Monday, August 9, 2010

Positive reinforcement and the telephone...

Do you remember that experiment from Psych 101 where mice were trained to push a button?  One group is given no reward, and one group is given a consistent reward every time they push the button.  The last group is rewarded randomly.  On occasion they will receive a reward for pressing the button, but it is unpredictable.  When the rewards are removed, the button pushing habit persists the longest in the randomly rewarded group.

This phenomenon occurs in my house almost every time I am on the phone.  Suddenly everyone has an urgent request, and despite my frantic hand motions and stern looks, they are relentless.  The other day as I was asking them, "Why are you asking me that when you can see I'm on the phone?" The obvious answer occurred to me - because sometimes it works.  If they ask for something that normally is a low probability yes but isn't too unreasonable (i.e., 'Can I have some gum?' or 'Can I get the Play Doh out?') I will say yes just so I can finish my conversation in temporary peace.  It's a crapshoot, though.  If they get too ambitious ('Can I slide down the stairs in a pillowcase?' or 'Can we go to Chuck-E-Cheese?') or if I'm irritable, then they'll end up sitting in time out until I'm off the phone.

"Mommy can I go out to the car and get a magseen rite a yes or no in thees linse      |  |"  I love the detail of the instructions.
David developed a new tactic a few weeks ago.  At the time I thought, "Great - this is much less annoying.", but I remember my mom getting irritated with us "shoving notes in her face" while she was on the phone , so my guess is that this will eventually get annoying, too.

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