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Learning Theory Basics

BraveheartDogs

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I thought I would do a post about learning to help people understand how our birds learn.

Operant Conditioning

In operant conditioning an animals learns from consequences. There are four quandrants or possible consequences. Keep in mind that positive and negative refer to plus or minus, not good or bad. Punishment isn't always painful or scary and reinforcement isn't always fun and rewarding.

Positive Reinforcement (+R)
Positive reinforcement means that something pleasant happens to the animal after a behavior. For instance, if your bird steps up when asked and is then given a sunflower seed, this is positive reinforcement. It causes a behavior to happen again.

Negative Reinforcement (-R)
Negative reinforcement means that something unpleasant is taken away after a behavior to make the behavior happen again. For instance, a bird is growling at a person for being too close, the person stands there until the bird stops stops growling, and once the growling stops the person moves away. The bird was negatively reinforced. The problem with this quandrant is that in order to take the negative thing away it has to first be presented so it causes an aversive to the animal.

Positive Punishment (+P)
Positive punishment means that something aversive happens to the animal after a behavior. It may cause the animal to not do that behavior again. For instance, a bird screams and is then squirted with water, if the frequency of screaming goes down the bird has been positively punished for screaming. There are some issues with positive punishment. The first is that you can get fallout in which the animal begins to associate the punishment with the person doling it out which can cause some other issues. Also, if the behavior does not go down in frequency but only stops during the actual punishment, the behavior is just being surpressed not extinguished.

Negative Punishment (-P)
Negative punishment means that something pleasant is removed after a behavior to cause a behavior to go down in frequency. For instance, a bird screams for attention, the owner then leaves the room. If the behavior goes down in frequency the behavior has been negatively punishment. The owner took away it's attention which the bird wanted.

Punishment makes a behavior go down in frequency, reinforcement makes a behavior go up in frequency.

Many consequences can flow into each other and be more than one quadrant. Many trainers, myself included, recommended trying to use only positive reinforcement and sometimes negative punishment to train animals, rather than training with aversives.

An easy way to remember how operant conditioning works is to think of training as ABC. Antecedent = Behavior = Consequence. The antecedent is what causes the animal to do something, the behavior is what the animal does, the consequence is what happens after. Here is an example:

Antecedent - owner presents a stick for the bird to step up onto

Behavior - bird steps up onto stick

Consequence - the bird gets a sunflower seed.

Classical Conditioning

Where operant conditioning has to do with consequences, classical conditioning has to do with associations and emotions.

Classical conditioning is where an animal learns from associations and sometimes predictions. Classical conditioning has to do with emotions to certain things in that the animal doesn't think about it, it just feels it.

Here are some examples:

Every morning you prepare your birds food and use the microwave to heat up their food. Your bird could start vocalizing, or getting very excited, or very happy when hearing the microwave because the microwave predicts to the animal that breakfast is coming. One of my dogs begins salivating as I begin to fill the bowls with food. Every night there is a small puddle of drool in front of him as he waits for his dinner. He isn't "doing" this, it just happens because he has learned that my putting food in bowls in that room means he will be eating soon.

Here is another dog example since I can't think of a bird one at the moment. My friend has a dog that potties in her backyard on the grass and has every day since she came home as a puppy. One day she is in the backyard playing on the grass and she gets stung repeatedly by wasps. She can no longer go in the backyard alone and cannot go potty in the yard. She has learned that the backyard is a scary place and doesn't want to go there. Incidentily, this is a case of "single event learning" where one single event can have a very strong and lasting impact on an individual.

If you have a nervous bird that gets fearful when you approach the cage and every day you walk by and drop a delicious treat into his bowl eventually, over time his emotional response to you approaching will be excitement instead of nervousness. The bird began to associate you with the yummy treat.
 
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Cynthia & Percy

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thanks for posting great information
 

JLcribber

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Great post. If everybody studied and learned ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) there would be very few people posting questions about "Why does he do that?" :)
 

Sharpie

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Very nice, concise, and clear layout of the basics. I wish it had been presented like that when I learned it, it would have been much easier!
 

BraveheartDogs

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Very nice, concise, and clear layout of the basics. I wish it had been presented like that when I learned it, it would have been much easier!
Thank you. I try hard to make things easy and straightforward so that my clients can get a handle on it.
 

Saemma

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Just read this today!! Thanks so much Vicky!!:hug8:
 

ohohraptor

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I know this post is really old but I have read quite a few of your threads and find them so helpful. Very good information!
 

Mozart

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Soaking up your knowledge like a sponge!
 

Sophia101

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Thank you for this post. I have been reading these posts but it doesn't really seem to help even though I have been trying to do this. Somehow I am subconsciously rewarding my Kiwi for biting. I just don't know how. I think she has a slight fear of hands. I posted about it in a desperate thread.
 
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