December Results of Bubba’s Item Differentiation Training

Before I provide the data from my behavioral experimentation with Bubba, it may be necessary to provide definitions for terms I will be commonly using; as well as provide specifics as to how these techniques are being implemented in Bubba’s training.

Operant Conditioning:

Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which the consequences of a subjects behaviors determine whether or not said behavior will be repeated again in the future. This term was coined in 1937 by B.F. Skinner. Operant conditioning operates on the environment and is maintained by its consequences.

B.F. Skinner famously demonstrated operant conditioning using a device called the ‘Skinner Box’; in which a small animal (usually a rat or pigeon) was placed into a chamber where its impact on a patterned environment determined whether or not the animal would be rewarded. These chambers or ‘boxes’ usually consisted of a response lever for rats, a pecking hole or button for birds, small light bulbs, a small speaker, a reward dispenser and an electrified grid along bottom.

Animals are pattern-seeking-organisms; always looking for ways to find food, water, shelter and mates at a minimal physical expense to the individual organism. This being the case, even with relatively simple brained animals (like pigeons) repeated trials of rewarding based on an animals response has proven a highly successful means of increasing the frequency of a desired behavior to accompany a particular stimulus.

Skinner would condition his lab subjects to respond (via pecking button for birds and lever pressing for rats) to various stimulus. For example, the turning off of a light may signal a small window of time in which the subjects response via pecking or pressing will cue the release of a food reward. The only times it is of any use to press the response lever or peck the response button is immediately following a particular stimulus (light turns on/off, a particular sound is emitted, an electrical current is sent through the wire grid, etc).

Operant Conditioning differs from Classical Conditioning (also called Pavlovian and Respondent Conditioning) in that Classical Conditioning is a form of conditioning in which a conditioned stimulus (or CS) signals an un-conditioned stimulus (or US). The unconditioned stimulus is often biological or behavioral and leads to an unconditioned, involuntary response. Pavlov famously demonstrated classical conditioning in his work with dogs by recording the amount of saliva the dog subjects would produce when hearing the ring of a bell, which had been associated with feeding times for many previous trials. In anticipation of the food reward which had been consistently associated with the ringing of the bell; the dog subjects would involuntarily salivate.

Reward Schedules and Use of a ‘Bridge’:

Fortunately, Bubba is not in a small box with an electrified grid floor when our training is taking place; but the principle mechanisms behind his learning are the same. That is, Bubba’s responses to his training environment determine whether or not he will be rewarded. In item differentiation training, I use an audible cue by saying the name of the item I want him to take, and if he completes the task correctly, I follow that with an immediate ring of a service bell and a small food reward (usually, tiny dried papaya and pineapple bits).

The ringing of the service bell is meant to ‘bridge’ the gap in time between Bubba’s having successfully completed a task and his being given a food reward. The ring of the bell provides Bubba an immediate sense of accomplishment and lets him know he chose the correct item, and to anticipate a reward. Additionally, the use of a ‘bridge’ (like a bell or clicker) allows for an easier transition in later stages of training should we decide to work on a different training reward schedule ratio.

Currently, because he is a wild animal, Bubba is on a 1:1 reward ratio; meaning that every time he successfully completes a task he is given a food reward following the ring of a bell. It appears that with wild animals, especially in the early stages of training, it is wise to stick with the 1:1 ratio; giving the subject a reward every time they successfully complete a task. The bell will always be used to indicate that the subject correctly completed a task; and it is possible that at a later date in our training I would see how Bubba would respond to a change in our current reward schedule.

Positive Reinforcement:

In terms of behavioral sciences, positive reinforcement relates to the repeated rewarding of desired behaviors; resulting in an increase in the frequency with which a subject will respond favorably to a particular stimulus.

For Bubba and I, the positive reinforcement used comes in two forms. First, the ‘bridge’ bell is rang to signal the subject has correctly completed a task; then, immediately after the bell is rang, the subject is given a food reward. Both the bell and the food reward are examples of positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement differs from negative reinforcement in that negative reinforcement aims to repeatedly follow undesirable behaviors with a negative consequence in order to reduce the frequency with which the animal will repeat the negative behavior. Though opinions on the use of negative reinforcement tend to differ among behaviorists and ethologists; it does seem to be the case the positive reinforcement is usually the preferred means of successfully sculpting desirable behaviors. When studying the cognition and ability to learn complex behaviors in wild animals, negative reinforcement is usually regarded as a highly irresponsible and potentially dangerous technique.

For this reason, negative reinforcement is not used in the training of Bubba except for on the extremely rare occasion that he may be physically agressive (pulling my hair, nipping of an ear, etc). In this case, Bubba is treated with a similar means of discouragement that a juvenile monkey would run into when in the wild, with a few distinct modifications. If young male monkeys are acting in a way that could potentially be drawing unwanted predatory attention to the troop, or female monkeys should have ‘wandering eyes’ for members of rival monkey troops; such behaviors are generally met with immediate punishment given by troop alpha leaders.

