Friday, 17 December 2010

What Shamu Taught AMe About a Happy Marriage

Recently I was made aware of an outrageously funny article written by Amy Sutherland entitled “What Shamu Taught Me about a Happy Marriage” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/25/fashion/25love.html . Apparently Amy was in the process of doing research for a book she was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers. She came to the realization that the techniques being used by the trainers might prove to be useful as behavior modification techniques for her husband.

After citing several of her husband’s typical infractions she added “These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less,…a mate who would be easier to love…. So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse.

“The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.”

Trainers use L.R.S. (least reinforcing syndrome) to elicit the desired response from animals. When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

So when her husband Scott went into one of his tirades when he couldn’t find his keys, Amy just went on working in the kitchen, ignoring the commotion around her. On the other hand to reinforce behaviors that were desirable she employed “approximations”, which is what trainers call the rewarding of small steps toward learning a new behavior. Thus if Scott managed to get one sock in the hamper she would immediately affirm him. Over a period of time the more annoying habits began to dissipate and positive behaviors became evident.

Apparently she learned one more thing from the trainers ,i.e. eventually the animals understand their training regimen so well that they begin to use it back on their trainers. Scott did the same, as he applied L.R.S. to Amy as she was grousing and complaining. She quickly realized the tables had turned and she was the one now being trained.

I wonder if the Bible was one of the books that Amy picked up for the writer of Proverbs said that “a quarrelsome or nagging wife is like constantly dripping water.” Nagging didn’t work back then and it doesn’t work now. I wonder if Noah discovered L.R.S?

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