YANSS Podcast 12 – David Buss and the Dangerous Passion of Jealousy

Lisa Nowak shampooing in space. Image: NASA

Lisa Nowak shampooing in space. Image: NASA

The Topic: Jealousy

The Guest: David Buss

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Why do human beings experience jealousy, what is its function, and what are the warning signs that signal this powerful emotion may lead to violence?

Once reserved for the contemplation of poets and playwrights, jealousy is now the subject of intense scientific scrutiny. “Mate poachers abound,” explains this week’s guest, psychologist David Buss, who says that his research supports his hypothesis that human jealousy is an adaptation forged by evolutionary forces to deal with the problems of infidelity. Moderate jealousy, he says, is healthy and signals commitment, but there is a dark and corrosive side as well that follows a clear, predictable pattern before it destroys lives.

David BussDavid Buss is a professor of psychology who studies human mating at The University of Texas at Austin. He his the author of The Evolution Of Desire: Strategies Of Human Mating, Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and Sex, The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, and Why Women Have Sex: Understanding Sexual Motivations from Adventure to Revenge. You can learn more about him and his work at DavidBuss.com

After the interview I discuss a news story about research into societies in which women are more competitive than men.

In every episode, before I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Fernando Cordeiro who submitted a recipe for chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Cookie 12

Links/Sources:

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Where Women Are More Competitive Than Men

The Website of David Buss

Lisa Nowak Apology

Colleen Shipman in Court Describing Attack

ABC News: Lisa Nowak Late Night Comedy

The Daily Show Segment about Lisa Nowak

Lisa Nowak’s NASA Bio

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YANSS Podcast – Episode Ten – Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us

The Topic: Perversion

The Guest: Jesse Bering

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

A book, a real book, about making love with dinosaurs

A book, a real book, about making love with dinosaurs

If a world archery champion fell madly in love with the Eiffel Tower, who she considered to be a female, married the monument, and then went on to consummate her union with it, would you consider her a crazy person? How about perverted? Insane? What about a person who can only reach sexual climax by falling down stairs? What about a person who masturbates to wheelchairs or to a recently worn hearing aid?

Well, those people exist. But should we consider those people mentally ill whose sexual desires deviate from the norm? Given what science is telling us about sexuality, how should we adjust our thinking about perversion? That’s the topic we explore in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast. My guest is:

Jesse BeringJesse Bering’s new book is “Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us.” In it, he explores what is and is not normal, what is and is not perverted, and whether or not we should care about those things from a legal or moral standpoint. A former professor at the University of Arkansas and former director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast, Bering has written for Scientific American, Slate, New York Magazine, The Guardian, The New Republic, and Discover. His other books are Why is the Penis Shaped Like That and The Belief Instinct. You can learn more about Jesse at his website.

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, “You Are Now Less Dumb,” and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Celeste Lindell who submitted a recipe for cinnamon cardamom snickerdoodles. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Snickerdoodle

Links and Sources

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Cookie Recipe

Boing Boing Podcasts

Jesse Bering

Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us

Popcorn and Advertising

Pornography Statistics

More Pornography Statistics

Even More Pornography Statistics

Bill Hicks: Relentless

Lamda Legal Homophobia Supercut

YANSS Podcast – Episode Nine – Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory

The Topic: Arguing

The Guest(s): Hugo Mercier and Jeremy Sherman

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 8.50.37 PM

In 2008, renowned programmer and essayist Paul Graham wrote a guide for citizens of cyberspace titled “How to Disagree.”

Ten years had passed since the invention of the comment section. Twitter was two years old. The world had spent nine months with the iPhone. To Graham it had become apparent that the Internet had permanently changed the paradigm of the written word, which was as he put it, “writers wrote and readers read.” Instead, he predicted the call and response model of the web was here to stay. People would add their perspectives to everything. Content had become and would forever be a conversation, he predicted, and that meant everyone would need to learn how to argue more efficiently because exposure to rampant bickering would soon become a big part of daily life.

The reason, explained Graham, was that when you agree with something you usually don’t have much to add, so most people tend only to respond in paragraph form when they disagree. Naturally then, more disagreements than agreements would soon begin to spawn, and they would reproduce at a much higher rate. The result would be an Internet that looked and seemed angry and polarized, which might then become a weird sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. He warned: “…there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.”

