Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Interesting Information on Punishment

[Note: This is the Second post I've made today.]
I'm reading a book called Treatment of Behavior Problems in Dogs and Cats. What it's about is evident from the title. The author has the annoying habit of assuming that the animal behaviorist is always right when they and the owner disagree, and says people would be more likely to get rid of a cat whose marking is damaging their rugs than the rugs themselves (whereas I'd much rather have a marking cat and hard floors than get rid of my cat), but I really like his section on punishment.
One of the things he says is:
"Laboratory experiments and everyday experience indicate that the most likely effect of punishment is to produce only a temporary suppression of behavior. Behaviors which have been apparently eliminated with punishment methods alone tend to recur again and again in the future... Under special circumstances, punishment can sometimes be successful in producing long-term suppression of behavior. But here the punishment must be of traumatic or near-traumatic intensity, which makes it undesirable on both ethical and practical (i.e. side effects) grounds."
I wish the Judge Rotenberg Center would read and understand this. If they claim it's not traumatic to zap people for misbehaving, therefore it has only a temporary effect. If it is effective long-term, then they must be traumatising them. Incidentally, some people, like myself, tend to react to some punishments by consciously trying increase the behavior, and when that occurs, only traumatic punishments have even a short-term effect, and often only very severe ones (for example, I think I would comply if I was threatened with death for disobeying). The punishments school threatened me with were traumatic but not severe enough to stop the behavior I was desperately clinging to. I felt like if I let them win, I'd lose my self, and those are pretty high stakes.
Another thing he says is:

Punishment can have the side effect of eliciting aggressive behavior if it is painful, elicits fear in a fear-aggressive dog, or is seen as a status-threatening challenge by a dominant aggressive dog.

The shocks used by the Judge Rotenberg Center are painful. No wonder aggressive behaviors tend to be more common after a child is zapped. (For example, Linda Cornelison was apparently only aggressive when she was shocked.)

As a side note, here's something he said about medications:

Hart and Cooper (1996)[*] raise the more basic question of whether it is ethically justifiable to administer a psychoactive drug to an animal without altering the underlying factors which are causing the problem - above all in cases where the symptoms tend to recur after discontinuation of the drug and, therefore, it might be necessary to administer the drug to the animal indefinately.

I wish my school had a) read this, and b) recognized how much they were causing my 'misbehaviour', rather than insisting that everything would be fine if I got Ritalin. (Which was probably inaccurate anyway, since much of my behavior was because of anxiety and therefore would be worsened by a stimulant.)
Ettina

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