Bubba likely sees me as somewhat of a replacement ‘alpha’ in his non-traditional living situation, and only when he displays aggressive behaviors is any action taken. At which point, Bubba is immediately and gently picked up and presented with his lexigram card meaning ‘Bite’ and then placed in his kennel for a 5 minute period. It has been my experience that this method of discouraging agressive behaviors typical of hormonal adolescent monkeys has been very effective in reducing the frequency of the undesirable behaviors; without resulting in a high-stress situation for the animal.

Model/Rival Technique:

This is a training technique popularized by the work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her African Grey Parrot subject, Alex. This technique relies on a close bond between the trainer and the subject animal in order to work. The model/rival technique introduces a human rival to compete with the subject animal. If Alex would answer a question incorrectly, the same question would be posed to a human rival; who provides the correct answer, and is rewarded accordingly. Parrots and Monkeys are both highly intelligent animals who are easily made to feel jealous if the attention of their full time care taker is diverted to another individual. When the human rival is being asked the question, the subject animal is intensely watching, taking mental note of the rivals behavior.

I have found this technique to be extremely useful in my work with Bubba; and although I do not always have a human rival for Bubba to compete with during a training session, I try to use the model/rival technique quite often. I have found that using this technique is a great way to get training back on course when an animal reaches a learning plateau.

Lexigrams and Physical Cues:

IMG_20121230_201129

 

Above are the lexigram cards used in Bubba’s daily training. In this picture, they are in no particular order. The important thing about the use of lexigrams is that the pictures all be unique enough from one another and are only seen by the animal during appropriate times in order for the animal to correctly draw a correlation between the lexigram picture and a certain concept. For example, the ‘Food’ lexigram is presented to Bubba when he is eating food. The lexigrams are on a binder ring that I wear along my waistline, and the front card always presented to Bubba (should he be looking at me) is the card that means ‘Kyle’.

The top 5 cards, and the physical signs used in association with the lexigrams:

1. ‘Indoors’. Physical Sign: Both forearms placed over head with fists meeting, forming an A shape, ‘closed top’.

2. ‘Want’. Physical Sign: Arms crossed over chest.

3. ‘Sleep’. Physical Sign: Both hands on one side of head.

4. ‘Kiss/Affection’. Physical Sign: Right fist placed over mouth.

5. ‘Watch Me’. Physical Sign: Index fingers are brought in towards my temples.

The middle 5 cards, and the physical signs used in association with the lexigrams:

1. ‘Not It’. Physical Sign: Index and middle finger of right hand are moved along the top of the index and middle finger of my left hand.

2. ‘Bite’. Physical Sign: Currently, none.

3. ‘Kyle’. Physical Sign: Both hands placed over ears.

4. ‘Bubba’. Physical Sign: Both hands clenched on either side of my body, arms slightly bent.

5. ‘Food’. Physical Sign: Two fists placed over mouth.

Final two cards, and the physical signs in association with the lexigrams:

1. ‘Outside’. Physical Sign: Both forearms aimed directly up, ‘open top’.

2. ‘Good’. Physical Sign: 2 claps, moving hands further apart than usual to exaggerate the movement.

Current Items:

items

 

The top 2 objects: 1. ‘Ammonite’ fossil. 2. ‘Trilobite’ fossil.

Middle object: 1: ‘Stick’

Next 2 objects: 1. ‘Scissors’ 2. ‘Key’

Final 2 objects: 1. Pennies (which we call ‘Copper’) 2. ‘Cap(s)’

Below are the results of the Item Differentiation Task Training that Bubba has been subjected to. The object listed first is the item I tell Bubba to take, the item it is against or ‘vs’ is the object presented along with the object Bubba has been told to take. For example; scissors vs. stick means that Bubba was presented with both the scissors (which are tiny, plasic, taped closed) and a stick, and told to take the scissors. If he takes the item he is told to, positive reinforcement is used to increase the frequency of this desired behavior.

Date: 12/04/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Copper vs ScissorsX
2Stick vs CopperX
3Cap vs StickX
4Stick vs CopperX
5Stick vs CapX
6Copper vs StickX
7Cap vs StickX
8Cap vs ScissorsX
9Stick vs ScissorsX
10Scissors vs CapX
11Scissors vs CopperX
12Cap vs StickX
13Copper vs CapX
14Stick vs CopperX
15Stick vs CapX
16Cap vs ScissorsX
17Scissors vs CopperX
18Copper vs CapX
19Cap vs StickX
20Stick vs ScissorsX
21Copper vs ScissorsX
22Stick vs CapX
23Cap vs StickX
24Scissors vs CopperX
25Stick vs ScissorsX
26Copper vs StickX
27Stick vs CopperX
28Cap vs StickX
29Scissors vs CopperX
30Stick vs ScissorsX
Totals->228

