hearty relief—a very powerful positive reinforcer of the illumination the arguer had just received.

This kind of training occurrence, in which the important events are behavioral and thus nonverbal, is often maddeningly difficult to explain to an outsider. Erhard, like a Zen teacher, often resorts to aphorisms; in the case of the arguer described above, the est saying is "When you're right, that's what you get to be: right." That is, not necessarily loved, or anything else nice: just right. If I I were to quote that aphorism at a party when somebody is being bombastic, another est graduate might laugh—and indeed, any good modern trainer might laugh—but most hearers might assume I was moronic or drunk. Good training insights do not necessarily lend themselves to verbal explanation.

Direct marketer Dan Kennedy on Erhard and EST: (Source)

In the 70's, when I asked Werner Erhard to sum up his personal growth thing, EST, he said "We preach independence but breed dependence."

Breaking the chain of akrasia

You give any group of people a perfectionism or fear of failure test along with almost any procrastination scale and you get pretty much anywhere from a negative to at best a very weak positive correlation. And if you control for self-efficacy or self-confidence, that weak correlation disappears. Science does not back you up.

The above made me think of a paragraph that caught my eye while I was skimming through Robert Boice's Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel, Practical Approach:

Second, [Procrastination and Blocking] seems hard to define and study. Its practical understanding will require direct observation of PBers acting as problematically dilatory and self-conscious individuals. As a rule, psychologists avoid the time and inconvenience of lengthy field studies. Instead, they prefer to draw occasional conclusions about PBing based on quick personality tests administered to college freshmen. In that way, they can feel like scientists, testing students in laboratory conditions and linking the results, statistically, to other test outcomes such as the seeming inclination of PBers to admit perfectionism or demanding parents (Ferrari and Olivette, 1994). A problem is that researchers lose sight of PBing as a real, costly, and treatable problem.

(Note: This was just an association I made. I haven't read your book and I don't mean to imply that you belong to the category of researchers described by Boice.)

The Physiology of Willpower

The amount of will-power or self-regulatory strength that is used up when making choices depends on the type of choice being made. Autonomous choices don't result in ego-depletion. If you're doing things you want to do, things you like doing, your brain doesn't have to expend 'will-power'.

Choice and Ego-Depletion: The Moderating Role of Autonomy

The self-regulatory strength model maintains that all acts of self-regulation, self-control, and choice result in a state of fatigue called ego-depletion. Self-determination theory differentiates between autonomous regulation and controlled regulation. Because making decisions represents one instance of self-regulation, the authors also differentiate between autonomous choice and controlled choice. Three experiments support the hypothesis that whereas conditions representing controlled choice would be egodepleting, conditions that represented autonomous choice would not. In Experiment 3, the authors found significant mediation by perceived self-determination of the relation between the choice condition (autonomous vs. controlled) and ego-depletion as measured by performance.

Rationality in the Media: Don't (New Yorker, May 2009)

I think you can change one's IQ.

I recently stumbled upon a paper published last year that suggests that fluid intelligence can be trained and that the training effect is dosage-dependent:

Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory Jaeggi et al. PNAS. 2008.

Fluid intelligence (Gf ) refers to the ability to reason and to solvenew problems independently of previously acquired knowledge. Gf is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it isconsidered one of the most important factors in learning. More- over, Gf is closely related to professional and educational success, especially in complex and demanding environments. Although performance on tests of Gf can be improved through direct practice on the tests themselves, there is no evidence that training on any other regimen yields increased Gf in adults. Furthermore, there is a long history of research into cognitive training showing that, although performance on trained tasks can increase dramatically, transfer of this learning to other tasks remains poor. Here, we present evidence for transfer from training on a demanding working memory task to measures of Gf. This transfer results even though the trained task is entirely different from the intelligence test itself. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the extent of gain in intelligence critically depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more improvement in Gf. That is, the training effect is dosage-dependent. Thus, in contrast to many previous studies, we conclude that it is possible to improve Gf without practicing the testing tasks themselves, opening a wide range of applications.

Speaking of IQ, Linda S. Gottfredson recently published Logical fallacies used to dismiss the evidence on intelligence testing which might be of interest to some of the readers.