Friday, May 8, 2015

Intermittent Reinforcement & Clinging to Hope

Although originally thought to be mainly involved as a function of reward, research by Wolfram Schultz has shown that dopamine more prevalently figures in the anticipation of reward, and further, that it works in forming the impetus behind our determination to do the work we believe will help us to get at our goal.

Curiously, the biggest spike in dopamine comes when the possibility of reward is 50/50. Uncertainty is very alluring to us and redoubles our determination to persist. 

This finding hearkens back to B.F. Skinner and his pigeons, which I wrote about before.

In another of his experiments, he conditioned birds to get their food when they pecked a certain number of times. When they were accustomed to this, he changed his system to dispense the food randomly, not at all what they had been used to. While his control-group of unconditioned pigeons would quit after roughly 300 futile pecks, these expectant birds persevered longer - some would peck over 10,000 times in hopes of reward! It took them a very long time to give up.

This hopeful, pigeon-like behavior is easily seen in gamblers. If they were to receive a consistent rate of return on every bet placed, the excitement would be gone. The chance that maybe their next bet would result in the big win is what is seducing.

I cannot help but see the glaring application to my marriage. During the first 2 months of hormonal rampage we were like love-birds. After that, it was the perseverance of the pigeon hoping for reward - in my case, affection in any form.

It was the rare occasions of reward that kept me hanging on and trying. Never mind that I was completely blinded to the fact that affection towards me was utterly unnatural for him. Filled with anticipation and hope, I kept doing my best to please him in what must have surely been nothing but nauseatingly obsequious behavior. Until finally, like an exhausted pigeon, I gave up after my ten-thousands of times.

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