A year after Graham wrote his essay, Facebook lowered the already low cost of agreeing to a single click of a “like” button. The disagreements he predicted began to stack upon each other and grow long enough to benefit from spell checking.

Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement – Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, everywhere you click online you can witness the roiling boil of response just as Graham divined, and you can see why he suggested we ought to learn how to disagree like civilized adults. Just bounce over to the Huffington Post and check out the comments under any story focused on politics. You’ll find an opinionated, angry human centipede snaking its way down the page. On YouTube, minutes-old comments float around underneath videos posted years ago, each one a fragment of an ongoing argument populated with thousands of participants eagerly punching keyboards in an attempt to prove his or her beliefs are sound. The discourse there has encouraged 13,000 people to download a browser extension that turns all comments into variations of the phrase, “Herp derp.”

So, here in the online world Graham warned us about, human beings seem to be getting into and spectating upon more arguments than ever before. Our beliefs are getting challenged every day. Our ideologies and political camps are regularly being raided. According to many experts, this is not a bad thing, just a new one. Will it change us? Sure. But it will probably change us for the better.

Our increased exposure to arguing also means increased exposure to the mental foibles and errors of logic and reasoning that so often appear when people square off in rhetorical combat. Arguing with ourselves and others has become a fascination. We are suddenly eager to buy books about irrationality because we see so much more of it in our daily lives than just a decade ago. There seems to be so much more motivated reasoning and self delusion in the world than ever before too, thanks to the natural imbalance of communication Paul Graham told us to expect. We all want to understand what is making all of us so unreasonable. That yearning has helped bring the wisdom of the skeptical movement closer to the mainstream and place books about the psychology of bias on bestseller lists.

A question we never really considered asking is now making our brains itch. Why do we argue? What purpose does it serve? Is all this bickering online helping or hurting us?

Science thankfully has something to say about these questions, and what it has to say may even help explain reason itself. That’s the subject we explore in this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast.

My guests are:

JeremyShermanJeremy Sherman, an evolutionary epistemologist, which means he researches how humans evolved to make generalizations and draw conclusions from inconclusive data. At 24, he was an elder in the world’s largest hippie commune, but now he lectures at the Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville California and is a chief researcher at Berkely’s Consortium for Emergent Dynamics where he and others research how minds emerge from matter. He is now working on a book, “Doubt: A Natural History; A User’s Guide” and he blogs at Psychology Today.

Hugo-MercierHugo Mercier is a researcher for the French National Center for Scientific Research who shook up both psychology and philosophy with a paper published in 2011 titled, “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory” (PDF) that proposed humans evolved reason to both produce and evaluate arguments. Respected and well-known names in psychology like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt have both praised the paper as being one of the most important works in years on the science of rationality. You can find his website here.

After the long interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Jaimie-Leigh Jonker of New Zealand who submitted a recipe for orange coconut chocolate chip cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

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Links:

• Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

• Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipe

• Hugo Mercier’s Paper: “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory”

• Hugo Mercier’s Website

• Jeremy Sherman’s Blog

• Paul Graham: “How to Disagree”

YouTube Herp Derper

NYT article on the history of Internet commenting

YANSS Podcast – Episode Seven – The Psychology of Common Sense

The Topic: Common Sense

The Guest: Kevin Lyon

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

laserreeve

Superman’s heat vision, from “Superman,” courtesy Warner Bros.

(There is still time to enter the preorder contest and win a shirt or a signed book: details here)

How would you define common sense?

I like the American Heritage dictionary’s definition: “Sound judgment not based on specialized knowledge; native good judgment.” I like it because it’s describing something that doesn’t really exist, at least not in such a laudable form as that definition suggests. Faith in, and respect for, common sense is something that this entire You Are Not So Smart project is devoted to squashing.

Your common sense is informed by imperfect inputs decoded through biases and heuristics defended by logical fallacies stored in corrupted memories that are unpacked through self-serving narratives. Native good judgment? Well, sure, sometimes, but there’s a reason why we had to invent the scientific method. Native judgment is pretty unreliable.

My new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, spends many pages discussing superseded scientific theories and the implications that they bring up – stuff like humors and putting the Earth at the center of universe. You can read an excerpt here at Big Think: The Common Belief Fallacy.

