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The misnamed Pavlok Electro Wristband

1 Sep

I have no idea if the Pavlok Electro Wristband really helps you break bad habits by administering small electric shocks. What I do know is that this product is badly misnamed. According to BoingBoing:

Got a bad habit you’re aching to break? Don’t make yourself crazy with methods that don’t work – train yourself like Pavlov’s dog with the Pavlok. This little shock wristband sends you a light shock every time you engage in your bad habit by pressing the lightning bolt on the band or the zap button on the phone app. You can also set up automatic shocks through one of the many integrations. Any habit, same solution. Your brain will create an aversion to your bad habit when it’s paired with a shock, that’s just classical conditioning.

Pardon me, but this is not Pavlov’s classical conditioning, this is operant conditioning where behavior is changed by its consequences. Specifically it uses punishment, defined as a consequence that decreases the probability of a behavior recurring.

A new approach to DUI

11 Aug

Human beings seem to have a hard wired desire to punish others for their transgressions. This drive might have served our ancestors well in small band level societies, but it sometimes prevents us from thinking clearly about effective social policy. In behavioral psychology we define punishment as a consequence that reduces the probability of a behavior recurring. We know a lot now about what makes punishment effective, or, as often is the case, ineffective.

Generally, our impulse to increase the severity of punishment for bad behavior has little effect on the recurrence of the undesirable behavior. This article in the Washington Post describes a much more productive approach to dealing with a very undesirable behavior, drunken driving.

Many judges across the country order abstinence as part of parole or probation, but Long decided to actually enforce it. Offenders’ drinking was monitored every single day, typically by in-person breath tests in the morning and evening. In contrast to the typically slow and unpredictable ways of the criminal justice system, anyone caught drinking faced a 100 percent chance of arrest and an immediate consequence — typically 12 to 36 hours in jail.

Recent research suggests that this approach is effective:

The results were impressive, with 24/7 Sobriety participants showing up and passing more than 99 percent of scheduled breathalyzer tests. With alcohol removed from their lives, 24/7 Sobriety participants were less likely to be re-arrested for any offense one year, two years and three years after their initial arrest. The latter two periods are particularly impressive in that individuals were typically on 24/7 Sobriety for less than a year, indicating that the benefits persisted after the program stopped. This is a favorable contrast to alcohol ignition interlocks, which typically reduce drunken driving only for the limited time they are in place on an offender’s vehicle.

Many offenders in the program had served extensive time in jail and prison, so why were they deterred by the prospect of a single night in jail? Midgette emphasizes the typical time horizon of the population, noting that “because heavy drinkers tend to heavily discount the future, deterrence depends much more on the certainty and swiftness of a sanction than its severity.”

Operant Conditioning Works

5 May

Behavioral engineering

16 Sep

VAM is not behaviorist.

9 Sep

I generally agree with Dianne Ravitch on most education policy issues. I have consistently pointed out that value added measures (VAM) of teaching are statistically invalid and I have often cited her blog posts on this issue. Thus, I was very disappointed to see her link to a post that characterized VAM measures as “behaviorist.” Here is the offending quotation:

“However, traditional standardized assessments mainly contain questions that are crafted from a behaviorist perspective. The conceptual understanding that is highlighted in the cognitivist perspective and the participation in practices that is highlighted in the situative perspective are not captured on traditional standardized assessments. Thus, the only valid inference that can be made from a value-added estimate is about a teacher’s ability to teach the basic skills and knowledge associated with the behaviorist perspective.”

These words show an appalling lack of familiarity with modern behavioral psychology. Look at any recent text book on behavioral teaching methods, I like Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching by Julie S. Vargas, and you find critiques of the use of standardized testing. Here is what Vargas writes:

“Educators realize that the goal of education is to prepare students for a future that requires much more than the skills assessed on a test.”

This is from a chapter where Vargas describes techniques for encouraging creativity and curiosity among students.

In later posts I will write about how facile and inaccurate characterizations of behaviorism have denied our teachers access to a set of highly effective classroom techniques.

9780415526807-210

Behavioral engineering at its best

5 Mar

The laundry punchbag.

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