B.F. Skinner and Shaping Behaviors

We’ve been talk about shaping in class, which is one of the neatest things about clicker training. (Actually, there are a lot of neat things about clicker training!) Shaping is teaching a new behavior through successive approximations. Basically, you start with a very low criteria and gradually increase your criteria until you reach your target behavior. For example, you could first teach a horse to approach a trailer, then teach it to put 2 feet in the trailer, then 4 feet, then walk to the front of the trailer. By breaking the behavior down into small steps, you can create a new behavior without anything ever becoming too difficult or scary for the horse.

(Visit this article from DogTrainingology for even more information about shaping!)

This is a great little story that our textbook gives:

Skinner told this story. A committee he was on brought in Eric Fromm as a guest. “All morning long he had easy explanations for everything. And after lunch it was the same thing. We were all seated at a big table, a couple dozen of us. He was sitting across the table from me and he started in. ‘Pigeons aren’t people you know,’ he told me. ‘You have to realize that man is different.; He went on and on. I wrote a not saying, ‘Watch Fromm’s left hand. I’m going to shape a chopping motion.’ I passed the note down to the chairman. I just turned toward [Fromm] and every time his hand went up, I nodded. Pretty soon he was chopping and chopping the air with his hlef hand as he spoke. I thought, ‘Why does he say this doesn’t work with people?'” (cited in Snyder, 1900: p. 4)

This is a video a recently found on youtube–she shapes her dog to blow bubbles in it’s water dish! Not very practical, but it’s incredibly cute to watch!

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