New Directions in Research

What the future holds, no one can say. But it is certain that the field of psychology, like human affairs generally, is undergoing revolutionary changes. In this module, you will be introduced to a small sample of these changes.

You have already learned a great deal about reflex and operant conditioning. It is important for you to realize, however, that we have only sampled the field. This last module will show you that an era of fantastic change is us. We may yet see the emergence of a society which is healthier, happier, and more creative and possibly this will be brought into being, in part, through the application of laboratory knowledge of behavior.

As you read the text, keep the following questions in mind.

The field of conditioning is undergoing revolutionary changes in perspective these days. Errorless discrimination has been demonstrated by Terrace. Reinforced creativity has been demonstrated by Pryor, Haag and O'Reilley. Not the least of these revolutions is occurring as a result of the work of Neal Miller and his colleagues. Miller's group is showing that, under the appropriate conditions, reflexes can obey the same laws as other behaviors that we call voluntary.


Miller and his colleagues (1971 ) have achieved results by reinforcing successive approximations in changes in unlearned reflexes. For example, in experiments in modifying rate of heartbeat, they at first settled for (and reinforced) very small changes in heartbeat, gradually demanding more and more change. In this way, they were able to produce fast heartbeats in one group of rats and slow heartbeats in another group.

Not only was heartbeat controllable in this fashion, but also blood pressure, urine formation, peripheral vasomotor responses, and gastrointestinal motility. To make sure no deliberate skeletal behavior influenced the results, Miller and his colleagues paralyzed the rats with curare and kept them alive by artificial respiration. This precaution enables the experimenter to verify that any changes observed occur through direct control via the autonomic nervous system.

Miller and his colleagues have shown that many reflexes can be shaped through operant means. They have also shown that the reflexes can be brought under discriminative control and that they can be extinguished and reconditioned. In summary, Miller and his colleagues very convincingly showed, by reinforcing successive approximations, that a wide variety of reflexes obey the same laws as operant responses. The implications could be very significant. For example, they might enhance medical treatment of functional autonomic disorders.

In still another experiment, Eberhardt Fetz (1969) showed that electrical activity of single nerve cells in the brains of monkeys (unanesthetized) could be controlled by operant procedures. In Fetz's experiment the animals were free to move around, although wired for appropriate recording, and the reinforcement consisted simply of the delivery of a food pellet. Under these circumstances, monkeys could increase the activity of isolated cells by factors of to 5 times the rate prevailing before reinforcement.


In an earlier module we discussed discrimination in detail. We used S+ for the discriminative stimulus, and S- for the condition in which the discriminative stimulus was absent. Extinction of behavior in S- was obviously a necessary part of the process of developing stimulus control with S+, or so it used to seem to many psychologists. They constructed elaborate theories about why responding in S- was necessary in order for stimulus control to develop.

One does not always have to learn from mistakes

Psychologist Herbert Terrace viewed each response in S- as an error and wondered whether or not responding to S- was necessary for discriminative control to develop (Terrace, 1963). Could he produce errorless discriminative control of the key-pecking response in pigeons? The task he chose was to establish a red-green light discrimination in the pigeon. The usual procedure here would be to present the red light and reinforce responses made in its presence. Then, a green-lit key would be presented for a similar period and no responses would be reinforced. Terrace, however, did something else. There was no green key presented at this stage, only an unlit key. Since pigeons have little tendency to peck a dark key, and Terrace presented it for only five seconds in the beginning, his pigeons had very little time or opportunity to make mistakes.

Terrace gradually made things more complicated. He gradually increased the time the dark key was available by five-second increments to 30 seconds in the first session. He shifted the schedule in S+ from VI (variable interval) 30 seconds to VI one minute. In subsequent sessions, he increased the intensity of the green disc gradually until it was of the same intensity as the red disc (S + ). In this way, Terrace was able to establish stimulus control without errors.