The connection between common sense, superseded scientific theories, and becoming less dumb is the subject for this episode’s podcast. I interview Kevin Lyon, a biology teacher and friend who is one of those people who is so smart that you feel yourself becoming a better person just listening to him ramble. I think you’ll love this interview.

Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies

Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies

After the interview, as in every episode, I read a bit of self delusion news and taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of the new book, You Are Now Less Dumb, and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode’s winner is Cody Johnson who submitted a recipe for fudgy oatmeal cookies. Send your own recipes to david {at} youarenotsosmart.com.

Links:

Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Extramission Belief in College Students Study

The Cookie Recipe

10-Hour eye laser battle at Everything is Terrible

Interactive vitamin infographic from Information is Beautful

The Vitamin Myth at The Atlantic

Ego Depletion

The Misconception: Willpower is just a metaphor.

The Truth: Willpower is a finite resource.

Forever Alone by Lysgaard
(Source: Lysgaard)

In 2005, a team of psychologists made a group of college students feel like scum.

The researchers invited the undergraduates into their lab and asked the students to just hang out for a while and get to know each other. The setting was designed to simulate a casual meet-and-greet atmosphere, you know, like a reception or an office Christmas party – the sort of thing that never really feels all that casual?

The students divided into same-sex clusters of about six people each and chatted for 20 minutes using conversation starters provided by the researchers. They asked things like “Where are you from?” and “What is your major?” and “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Researchers asked the students beforehand to make an effort to learn each other’s names during the hang-out period, which was important, because the next task was to move into a room, sit alone, and write down the names of two people from the fake party with whom the subjects would most like to be partnered for the next part of the study. The researchers noted the responses and asked the students to wait to be called. Unbeknownst to the subjects, their choices were tossed aside while they waited.

The researchers – Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan DeWall, Natalie J. Ciarocco and Jean M. Twenge of Florida State, Florida Atlantic, and San Diego State universities – then asked the young men and women to proceed to the next stage of the activity in which the subjects would learn, based on their social skills at the party, what sort of impression they had made on their new acquaintances. This is where it got funky.

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The Overjustification Effect

The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.

The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.

Office Space – Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Money isn’t everything. Money can’t buy happiness. Don’t live someone else’s dream. Figure out what you love and then figure out how to get paid doing it.

Maxims like these often find their way into your social media; they arrive in your electronic mailbox at the ends of dense chains of forwards. They bubble up from the collective sighs of well-paid boredom around the world and get routinely polished for presentation in graduation speeches and church sermons.

Money, fame, and prestige – they dangle just outside your reach it seems, encouraging you to lean farther and farther over the edge, to study longer and longer, to work harder and harder. When someone reminds you that acquiring currency while ignoring all else shouldn’t be your primary goal in life, it feels good. You retweet it. You post it on your wall. You forward it, and then you go back to work.

If only science had something concrete to say about the whole thing, you know? All these living greeting cards dispensing wisdom are great and all, but what about really putting money to the test? Does money buy happiness? In 2010, scientists published the results of a study looking into that very question.

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The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

The Misconception:  You celebrate diversity and respect others’ points of view.

The Truth: You are driven to create and form groups and then believe others are wrong just because they are others.

Source: “Lord of the Flies,” 1963, Two Arts Ltd.

In 1954, in eastern Oklahoma, two tribes of children nearly killed each other.

The neighboring tribes were unaware of each other’s existence. Separately, they lived among nature, played games, constructed shelters, prepared food – they knew peace. Each culture developed its own norms and rules of conduct. Each culture arrived at novel solutions to survival-critical problems. Each culture named the creeks and rocks and dangerous places, and those names were known to all. They helped each other and watched out for the well-being of the tribal members.

Scientists stood by, watchful, scribbling notes and whispering. Much nodding and squinting took place as the tribes granted to anthropology and psychology a wealth of data about how people build and maintain groups, how hierarchies are established and preserved. They wondered, the scientists, what would happen if these two groups were to meet.

These two tribes consisted of 22 boys, ages 11 and 12, whom psychologist Muzafer Sherif brought together at Oklahoma’s Robber’s Cave State Park. He and his team placed the two groups on separate buses and drove them to a Boy Scout Camp inside the park – the sort with cabins and caves and thick wilderness. At the park, the scientists put the boys into separate sides of the camp about a half-mile apart and kept secret the existence and location of the other group. The boys didn’t know each other beforehand, and Sherif believed putting them into a new environment away from their familiar cultures would encourage them to create a new culture from scratch.

