Sunday, August 5, 2012

Is Positive Reinforcement Bribery?

No.  There are distinct differences between the two.  Whether you are clicker training an animal or TAG teaching a person (of any age), you are using a scientifically researched and proven method of teaching or training which involves the pupil learning something new.  This might be a completely new behavior or a new way of performing a previously known behavior.  Good teaching or training also involves a plan.  A key element in Clicker Training and TAGteach is breaking the behavior down into manageable steps (which will be different for each learner) and reinforcing each step along the way.  
The downfall of bribery is that each bribe only gets you one behavior.  There has been no learning involved, therefore, no long term change will occur.  The bribe is offered before the behavior: “do this and I’ll give you this”.  Without the bribe, the behavior doesn’t happen.  This frequently leads to the pupil demanding the bribe before repeating the behavior.  They think, “well, last time I got a cookie for getting into my car seat.  I want to be sure I get one this time too!”.  This is a one-time deal.  
With animals, we don’t have the ability to tell the animal, “if you get on the trailer, I’ll give you a carrot”.  So those using bribery stand on the trailer with a bucket of grain, shaking the bucket and trying to lure the animal in.  They might give a bite now and then, but there is rarely a plan for how this training is taking place.   Without an understanding of the other things affecting the horse’s behavior, those bucket-shakers don’t change the long term behavior of the horse.  They may get the horse on the trailer, but the next time they need to load, they will be back there shaking that bucket. 
With clicker training, no treat is offered ahead of time.  The animal does not know what will earn a click, or if it will earn a click.  Therefore, he must think.  He must try different things to see what works.  The animal becomes actively engaged with using his brain to figure out this puzzle.  Engaging him in this way changes the training picture entirely.  In addition, we don’t click and treat the same behavior, differentiating Clicker Training from luring and bribing.  The animal must keep working, keep thinking, keep trying in order to continue getting clicked.  Standing still on the trailer ramp doesn’t work.  Backing off and then putting the front feet on again over and over doesn’t work.  Clicker trainers use measurable criteria to determine when progress is being made and they mark that with a click.  Once it is trained, as long as nothing else changes that training (such as a bad experience), you have a well-trained loader.
With people, we have the advantage of language to be able to communicate exactly what will earn a tag.  We aren’t bribing a person for a finished behavior.  One doesn’t tag for “good position” or “a clean room”.  One breaks the position down into manageable steps.  The tags occur when that step is achieved- our bodies need to experiment to find that right spot and then TAG!  The brain processes that and tries it again- TAG!  Once we have been tagged several times, we know the feel of the correct position.  We can repeat it.  At that point the teacher goes on (using the training plan) to another piece of the position.  Through this gradual process and understanding that one piece may slip when a new one is introduced, we can help a student achieve that final position we are looking for.  Through this process, we have also helped the student to feel good about the position.  Therefore, no bribery is necessary to maintain it.  
In case you are wondering, you can devise a plan to TAGteach for a clean room :)  

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