Brelands and Instinctual drift



Up to this point, we've been talking about conditioning as if it occurred in a vacuum that organisms come into the environment as a tabula rasa, capable of learning any one thing as easily as anything else. But organisms bring a rich genetic endowment to theirinteractions with the environment, and their inheritance influences what they are likely to do, when they are likely to do it, and their capacity for learning certain kinds of connections between their behavior and environmental contingencies. When there is a conflict between learned and instinctual behavior, organisms sometimes. Why do things that don't fit the simple model of conditioning first put forth by John B. Watson, and to a lesser extent B. F. Skinner. In the 1950's, some behaviorists came to call these conflicts between learned and instinctual behavior misbehavior. Misbehavior occurs when the contingencies of reinforcement alone can not explain the behavior of the organism.



The term misbehavior comes from a 1961 American Psychologist article by Keller and Marion Breland entitled The Misbehavior of Organisms. The title was a playful jab at B. F. Skinner, their mentor, whose 1938 book The Behavior of Organisms is widely viewed as the seminal work in the development of the experimental analysis of behavior. In this article, the Breland's talked about how their conditioning of animals was more or less difficult depending on the species-specific behaviors of the animals they were training. For example, teaching a chicken to "dance" is pretty easy--as it waits for food, chickens naturally "scratch" at the ground, which resembles dancing. Trying to train a chicken to stand still to obtain food, however, is quite difficult. If you are a chicken, you scratch the ground when obtaining food is likely. Chickens don't stand around waiting for food. It's in the nature of the beast to scratch. You can try your best to reinforce a chicken for standing still, but it just won't do it. The closer it gets to the time when food will be presented, the more difficult the chicken finds it to stand still, even if standing still is what's being reinforced. The reason why the Brelands considered this to be misbehavior is that it should be just as easy to shape a chicken for standing still as for scratching if in fact all operants are created equal. But there is a wired-in (biological) connection between scratching and foodfor a chicken.


How does misbehavior affect the general applicability of

conditioning principles?

Instinctive Drift-- The classic example of misbehavior described by Keller and Marion Breland. While training animals to perform "human" type actions for TV commercials,animals would perform well for a while, then their behavior would deteriorate for no apparent reason -- they were still being reinforced, etc., but the control exerted by the contingencies of reinforcement were no longer maintaining the behavior. But themisbehavior was nonrandom -- there was a characteristic pattern to the deterioration of the operantly maintained behavior. For example, if a pig was being conditioned to put a coin in a piggy bank (I remember seeing this ad as a youth growing up in Los Angeles, where the Brelands had their business), everything would go fine for a while, but then the pig would get into rooting the coin around the floor, and the reinforced chain of behaviors would break down. The Brelands saw this as misbehavior in that the principles of behavior would suggest that any behavior that does not lead to reinforcement would be dropped, yet this behavior, even though it delayed, or even prevented reinforcement, not only developed but became more elaborate. Why would the pig misbehave? Well, pigs will be pigs. Pigs, by their genetic nature, root their food. The coin is associated with food, so the pig starts rooting the coin. Racoons, in a similar training situation, began washing the coin, a typically raccoon thing to do. The significance of this misbehavior was not lost on other behaviorists, and the work of the Brelands lead to a revolution in the scientific analysis of behavior, the result of which we will explore in the final unit of the semester.





Autoshaping - an animal will automatically condition itself

instinctually if motivated. Pigeons peck at an illuminated disc prior

to eating. This learn to do this automatically.

Autoshaping. Normal shaping of a pigeon to peck a key, using successive approximations, takesabout an hour to get a naive pigeon to peck the key reliably. Suppose, though, instead of thelaborious process of successive approximations, we simply arrange some programmingequipment to present a hungry pigeon with grain once a minute, turn on the key light tenseconds before each presentation of food, go get a cup of coffee, and come back later and seewhat happened? That's all autoshaping is. Keypecks, when they eventually occur, are reinforced

with food, just like with regular shaping. Yet, the pigeon does come to peck the key with this procedure, and in about half the time that it makes to condition it by successive approximations. As is true with many of the examples ofmisbehavior, autoshaping was viewed as a curiosity when experiments demonstrating it were

first published. The curiosity came from the fact that, even though no specific response wasbeing reinforced, autoshaping produced conditioning more rapidly than when a specificresponse was being shaped. People soon recognized the Pavlovian nature of the autoshaping procedure, and began talking about the elicitation of what is normally considered an operant response.




Superstitious Behaviror

28@222 Superstition and the infamous .5

Skinner experiment serendipity


direct test of the law of effect

the non-contingent free-feeder

strut, flap, turn circles, Multiple responses

Describe as narrowing of response repertoire

Staddon and Simmelhag virtual replication--pecking only and auto shaping

What about superstitious behaviors:

1) bowling

2) grandmother

3) rain dancing

4) sports

4) ladder and black cats

Superstition and .5 and lack of contingency

internal external control Julian Rotter

Brady and the executive monkey

Politics: Irish, My bet that if you found a group of individual who had very little control over their destiny

you would most likely find a higher percentage of superstitious behaviors.religious uneducated welfare




Superstitious behavior


Page 5

The infamous .5

Superstitious behavior arises when the delivery of a reinforcer or punisher occurs close together in time(temporal contiguity) with an independent behavior. Therefore, the behavior is accidentally reinforced orpunished, increasing the likelihood of that behavior occurring again.


For example, you walk under a ladder and a minute later you trip and fall. It is easy to attribute your

accident to "bad luck" and the irrelevant ladder. The reason an association is easy to form is because your

cultural belief that walking under a ladder will bring bad luck is positively reinforced by your fall that

occurred soon after walking under the ladder.

Common North American Superstitions


Here's a sampling of what we've collected to date. Most North American kids know this one:


1) Step on a crack, break your mother's back....


2) backwards, you're in for a pleasant surprise!


About itching (probably passed on from many cultures):


3) Itchy ear, someone's talking about you; itchy nose, you'll kiss a fool;



4)itchy rightpalm, you'll meet someone new; itchy left palm, money's coming, itchy feet, you're on your way somewhere.


Most of us are willing to take a few extra steps because:


5) It's bad luck to walk under a ladder.

6) It's bad luck to have a black cat cross your path.

7) carrying a rabbit's foot in our pockets

8) bringing a stick of coal to a friend's home, New Year's day