He was right, but as those cultures formed and met something sinister presented itself. One of the behaviors which pushed and shoved its way to the top of the boys’ minds is also something you are fending off at this very moment, something which is making your life harder than it ought to be. We’ll get to all that it in a minute. First, let’s get back to one of the most telling and frightening experiments in the history of psychology.

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Procrastination

The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.

The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.

Netflix_Logo

Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.

If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.

Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?

Psychologists actually know the answer to this question, to why you keep adding movies you will never watch to your growing collection of future rentals, and it is the same reason you believe you will eventually do what’s best for yourself in all the other parts of your life, but rarely do.

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Extinction Burst

The Misconception: If you stop engaging in a bad habit, the habit will gradually diminish until it disappears from your life.

The Truth: Any time you quit something cold turkey, your brain will make a last-ditch effort to return you to your old ways.

Source: Corie Howell

You’ve been there.

You get serious about losing weight and start to mind every calorie. You read labels work out the math for a serving size. You stock up on fruit and vegetables and look up how to properly cut onions and bell peppers. You hit the gym and get an app to track your progress.

Everything is going fine. You feel great. You feel like a champion. You think, “This is easy.”

Then one day you give in to temptation and eat a piece of chocolate, or a cake doughnut, or bag of chips. Maybe you go a bit further and grab a beer or maybe a cheeseburger. Perhaps you are out to lunch, and say, “What the hell,” and order the fettuccine alfredo. It seems like you can handle one transgression, but that afternoon, since you’ve already cheated a little, you think maybe tonight you can you eat whatever you want. To celebrate the occasion you eat a pint of ice cream or a whole pizza. The diet ends in a catastrophic binge, and among the ruins you look at the empty containers knowing that what was once in them is now in you and you you ask, “what the hell?” How did my smooth transition from comfort food to human Dumpster happen?

You just experienced an extinction burst – a predictable and common blast of defiance from the recesses of a brain denied familiar rewards.

Food, of course, is one of the most powerful rewards. It keeps you alive. Your brain didn’t evolve in an environment where there was an abundance of food, so whenever you find a high-calorie, high fat, high sodium source, your natural inclination is to eat a lot of it and then go back to it over and over again. If you take away a reward like that, especially if you’ve become accustomed to indulging, especially if you abruptly turn off the flow of pleasure, you can expect to eventually throw an internal tantrum.

Much of your behavior is the result of conditioning. It is among the most basic factors shaping the way any organism reacts to the world. If your actions lead to positive outcomes, you are more likely to continue them. Your brain doles out pleasant emotions through chemical gifts whenever you do something that benefits the organism it pilots. If your actions lead to a negative outcome, you are more likely to avoid that behavior in the future. Over time, you begin to predict reward and punishment by linking longer and longer series of events to their eventual outcomes.

Say you want some chicken nuggets. You know you can’t just snap your fingers and wait for them to appear. You must engage in a long sequence of actions – walk to closet, put on shirt, find shoes, apply to feet, find keys, find car, drive to nuggets, use language, exchange money, etc… This string of behaviors could be sliced up into smaller and smaller components if we wanted to really dig down into the conditioning you have endured in order to be able to get nuggets in your mouth. Just driving the car from point A to point B is a complex performance with thousands of steps, all of which become automatic after hundreds of hours of practice.

Millions of tiny behaviors, each one a single step in a process, all add up to a single operation you have learned will payoff in reward. Think of rats in a maze, learning a complicated series of steps – turn left two times, turn right once, turn left, right, left, get cheese. Even microorganisms can be conditioned to react to stimuli and predict outcomes.

This concept, conditioning, for a good long while was the cat’s pajamas in psychology. In the 1960s and ’70s, Burrhus Frederic Skinner became a scientist celebrity by scaring the shit out of America with an invention called the operant conditioning chamber – the Skinner Box. The box is an enclosure which can have any combination of levers, food dispensers, an electric floor, lights and loudspeakers. Scientists place animals in the box and either reward them or punish them to either encourage or discourage their behaviors. Rats, for example, can be taught to push a lever when a green light appears to get a food pellet.

