A few days ago, I bought a blackberry. It was a belated birthday gift from my mother. I would have gotten it two months ago, but I was too busy doing my maximizing versus satisficing thinking. The choices were between an iphone or blackberry, but it boiled down to not wanting to switch phone carriers.
So far, I'm having a marvelous time learning about the phone. They sales guy at the Verizon store was very helpful in giving me the nuts and bolts on its functionality (and there are many). Did I also mention that every time I walk into the Verizon store, there are hot guys there? I'm beginning to wonder if they are actually making appearance a requirement (sad but probably partly true to some extent).
Anyway, the sales guy set up my e-mail accounts and said whenever I had a flashing red light, it indicated there was a new message.
I didn't think too much of this until I was at work and suddenly, the little red light flashed. Yes, indeed, I did have e-mails. This was cool I thought. A few minutes later, it flashed again. Again, I checked it. It did this periodically the rest of the afternoon, so by the time I got home, I already knew all of my new e-mails.
What I realized was 1) how addictive I am to e-mail and 2) I had developed a conditioned reinforcer! While it's true that phones flash lights indicating voice messages or missed calls, it doesn't feel the same as the one on the blackberry for me.
So what are conditioned reinforcers? If you're familiar with psychology (think going back to all those Pavlovian studies), you'll understand how strong a conditioned reinforcer can be.
Here's a basic definition from uiowa psychology: A conditioned reinforcer is a previously neutral stimulus . If the neutral stimulus is paired with a primary reinforcer it acquires the same reinforcement properties associated with the primary reinforcer.
Throughout life, we develop our own conditioned reinforcers. For many, money is a conditioned reinforcer. We learn the functions and rewards of money (to buy food, clothing, merchandise, etc.), but money in and of itself is just paper. Getting good grades, a bonus at a job, etc. could be other C.Rs if they are paired with receiving positive rewards that are reinforcing to you.
Another example in the post with the baby birds was when Tovah barked, and the birds opened their mouths, expecting food. In nature, the mothers will whistle when it is feeding time, so the birds learn to open their mouths. It is a conditioned response but was favorable in reinforcement of food.
In my line of work with dogs, I'm always looking for reinforcers--what's valuable to dogs. Since I use clicker training frequently, the primary reinforcers could be food, toys, praise, etc. all depending on the dog. The actual clicker (photo on left is an iclick) not only marks the correct behavior for the animal, but it also signifies that a reward is on its way. In some cases, the clicker also tells the animal that the behavior has ended. Thus, the clicker acts as a "bridge." In training marine animals, a whistle would be the equivalent of the clicker.
So, this flashing red light is like a "bridge" for me, telling me I have new e-mail messages which I find reinforcing.
This made me think about eating disorders and conditioned reinforcers. A lot of people don't like to think about how negative or destructive behaviors can be reinforcing, but they can be. The difference is that they are more on a subconscious level (well sometimes conscious too depending on the thought processes at the time) with more complexity.
One conditioned reinforcer I can think of off the top of my head is a scale. A scale is a neutral stimulus in general, but it can add a different meaning when someone steps on it. If someone is in the throes of an ED, and the number drops, then there is reinforcement from the number to continue to lower the weight through
ED behaviors. Thus, it can be a CR if that is the positive association. Now, obviously a scale can easily have a conditioned negative response as well if it says the opposite of what someone wants.
On that note, what are some other conditioned reinforcers related to your ED? What are your little red lights in your daily life non-ED related? Do you find them powerful?
Note--*Just want to say that this post is about behavior and not about biology. It's a known fact that biology, malnutrition , starvation all play a role in decision making and our behaviors. However, I hope you are able to look more closely at your specific behaviors and piece them together for awareness purposes.
*If you're interested in learning about different types of reinforcement, more info. can be found here.
*Lastly, how come blogger does not recognize the word "reinforcer" as a real word? It keeps highlighting it as misspelled.