A Big Strong Rat

[From Bill Powers (950623.1850 MDT)]

Bruce Abbott (950423.1535 EST) --

I can't help horning in and seizing the opportunity.

     If it's a higher-level control system, then the variable involved
     needs to be included in the reinforcement model, doesn't it? I
     would have to know what is reinforcing the behavior of changing the
     target position and thus violating the instructions given for the
     task (i.e., keep the cursor on the visible target as much as

That's the nice thing about doing away with superstitions like
reinforcement. NOTHING is reinforcing the behavior of changing the
target position and violating the instructions. The subject did that
because that is what the subject wanted to do, to accomplish some
purpose not yet announced. The instructions have no more power over the
subject than the target does. It is not necessary for there to be a
reinforcer to account for any behavior, or even a stimulus when it comes
to that (another superstitious idea). We don't need these intervening
variables to account for behavior using PCT. We simply accept the goals
we find to be in effect, and the control systems that accomplish them by
the means available.

     Changing the (actual) target location is a response, too, and has
     its own reinforcer, not the one involved in keeping the cursor
     close to target.

No, it's not a response and it has no reinforcer. Changing the target
position is an _action_, not a response. Actions occur when reference
levels change -- i.e., when intentions change. Nothing outside the
organism causes that. There is no stimulus, so calling the action a
response is simply a mistake. A response to what?

     Let's perform this experiment: Set up a compensatory tracking task
     and have a participant try to keep the cursor on the visible target
     against disturbances. You whisper in the participant's ear to
     change the reference location from the target to 1 cm left of the
     target. However, I have arranged a contingency such that the
     participant earns $1.00 per second so long as the cursor stays
     within 0.25 cm of the visible target. The participant knows this.
     You are offering nothing in return for compliance with your
     suggestion. Prediction?

I, the participant, will do what the whisperer suggests just to show
that the reinforcement-devotee is wrong (I don't believe he'd pay me
that much, anyway, unless he wanted something else from me). Or maybe
I'll decide that I'm tired of this whole thing and not do what either
person wants me to do. Or maybe I'll ask Rick how much he is offering.
Reinforcers and contingencies don't control my behavior unless I happen
to want the reinforcer at the moment, and don't find the contingency too
annoying to play along with. Usually when I get tired of such games I
just grab what I want of the reinforcer. I'd ask you to prove that you
could really pay me all that money, and when you pulled out your wallet
I'd just take the cash out of it (I'm bigger than most behaviorists). No
checks accepted. If all I want out of the experiment is the money, why
should I futz around with all this rigamarole you want to see going on?
Gimme the money.

     Further questions: What is the reinforcer for staying on target
     (the visible one)?

There isn't any. That's a superstition. What makes the cursor stay on
the target is that I intend for it to stay on the target, for reasons
you may never know about. I might tell you for $60 an hour, payable next
Tuesday or maybe next March.

     I now whisper in the participant's ear. As if by magic, the cursor
     now stays mostly over a point about 1 cm left of target. What I
     have told the participant is the following: "The target region for
     earning the cash has now changed to where Rick suggested." What
     caused the change in average cursor position? Why didn't the
     participant change target locations when YOU suggested it?

Sorry, you're assuming that everything went the way you wanted it to in
the first experiment. Actually I would pay no attention to your offer. I
would go on tracking the target because I like Rick and wish to see him
calm and happy, and I find your suggestions improper. What are you going
to want for your $1.00 per second? My mother told me about people like

Actually, Rick offered me $10 per second, unbeknownst to you. I didn't
believe he's pay me anything, either, but I did what he asked just
because that's what I decided to do. It's fun just to watch you and him
fight. When the experiment is over, I'm going to take both of your
wallets anyway, and use the credit cards.

How do you like dealing with a BIG STRONG rat?



Bill P.