Skinner’s rats, Pavlov’s dogs and Premack’s principles

Dr. Peter Killeen
Keynote address given at the 2017 conference

Reinforcement is a central concept in the enterprise of training, and yet it remains a controversial one. Much of the opinion about its nature is derived from laboratory protocols involving food or water deprived animals. This does not always translate into the more complex and pragmatic world of animal training. In this talk I take a step back, to re-embed the concept of reinforcement in an ecological context. Reinforcement is always caused by the opportunity for an animal to make a transition from one action pattern to the next. The Premack principle is a simple deployment of this insight. I will discuss the Premack principle, alternate versions of it, and the relevance of the emotional state of the animal.

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