Resurgence and Regression: Understanding Extinction So You Can Master It
From a presentation given by Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz during the 2014 Five Go To Sea Conference cruise.
Part 1: The Elevator Question
Part 2: The Translation to Horses: Is Personality Expressed or Suppressed?
Part 3: Unraveling the Regression Mess
Part 4: Extinction and Shaping
Part 5: Extinction Reveals The Past
Part 6: Accidental Extinction
Part 7: Emotions
Part 8: Training With High Rates Of Reinforcement
Part 9: Cues and Extinction
Part 10: PORTL
Part 11: Mastering Extinction
Part 12: Creativity Explored
Part 13: Degrees of Freedom
If you are new to this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1.
Part 13: Degrees of Freedom
Optimistic Puzzle Solvers
How do you help horses and handlers to become more optimistic puzzle solvers? One way is to expand the repertoire of both the handler and the learner. The broader and more extensive the repertoire, the more options an individual has. If a horse knows only two choices and neither of them are working, he’s in trouble.
Jesús referred to this as being coerced by your repertoire. Here’s the example: suppose a high school student is a great debater. In fact he’s so good, he’s captain of the debating team. You’d expect someone like that to have a really high self-esteem. He’s so successful how could he not?
But look a little closer, and you’ll see why. This individual is great at debating, but he’s no athlete. He’s left out of a lot of other school events. He doesn’t play sports. He doesn’t go to school dances. He has poor social skills so at lunch he’s off by himself.
Yes, in debating he wins all the prizes, but he has only that one skill. So he’s being coerced into improving his debating skills because that’s all he can do. He’s the best debater in the school, but that doesn’t keep him from feeling left out and miserable. With only that one skill he has only one degree of freedom.
Other members of the debating team may not be as good as he is, but they are also involved in other school activities. Compared to him they have three or four degrees of freedom, and they are much happier.
The captain of the debating team is the best, but he’s been coerced into that position because he has no choices. For him, as well as for our horses, the way to improve his emotional well-being is to expand his repertoire so he has more reinforcing activities available to him.
Kay Laurence confirmed this approach for dogs. If you’re working with an aggressive dog, you want to expand his repertoire. Teach him a dozen new behaviors: turning your head to the left, to the right, lifting a paw, walking in a circle, touching a target, etc.. Now in a threatening situation he has a dozen new ways to respond, instead of just the two or three that he started with.
Being Emotional Is Being Alive
Jesús dropped in another gem at this point by reiterating that when we talk about emotional behavior such as aggression, we are forgetting that we are always emotional. It isn’t that now we are happy, and then a switch turns off and we feel nothing.
“Living is being emotional.”
The nature and intensity of the emotions fluctuates. We experience different degrees depending upon conditions and our reinforcement history. But thinking in terms of “emotional behavior” is too simplistic. Emotion is part of all behavior. It is not separate from it.
Traveling helps you to understand how much our emotions are a product of the habit patterns that have formed within our familiar environments and how universally present emotions are. Perhaps you are one of the huge number of people who have more to do than you could possibly accomplish in one day. You have a family to care for, a house and barn to maintain, horses to feed and clean up after – not to mention ride. All that and then there’s also an overfull schedule at work. You’re always under stress, but it’s become so the norm, you don’t pay much attention to how you’re feeling. A mildly stressed state is the normal background.
And then you treat yourself to the Five Go To Sea cruise where everything is different. You still have a full day, with more to do and see than any one person could possibly squeeze into a day, but your normal triggers aren’t there. The phone isn’t ringing. You aren’t on the internet with the constant influx of work-related emails. Your co-worker’s voice coming through the office wall isn’t annoying you. All those triggers are gone and now you get to experience who you are and how you feel without them. You become acutely aware of just how stressed you’ve been now that you’ve stepped out of your normal habit patterns and can experience the contrast. You’re still emotional, but now the environment is set up to trigger the kinds of supportive, pleasant emotions you want to experience.
That’s the kind of positive environment I want to create for my learners: one in which puzzle solving is fun, and both horses and handlers eagerly seek it out.
Coming Soon: Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence
Please note: If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites: