Wednesday, May 10, 2006

wow. the last four posts have consisted of me whining about exams. with just two exams to go, I'd hate to break the trend...


learned helplessness. this has been studied in rats, dogs, and other furry victims of the laboratory. a typical procedure involves restraining a dog and pairing a tone with electrical shocks. at first, the dog tries valiantly to escape. eventually, when that fails, he stops thrashing around and lies down on the floor, whining quietly. later, when released from his restraints and put in a cage with a clear mode of escape, the tone will not prompt him to dash to saftey, as it would dogs who had not been restrained. rather, he will lie down and passively wait for the shock to end, just as he learned to do earlier. even if the experimenter goes to the door and calls to him or offers him food, the poor little pup will continue to accept his fate passively.


here at u of t, the same process occurs, minus the shocks. failure is reinforced with virtually every test, assignment and exam. eventually, the student relinquishes hope of success and accepts his or her fate. just as the dog lies on the cage floor suffering, the student studies for hundreds of hours, then walks into the exam room expecting to fail.


uplifting, eh? so why do we do this to ourselves? well, having spent the last few days buried in my learning textbook, I'm so glad you asked. when a behaviour is reinforced only periodically with a reward of sufficient strength, that behaviour becomes highly resistant to extinction. in other words, when you're sweating and squirming in the exam room and wondering why you didn't run away on your first day of kindergarden when you had the chance, blame it on that handful of A's you've racked up in the last few years.


back's aching, vision's blurry, sanity's out for a night on the town. I'd say I'm about due for some A-type reinforcement. hoping tomorrow's the lucky day...

1 comment:

kt said...

i believe in you!