Glossary – P

Parsimony: Parsimony requires us to accept the most simple, logical explanation for behavior before moving on to more complex explanations. This attitude is so critical to science that it is also sometimes called the Law of Parsimony (Cooper et al., 2007). (You may have also heard of Occam’s razor.) This can be a common problem in animal training in which people try to explain behavior using complex stories including things that would be considered mentalistic approaches to behavior. Be careful when faced with the challenge you cannot solve to look for the most simple, logical explanation. Learn more about parsimony in this episode of YOU be the Behavior Consultant.

Philosophic doubt: Scientific knowledge must always be questioned as tentative (Cooper et al., 2007). What we know today may change tomorrow. What you read in a peer reviewed journal should always be read with a critical eye. What is written and published by your favorite trainer, guru, or animal training expert should always be questioned. It doesn’t matter whether the material is considered self-published, peer reviewed, or widely accepted. Even scientists question their own work and often change or update what they have published in the past. Critical thinking is accepted by science as normal and appropriate to help science move forward. Learn more about philosophic doubt in this episode of YOU be the Behavior Consultant.

Polydipsia: Excessive drinking of water. While this can be the result of medical conditions and/or medications, it can also be the result of intermittent schedules of reinforcement. In these cases it is known as adjunctive behavior. Meaning the animal drinks excessive amounts of water in response to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement even though the animal is not water deprived (Pierce & Cheney, 2017). This has frequently been observed in animals under a strict weight management regime to potentiate reinforcers. See this resource on weight management for additional information.

Positive punishment: Punishment is a learning process in which the presentation of a stimulus immediately following a behavior decreases the probability or likelihood of that response (Cooper et al., 2009; Kazdin, 2001). Positive punishment occurs when a stimulus is presented (or one that is already present in the environment increases in intensity) following a response and results in the decrease of the probability of future response of the target behavior (Cooper et al., 2009). Learn about the four quadrants in this course How I Learned to Love the Learning Processes (AKA the Four Quadrants)

Positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement results in the probability of an increase in the response of a behavior (rate of response of the behavior) due to the presentation of a stimulus immediately following the behavior (Cooper et al., 2007; Kazdin, 2001; Pierce & Cheney, 2017).  Mazur (2002) states that the stimulus provided as a consequence must be desired. Harrington and Kohler (1966) demonstrated that this is not true, and that the rate of response can be increased using an unconditioned aversive such as shock as a positive reinforcer, although potency, habituation, and sensory deprivation can alter its effects. Despite this observation, it is likely most practitioners are utilizing appetitives to reinforce target behaviors. Learn about the four quadrants in this course How I Learned to Love the Learning Processes (AKA the Four Quadrants)

Potency: Reinforcer potency is a hypothetical construct. However, there is a direct relation between how hard an organism will work for access to an object or activity, as indexed by the largest ratio completed under a progressive ratio schedule (the breaking point), and the potency of the reinforcer. Progressive ratio breaking strength is one measure of this interaction (btw – progressive ratio is not a super nice way to measure it. It can be frustrating for the organism), but many others are tenable, including amount of time spent interacting with a reinforcer (think Premack principle), rate of responding engendered by a reinforcer, preference for a reinforcer (think matching equation), demand (in the behavioral economics sense) for a reinforcer, and resistance to disruption of behavior maintained by a reinforcer (behavioral momentum) (Poling, 2010). In other words, we can look at how much work the animal is willing to do either to gain access to or escape or avoid the stimulus to determine potency. It is not an inherent quality of the stimulus. This will also depend on motivating operations.

Preference: Preference is indicated when the animal allocates responding to one schedule more than the others. We look at which of the concurrent schedules selects more responses than the others (Behavior Development Solutions, 2019).

Premack Principle: The Premack principle states that making the opportunity to engage in a behavior that occurs at a relatively high free operant (or baseline) rate contingent on the occurrence of low-frequency behavior will function as reinforcement for the low-occurrence behavior. In other in other words of behavior that occurs more frequently can reinforce a behavior that occurs infrequently. The response-deprivation hypothesis also shows that if you restrict access to either activity there is the potential for either behavior to act as a reinforcer (Cooper et al. 2007).

Primary reinforcer (unconditioned reinforcer): An unconditioned reinforcer is a stimulus change that functions as reinforcement even though the learner has had no particular learning history with it. (The terms primary reinforcer and unlearned reinforcer are synonyms for unconditioned reinforcer.) Because unconditioned reinforcers are the product of the evolutionary history of a species (phylogeny), all biologically intact members of a species are more or less susceptible to reinforcement by the same unconditioned reinforcers. For example, food, water, oxygen, warmth, and sexual stimulation are examples of stimuli that do not have to undergo a learning history to function as reinforcers. Food will function as an unconditioned reinforcer for a human deprived of sustenance; water will function as an unconditioned reinforcer for a person deprived of liquid, and so forth (Cooper et al., 2007).

Principle of behavior: A functional relationship between behavior and one or more of its controlling variables. This is empirical and derived from many experiments demonstrating this functional relationship. Examples of principles of behavior includes reinforcement, punishment, and extinction (Cooper et al., 2007). Learn more about principles in the episode of YOU be the Behavior Consultant on Principles vs Procedures.

Procedure: A procedure is a course of action intended to achieve a result in the delivery of a behavior treatment or intervention. The success of the procedures used is dependent on the practitioner’s theoretical understanding of the principles, tactics, and techniques as well as the practitioner’s competency in their application. There are many procedures that can lead to desired results. Risk-benefit analysis can be used to determine the suitability of a procedure. Learn more about procedures in the episode of YOU be the Behavior Consultant on Principles vs Procedures.

Punishment: Punishment is a learning process in which the presentation of a stimulus immediately following a behavior decreases the probability or likelihood of that response (Cooper et al., 2007; Kazdin, 2001). When using negative punishment a stimulus that is already present is removed (Pierce & Cheney, 2017). Mazur (2002) describes the stimulus that is removed as desired. Positive punishment occurs when a stimulus is presented (or one that is already present in the environment increases in intensity) following a response and results in the decrease of the probability of future response of the target behavior (Cooper et al., 2009). Learn about the four quadrants in this course How I Learned to Love the Learning Processes (AKA the Four Quadrants)

Although the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2018) Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts recommends considering reinforcement options prior to implementing punishment procedures, it does not exclude punishment as a tool in the repertoire for influencing behavior. However, there are guidelines for implementing punishment if it will be used. These guidelines include the following: identifying and using effective least intrusive punishers, punishing in a timely manner, punishing consistently, using an intermittent schedule if a continuous schedule will not be possible, pairing your strategies with complimentary interventions such as differential reinforcement of the desired response, keeping an eye out for fallout such as frustration or aggressive behavior, and keeping records to monitor and evaluate its use (Cooper et al. 2007).