Skinner once demonstrated how he could teach a pigeon to spin in circles at his command by offering food only when it turned in one direction. Gradually, he withheld the food until the pigeon had turned a little farther and farther until he had it going round and round. He could even get the pigeon to distinguish between the word “peck” and “turn” and get them to perform the corresponding behavior just by showing them a sign. Yes, in a sense, he taught a bird to read.

Skinner discovered you could get pigeons and rats to do complicated tasks by slowly building up chains of behaviors through handing out pellets of food. For example, if you want to teach a squirrel to water ski, you just need to start small and work your way up. Other researchers added punishment to these routines and discovered it too could be used like the pellets to encourage and discourage behavior.

Skinner became convinced conditioning was the root of all behavior and didn’t believe rational thinking had anything to do with your personal life. He considered introspection to be a “collateral product” of conditioning. Like Freud and Einstein, Skinner was a celebrity in his day, and his belief we were all robots was unsettling. He made the cover of Time magazine in 1971. “My book,” said Skinner in the interview, ”is an effort to demonstrate how things go bad when you make a fetish out of individual freedom and dignity. If you insist that individual rights are the summum bonum, then the whole structure of society falls down.”

Some psychologists and philosophers still hold to the idea you are nothing but a sophisticated automaton, like a spider or a fish. You have no freedom, no free will. Your brain is made of atoms and molecules which must obey the laws of physics and chemistry, so some say your mind is locked into service of the rules of the universe like a clock. Everything you have thought, felt and done in your life was the natural mathematical aftermath of the Big Bang.

You may take comfort knowing this is a hotly contested idea, but whether or not you have free will, conditioning is real, and the impact of conditioning can’t be ignored.

There are two kinds of conditioning – classical and operant. In classical conditioning, something which normally doesn’t have any influence over you becomes a trigger for an involuntary response. Normally, flushing the toilet doesn’t produce fear in your heart, but if you are taking a shower and someone flushes the toilet and then the water becomes a scalding torrent, you become conditioned to recoil in terror while in shower the next time you hear the toilet flush. That’s classical conditioning. Something neutral – the toilet flushing – becomes charged with meaning and expectation. You have no control over it. If you have ever been sick after eating or drinking something you love, you will avoid it in the future. The smell of it, or even the thought of it, can make you ill. For me, it’s tequila. Ugh, gross. Classical conditioning keeps you alive. You learn quickly to avoid that which may harm you and seek out that which makes you happy, like an amoeba.

The sort of complex behavior Skinner was able to shape was the result of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning modifies existing behaviors, making them more or less frequent following certain outcomes. Inclinations become greater through reinforcement, or diminish through punishment. You arrive early to the theater, you get a better seat. You frequently wash your hands, you don’t get sick. You pay the rent on time, you don’t get wet when it rains. You don’t rob banks, you don’t go to jail. You play the slot machine and sometimes, every once in a while, you get some money.

It’s all operant conditioning, punishment and reward. Adding and subtracting pain or gaining or losing out on pleasure.

Which finally brings us back to the third factor – extinction.

When you are under the spell of operant conditioning and expect to receive a reward or a punishment after a certain behavior but nothing happens, your conditioned response starts to fade away. If you stop letting your cat in the bedroom after he meows and scratches at the door, he will eventually stop begging to be let in. His behavior will go extinct.

Right as the behavior is breathing its final breath, that’s when you can expect an extinction burst. Your cat will begin meowing like crazy, pawing at the door for what seems like hours.

Parents are very familiar with this pattern, and if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Supernanny, then you’ve probably seen an extinction burst. In one episode, a toddler refused to go to bed in his crib when it was bedtime, and the parents would fight him all night long until he finally went unconscious from exhaustion. The Supernanny suggested they put him in his crib and just sit in the room and ignore him. The extinction burst would come and go, and if he attempted to escape the crib, she told him they should just put him back in and go back to ignoring. They followed her advice, and the extinction burst was massive – screaming, crying, saying all sorts of whimpering, heart imploding things. His little brain was trying every conceivable strategy to avoid extinction. It was a miserable experience for the mother, which was, of course, what the burst was trying to create. The mother cried, but she kept looking at the wall, and after about 20 minutes, the child stopped, lied down, and went to sleep.