Errorless learning does not produce the emotional responses that follow aversive stimuli

Terrace's experiment uncovered many things about behavior which were not known before, one of which is the following. It has been regularly observed that following discrimination learning with errors, S- evokes various emotional responses such as wing flapping and turning away from the key. Following errorless discrimination learning, however, the usual response to S- is a slow settling down under the response key. The pigeon quietly waits for the next appearance of S+. The conclusion is that S- works as an aversive stimulus following discrimination learning with errors and as a neutral stimulus following errorless discrimination learning. In another experiment Terrace showed that if all responding to S+ is reinforced and errorless discrimination learning takes place, then emotional responses did occur when S- was presented. These emotional responses to S- were eliminated, however, by changing from a schedule of continuous reinforcement in S+ to one of intermittent reinforcement.


Psychologists do not yet know what practical significance it may have, but it is a fact that mild electrical stimulation of the brain can be highly reinforcing. When rats are permitted to stimulate themselves with brief electrical impulses second in duration each time they press a bar) it is not unusual for them to give over 5,000 bar-presses per hour. Even when they are food deprived (Olds and Sinclair, 1957), rats choose brain stimulation over food reinforcement. Since Olds' original discovery, it has been found that brain stimulation can also serve as an aversive stimulus. The chief use to which the brain stimulation has been put is in mapping the brain with respect to its neutral, negatively, and positively reinforcing areas. What other practical significance this new area of investigation holds, no one is quite sure.


The first problem in training for creativity is to recognize it when it happens

In the studies cited next, the researchers defined "creativity" in a way that permitted its study with animals and humans alike. In this definition, creativity was equated with the production of novel or original responses. Although there may be more to it than this, no one doubts that responding in new and different ways is an important element in creative behavior. A article on the training of porpoises shows that creativity and conditioning may be compatible (Pryor, Haag, and O'Reilley, 1969). According to these researchers, creativity may be directly conditionable by the simple procedure of requiring a novel response before reinforcement occurs. The following excerpt from their report gives the background and some of the results of this work.

In the fall of 1965, at Sea Life Park at the Makeup Oceanic Center in Hawaii, the senior author introduced into the five daily public performances at the Ocean Science Theater a demonstration of reinforcement of previously unconditioned behavior. The subject animal was a female rough-toothed porpoise, steno bredanensis named Malia.

Since behavior that had been reinforced previously could no longer be used to demonstrate this first step in conditioning, it was necessary to select a new behavior for reinforcement in each demonstration session. Within a few days, Malia began emitting an unprecedented range of behaviors, including Aerial flips, gliding with the tail out of the water, and skidding on the tank floor, some of which were quite unlike anything seen in Malia or any other porpoise by Sea Life Park Staff It appeared that the trainer's criterion, only those actions will be reinforced which have not been reinforced previously, was met by Malia with the presentation of complete patterns of gross body movement in which novelty was an intrinsic factor. Furthermore, the trainers could not imagine shaped behaviors as unusual as some emitted spontaneously by the porpoise. To see if the training situation used with Malia could again produce a creative animal, the authors repeated Malia's training, as far as possible, with another animal, one that was not being used for public demonstrations or any other work at the time. A technique of record keeping was developed to pinpoint if possible the events leading up to repeated emissions of novel behaviors.

In training for creativity we are never sure what response we will get

With both of their subjects, the research team found that the technique of reinforcing a different response in each of a series of training sessions increased the probability that new types of behavior would be emitted. Pryor, Haag, and O'Reilley concluded that using the technique of training for novelty described herein, it should be possible to induce a tendency towards spontaneity and creative or unorthodox response in most individuals of a broad range of species."

Another researcher, Maltzman (1960) has described a successful procedure for eliciting original responses in humans. He used verbal behavior, but followed essentially the same procedure of reinforcing different responses to the same stimuli. Certain behaviors in the porpoises had been interpreted to indicate anger. Under similar circumstances, the same sort of behavior was observed in the humans. According to Maltzman, "an impression gained from observing subjects in the experimental situation is that repeated evocation of different responses to the same stimuli becomes quite frustrating; subjects are disturbed by what quickly becomes a surprisingly difficult task. This disturbed behavior indicates that the procedure may not be trivial and does approximate a non laboratory situation involving originality or inventiveness, with its frequent concomitant frustration."



