Monday, December 19, 2011

Three points: reinforcement for less reinforcement

Clip art:
Shooting a 3-point shot successfully from 22 feet out in basketball is certainly a "haptic" event, requiring both exquisite (depending on your appreciation of the game) movement and touch. It is a rush of the first order for most, even professionals.Turns out, however, that making one does not predict whether you'll make another--to the contrary. According to this research by Loewenstein and Neiman at the Hebrew University, summarized by Science Daily (Hat tip to Charles Adamson), you have a better chance at making one if you missed on the previous try. In other words, reinforcement is not always the best guide. We learn as much from our mistakes or at least in that context we tend not overgeneralize as much.

That principle, of course, is at the very heart of behaviorist learning theory. Three points from a HICP perspective: (1) repetition does not insure success--anchor it quickly and move on, (2) context is critical--the phonotactic environment of a sound in a word or phrase is all important, not just the felt sense of the sound itself, and (3) the affective or emotional charge that often accompanies our attempts to "just make it fun and enjoyable"--or even communicative--can work against the learner, creating an event that involves so much visual and experiential "clutter" that the essence of the great move is nearly inaccessible later, inapplicable elsewhere. Shoot . . . that makes it a new ball game . . .

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