The Science of Learning

The most basic aspects of learning science is “Conditioning”.
Classical Conditioning is when you connect a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that has meaning. This can be done in all sorts of ways, for example, connecting a sound with no meaning, like a click, with the delivery of food classically conditions the click to predict food is coming. Ever seen a horse become more forward just by the rider carrying a whip? The whip is a connected to the pain inflicted, it's a classically conditioned aversive (unwanted stimulus).

We also have Operant Conditioning, this is where the learner learns how to operate their environment. Meaning, they learn the connections between their behaviors and actions and the results of them. This influences their future choices and encourages or discourages certain behaviors. This form of conditioning can happen in four ways, our learning quadrants. The learning quadrants are experienced by the learner in the “ABC”s, Antecendent (trigger), Behavior (the action the learner takes), and Consequence (the result of their choice). These ABC's are then interpretted by the learner in one of the learning quadrants.

Our learning quadrants are rather simple but they contain the foundation of how all living creatures learn. Remember in science 'positive' and 'negative' are equated to 'adding' and 'subtracting', not good or bad. 'Reinforcement' is anything that causes a behavior to increase, while 'Punishment' is anything that causes a behavior to decrease. Only the learner can decide how to interpret the stimuli added, some individuals will find some things reinforcing that others would find punishing or neutral and vice versa. I knew a horse who was hit repeatedly for biting, but the biting behavior continued and even got stronger, the consequence of being hit was actually reinforcing to this individual, rather than punishing like the owners thought.

Positive Punishment: The addition of an unwanted stimulus which decreases the frequency of the behavior
Negative Punishment: The removal of a desired stimulus which decreases the frequency of the behavior
Positive Reinforcement: The addition of a desired stimulus which increases the frequency of the behavior
Negative Reinforcement: The removal of an unwanted stimulus which increases the frequency of the behavior

As clicker trainers we primarily make use of the Positive Reinforcement (R+) to encourage behaviors we like [reinforcing]. Occasionally we touching in the Negative Punishment (P-) to decrease behaviors (though we usually use other methods when possible listed in [Eliminating Behaviors]). While traditional and natural horsemanship trainers primarily make use of the Negative Reinforcement (R-) quadrant (Pressure/release) to encourage behaviors and use Positive Punishment (P+) to discourage behaviors.

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