Now test yourself without looking back.
1. Herbert Terrace demonstrated:
a. the shaping of reflexes.
b. the conditioning of creativity in porpoises.
c. errorless discrimination.
d. the conditioning of originality in humans.

2. Neal Miller and his colleagues did pioneering work in______________________________________________

3. Why did Miller and his colleagues paralyze their rats, then keep them alive with artificial respiration?

4. After errorless discrimination training, pigeons treat S--as
a. an aversive condition.
b. a discriminative stimulus.
c. a neutral stimulus.
d. a negative reinforcer.

5. Explain briefly how creativity conditioned in porpoises.


Now, do the exercises which follow



Neal Miller and his colleagues did experiments in the shaping of reflexes. They reinforced_____________________________________________________________ of the reflex behavior they wanted. __________________________________________________ 4

In shaping the heartbeat speed, for example, Miller was able to develop a slow heartbeat in one group of rats and a fast heartbeat in another group. He achieved this in the slow group by reinforcing _______________________________________________________________2

Miller paralyzed his rats with curare, then kept them alive with artificial respiration. He did this to eliminate:
a. reflex action.
b. the influence of skeletal behavior.
c. contingent reinforcement. ____________________________________________________________10

In his work with the shaping of reflexes, Miller used:
a. operant conditioning techniques.
b. discrimination training.
c. unconditioned stimuli only.

The shaping of reflexes was pioneered by______________________________________________________________________6

Herbert Terrace developed errorless discrimination training. In discrimination conditioning in the past, psychologists extinguished responses in S(the absence of the discriminative stimulus).. Terrace regarded responses in S- as errors. Therefore you can infer that:
a. Terrace's pigeons did not respond in the absence of the discriminative stimulus.
b. Terrace's pigeons did not respond in S-
c. Terrace's pigeons did not make errors.
d. Terrace did not extinguish responses in S- ______________________________________________________________7

Before errorless discrimination training, red-green discrimination was taught as follows. Pigeons might be with a red disk (S+) for a minute and be reinforced for pecking. Then they would. be presented with a green disk (S-) and not reinforced (extinguished) for pecking. In the beginning, Terrace presented a variation of S- for a shorter period of time so the pigeons would

________________________________________________________ 9

Terrace was a pioneer in___________________________________________________ _ training. ______________________________________________________3

Pryor, Haag, and O'Reilley did work in conditioning creativity in porpoises. They reinforced only those responses that had not been reinforced before. The porpoise, then, was required to:
a. repeat a chain of behaviors.
b. make a novel response for each reinforcement.
c. be creative or original in its responses. ______________________________________________________________8


1 Pryor,Haag,and O'Reilley

2 successively slower heart rates

3 errorless discrimination

4 successive approximations

5 b

6 Neal Miller

7 a, b, c, d

8 b, c

9 not make errors

10 a, b



1. Match.

Herbert Terrace____________

2) Neal Miller_____________

3) Pryor,Haag, and O'Reilley_______________ a. Shaping of reflexes
b. Errorless discrimination
c. Creativity in porpoises
d. Originality in humans

2. In experiments on the shaping of reflexes, how was it assured that the skeletal musculature did not affect the response?

3. Until recently, psychologists assumed that responses to S in discrimination training were:
a. errors.
b. necessary.
c. creative.
d. reflexive.

4. Errorless discrimination training was achieved by arranging the conditioning so that:
a. errors were punished.
b. no errors were possible.
c. the animal had few chances to make an error.
d. (none of these)

5. Research into creativity and originality in both porpoises and humans has shown that:

a. creativity cannot be conditioned.
b. the requirement of a novel response before reinforcement can bring about creativity.
c. frustration and emotional behavior may develop as the task becomes more if- faculty.




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August 14, 2006