Just before you give up on a long-practiced routine, you freak out. It’s a final desperate attempt by the oldest parts of your brain to keep getting rewarded. As Matt Webb explains at Interconnected.org – if you use the same elevator every day to get to avoid climbing 10 flights of stairs, and one day you press the button and nothing happens, you don’t just immediately take the stairs. You start jamming all the buttons over and over again, you get mad, you ask around for help, you talk to other people, you go back and press the buttons again, and then, finally, you take the stairs.

You lock your keys in your apartment, but your roommate is asleep. You ring the doorbell and knock, but they don’t come. You ring the doorbell over and over and over. You start pounding on the door. If your computer freezes up you don’t just walk away, you start clicking all over the place and maybe go so far as to bang your fists on the keyboard. Trying, like the cat at the door and child in the crib, every thing you can think of to bring back the expected results.

These are all extinction bursts. The burst is a temporary increase in a behavior that usually precedes a reward, a plea from the recesses of your psyche as soon as the conditioned response is no longer yielding results.

Here is some great advice from Canine University magazine: “The worst thing you could ever do is give in to a temper tantrum. This goes for adults too, because if you spend enough time observing other people you will notice that people who are used to getting their way will start a temper tantrum immediately after you have refused their request. If you patiently restate your position and stay calm you will see the person eventually give up. Depending upon how long he carries on will tell you how other people have responded to the person in the past. If he has been rewarded for having a fit often enough the extinction burst will be spectacular, enjoy! If it’s short lived, it will be over as quick as it started and you can feel good that you haven’t encouraged it. The best way to eliminate a tantrum is to not give in, wait out the extinction burst (walking away works wonders) and reinforce the absence of the tantrum with your attention as soon as the person stops.”

So, back to that diet.

If you eliminate a reward from your life like awesome and delicious high-calorie foods. Right as you are ready to give it up forever, an extinction burst will threaten to demolish your willpower. You become like a two-year-old in a conniption fit, and like the child, if you give in to the demands, the behavior will be strengthened. The next time you try, the burst will come sooner and it will be stronger. Compulsive overeating is a frenzied state of mind, food addiction under pressure until it bursts.

Diets fail for many reasons, much of them associated with your body trying to survive in a situation where surviving starvation is much less of an issue. To give up overeating, or smoking, lying around watching Netflix as your biceps atrophy, or any bad habit which was formed through conditioning, you must be prepared to weather the secret weapon of your unconscious – the extinction burst.

Become your own Supernanny, your own Dog Whisperer. Look for alternative rewards and positive reinforcement. Set goals, and when you achieve them, shower yourself with garlands of your choosing.

Don’t freak out when it turns out to be difficult. Habits form because you are not so smart, and they cease under the same conditions. If you are ready for the extinction burst and prepared, you can weather the storm and watch it pass. You can watch the bad behavior go extinct, forever, and only see again as a fossil in photographs from previous epochs in your life, part of a previous you. 

Sources

  • “Behavior: Skinner’s Utopia: Panacea, or Path to Hell?” Time. Time Inc., 20 Sept. 1971. Web. 26 July 2010.
  • Biederman, Jim. “Conditioning Examples with Answers.” Conditioning Examples with Answers. Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Web. 26 July 2010. (http://bit.ly/VPXe1O)
  • “Classical Conditioning.” Classical Conditioning. Changing Minds. Web. 26 July 2010. (http://bit.ly/VPXa2n)
  • “Extinction.” Extinction. Changing Minds. Web. 26 July 2010. (http://bit.ly/VPWVEg)
  • “Operant Conditioning Chamber.” Operant Conditioning Chamber. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 26 July. 2010. (http://bit.ly/YWJ0i6)
  • “Three Dogs and Two Babies: So You’re Having a Baby…is Your Dog Prepared? – Canine University.” Three Dogs and Two Babies: So You’re Having a Baby…is Your Dog Prepared? – Canine University. Canine University. Web. 26 July 2010. (http://bit.ly/VPXA8T)
  • Webb, Matt. “Interconnected.” Two Kinds of Training ( 3 Jul., 2008, at ). Interconnected. Web. 26 Aug. 2014. (http://bit.ly/YWJ3dK)