Actions Not Words

This is sort of a conceptual followup to the Because We Let Them series (along with Because We Let Them: Addendum).  I’ll try to keep it short and to the point, to give you a break after the last monster series.  Also, it gives me the option to better explain something that I fear may have been taken out of context in Because We Let Them: Part 4 when I talked about doing the wrong thing for seemingly the wrong reason (which I’ll address through a comment that was left on the article).

Perhaps my favorite illustration of the point I want to talk about today occurs in the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  In it, Bruce Lee is going up the stairs and tells his wife Linda “I love you.”  She replies “In all the years we’ve been together, you’ve never said that.” And Bruce replies “But I meant it every day.”  Then he does kung-fu on a wall and dies.

But this really sums up the point I want to make today which is this: actions matter and words don’t.  Well, not usually.  More specifically the words don’t matter when they don’t match the actions. This is a lesson that many take some time to learn, they have to experience the bad parts of this before they finally get it through their head.

Random Examples

Because we’ve all had that person in our lives, someone who says that they are our friend; often they say it repeatedly and incessantly. In fact saying it seems to be all that they do because their actions don’t match that at all.  They only seem to use the word to get something out of us, they always ask for favors yet always seem to be “too busy right now” to help us out if we ask for something back.  It’s the person that we have somehow taken to the airport 14 times yet when we need a ride they are “Just too busy, man.”

They never so much as make an effort to pay when you go out to eat and always seem to “leave their wallet” at home when you do go out.  And if we ever dare call them on it, we invariably get a big rigamarole about how they are our friends or they try to turn it around on us “Man, I thought we were friends, I can’t believe you’re hassling me about this.”  The actions don’t match the words and the actions are all that matters.


Because We Let Them: Addendum

I ran Tour of Chicago: 2011 Race Report Part 2 on Wednesday so I could fit this in today before launching into a 6 part, 3-week mega series that I’m starting next week.  This is a followup to the Because We Let Them series, some thoughts that either occurred to me afterwards or that I just left out because I didn’t plan it out well enough.  It’s sort of a grab bag of topics on the stuff I touched on in that series.


Random Reinforcement is Not Reinforcing Randomly

This is just one of those little pedantic notes both to illustrate a different concept and to make sure that I didn’t give people the wrong idea about what I meant by writing confusingly.  In Because We Let Them Part 1, I talked about how, once a behavior is established, moving to a random reinforcement schedule tends to reinforce it further.  Basically, you end up teaching that it’s worth doing the behavior ‘just in case’ a reward is coming.

And, again, you do this only after reinforcing a behavior (such as ‘sit’ with a dog or whatever you’re trying to get a human to do) consistently enough for it to become a normal behavior (so you reinforce the absolute hell out of it initially).  Then instead of rewarding every time they do it right, you start reinforcing on some random schedule.  But the key is that you’re reinforcing a specific behavior that you want to increase the frequency of on a random schedule; what you’re not doing is reinforcing at random for non-specific behaviors.  And this distinction will make sense below.

So here’s an example, as I mentioned I taught Alfie Red Light to mean ‘sit and stay until I give you the command to move’ (which is green light).  He already knew sit, mind you, so it was easy to change this into red light (I’ll explain at a later date how to get a dog to go from sitting briefly to sitting and staying).  And initially I’d give him a high pitched ‘yes’ and a treat every time he sat on the ‘Red light’ command.  Every time.