Date 12/5/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Copper vs ScissorsX
2Stick vs CopperX
3Cap vs StickX
4Stick vs CopperX
5Stick vs CapX
6Copper vs StickX
7Cap vs StickX
8Cap vs ScissorsX
9Stick vs ScissorsX
10Scissors vs CapX
11Scissors vs CopperX
12Cap vs StickX
13Copper vs CapX
14Stick vs CopperX
15Stick vs CapX
16Cap vs ScissorsX
17Scissors vs CopperX
18Copper vs CapX
19Cap vs StickX
20Stick vs ScissorsX
21Copper vs ScissorsX
22Stick vs CapX
23Cap vs StickX
24Scissors vs CopperX
25Stick vs ScissorsX
26Copper vs StickX
27Stick vs CopperX
28Cap vs StickX
29Scissors vs CopperX
30Stick vs ScissorsX
Totals->237

Date 12/6/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Copper vs ScissorsX
2Stick vs CopperX
3Cap vs StickX
4Stick vs CopperX
5Stick vs CapX
6Copper vs StickX
7Cap vs StickX
8Cap vs ScissorsX
9Stick vs ScissorsX
10Scissors vs CapX
11Scissors vs CopperX
12Cap vs StickX
13Copper vs CapX
14Stick vs CopperX
15Stick vs CapX
16Cap vs ScissorsX
17Scissors vs CopperX
18Copper vs CapX
19Cap vs StickX
20Stick vs ScissorsX
21Copper vs ScissorsX
22Stick vs CapX
23Cap vs StickX
24Scissors vs CopperX
25Stick vs ScissorsX
26Copper vs StickX
27Stick vs CopperX
28Cap vs StickX
29Scissors vs CopperX
30Stick vs ScissorsX
Totals->246

Date 12/7/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Copper vs ScissorsX
2Stick vs CopperX
3Cap vs StickX
4Stick vs CopperX
5Stick vs CapX
6Copper vs StickX
7Cap vs StickX
8Cap vs ScissorsX
9Stick vs ScissorsX
10Scissors vs CapX
11Scissors vs CopperX
12Cap vs StickX
13Copper vs CapX
14Stick vs CopperX
15Stick vs CapX
16Cap vs ScissorsX
17Scissors vs CopperX
18Copper vs CapX
19Cap vs StickX
20Stick vs ScissorsX
21Copper vs ScissorsX
22Stick vs CapX
23Cap vs StickX
24Scissors vs CopperX
25Stick vs ScissorsX
26Copper vs StickX
27Stick vs CopperX
28Cap vs StickX
29Scissors vs CopperX
30Stick vs ScissorsX
Totals->246

Date 12/8/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Copper vs ScissorsX
2Stick vs CopperX
3Cap vs StickX
4Stick vs CopperX
5Stick vs CapX
6Copper vs StickX
7Cap vs StickX
8Cap vs ScissorsX
9Stick vs ScissorsX
10Scissors vs CapX
11Scissors vs CopperX
12Cap vs StickX
13Copper vs CapX
14Stick vs CopperX
15Stick vs CapX
16Cap vs ScissorsX
17Scissors vs CopperX
18Copper vs CapX
19Cap vs StickX
20Stick vs ScissorsX
21Copper vs ScissorsX
22Stick vs CapX
23Cap vs StickX
24Scissors vs CopperX
25Stick vs ScissorsX
26Copper vs StickX
27Stick vs CopperX
28Cap vs StickX
29Scissors vs CopperX
30Stick vs ScissorsX
Totals->273

Date 12/9/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs ScissorsX
29Copper vs TrilobiteX
30Trilobite vs ScissorsX
Totals->228

 

Date 12/10/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs ScissorsX
29Copper vs TrilobiteX
30Trilobite vs ScissorsX
Totals->255

Date 12/11/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs ScissorsX
29Copper vs TrilobiteX
30Trilobite vs ScissorsX
Totals->246

Date 12/12/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs ScissorsX
29Copper vs TrilobiteX
30Trilobite vs ScissorsX
Totals->228

Date 12/15/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs ScissorsX
29Copper vs TrilobiteX
30Trilobite vs ScissorsX
Totals->228

Date 12/16/2012

Trial #Object Told to Take vs. Opponent ObjectCorrectIncorrect
1Ammonite vs ScissorsX
2Copper vs StickX
3Cap vs ScissorsX
4Ammonite vs CopperX
5Cap vs StickX
6Copper vs CapX
7Scissors vs AmmoniteX
8Trilobite vs ScissorsX
9Copper vs TrilobiteX
10Ammonite vs CopperX
11Ammonite vs StickX
12Cap vs ScissorsX
13Stick vs CapX
14Copper vs StickX
15Stick vs CopperX
16Stick vs CapX
17Cap vs KeyX
18Stick vs AmmoniteX
19Copper vs ScissorsX
20Stick vs KeyX
21Cap vs KeyX
22Scissors vs CapX
23Stick vs KeyX
24Stick vs TrilobiteX
25Copper vs KeyX
26Cap vs CopperX
27Trilobite vs AmmoniteX
28Cap vs Scissors X
29Copper vs Trilobite X
30Trilobite vs Scissors X
Totals-> 20 10

** Data from December 17th, 18th and 19th soon to come. We took a break from differentiation training from the 20th to the 30th during the Holidays; however Bubba was still told daily to take the  various items and was rewarded for doing so, he just was not given an object to compete against. I plant to carry on with our differentiation training on start of the new year.