Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Why you should ALWAYS bribe everyone, all the time!

Congratulations everyone, you made it through another year! My year of 2016 was full of brand new beginnings, excitement for dream jobs, and fulfillment of wishes since before my college days. Then there was the realization that not all dreams are really what you want.

Already 2017 has shown promise of strong self, and career development. As I look back on 2016 and and take a scrutinizing view of myself, I see that I have gained the skill of criticizing of others. This is good because it allows me to communicate better, and more thoroughly to others by offering my own viewpoint, realizing I could be just as wrong as they are. No one is perfect, and I'm comfortable with that. In addition, looking back at the year of 2016; to see the mistakes, misunderstandings, and shortcoming of others has made me frustrated and disgusted at these people's actions.

Scimitar-horned oryx 

One early winter morning, near the Scimitar-horned Oryx exhibit; I explain the downfalls and upsides of certain techniques. The topic of discussion is Bribery: Bribery is often confused with Positive Reinforcement (R+) and people wrongly think of them as one in the same. Bribery has the downfall of having an animal possibly perform at minimum for her behavior. It also lets the animal decide that what you're offering is not good enough in exchange for the behavior you are asking for. Over time trainers are compelled to offer a higher value reinforcer overtime. 

A common example in the bird training industry:  A bird of prey that has flown away from its handler is sitting high in a tree. The handler shows the bird 1/4 hind limb of a rodent in her falconer's glove. The bird sees this and at first will come down from the tree  consistently on this continuous, 1:1 fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement (keep in mind this is not all in one day but over different days). Over time the bird expects to always come down for 1/4 of a rodent. It becomes boring and the payoff becomes less valuable and as a result, the bird's behavior of flying to the glove becomes less dependable. This is bribery, and these are the downfalls.

When you show a bird, or any other animal what they will get when they do an action, for example flying down to the handler from the tall tree, that is considered bribery. Another example is when a dog trainer can only have a dog sit when they show them a treat. Bribery is great to use to start a behavior, but it needs to be faded quickly to avoid these pitfalls. 

Image result for the sands casino
The difference between bribery and positive reinforcement is when properly using positive reinforcement the animal does not see what it is going to get.  This helps eliminate the long-term problems seen with bribery. If you want a strong, reliable behavior you can't get there only with bribery. This is because it's impossible to use with a variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement; it defeats the whole purpose of the concept. 

Casinos are notorious for creating strong behaviors. This is because they use that variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement. You never know what you're going to get or when you're going to get it. If you knew, you probably wouldn't go in the first place; it's not exciting.

So anyway, back to the one winter day near the Scimitar-horned Oryx exhibit, I explained this idea to some of the newer zookeepers. I say that we shouldn't be using bribery, or at least we shouldn't be showing Oryx the food all the time in order to create strong, reliable behaviors. 

The reason this was discussed because there had been issues with asking the animals to shift out of their holding pens. Zookeepers were showing the animals the pellet and hay diet. The Oryx decided it wasn't good enough; creating very inconsistent shifting behaviors. Several weeks later a senior zookeeper, whom I did not discuss this topic with, loudly proclaims that "we do not use bribery at this facility." My heart sank.  This person, the senior zookeeper, clearly does not understand the basic concept or the differences between positive reinforcement and bribery. Or how bribery plays an important initial role in effective training. 

So instead of using bribery the senior zookeeper's idea was to not use food at all. He/She would rather scare the animals out of the holding pens. Which of course is much worse than using bribery to create "stubborn" animals with inconsistent behaviors. I am disgusted and completely revolted at myself for not thoroughly explaining the concept of such a basic idea as bribery to all of the staff. Of course who am I to explain such a concept to a senior zookeeper? The hierarchy of humans is so disgustingly tight and rigid that I would've had to, and should have (but was too afraid of authority figures to do at the time) explained it to senior management. I should have asked that a more thorough education program be put into place, or maybe ask the curator to clear up the misunderstanding with the keepers. Oh the lessons we learn with each passing year...

Copyright 2017 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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