Author Archives: aks5378

Reinforcement and Punishment

I would like to start this post by defining some terms that important to the content of the post. The first is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning forms associations between behaviors and resulting events. So when an animal does some action or behavior that operates on the environment, there is some consequence. Now there are two ways to “train” an animal to do certain things, which is called shaping. One of them is through reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is an event that strengthens any behavior that precedes it. Punishment is just the opposite. It is an adverse event that can help decrease certain behaviors. These are often used to train animals to do certain tricks or to prevent them from doing something, such as sitting on the couch.

When I was very young, perhaps five or six years of age, we owned a dog, specifically a Dalmatian. We got this dog just after birth, and it was, as you can imagine, quite small. I was also quite short at the time. After a few months, the dog was getting quite large, growing much faster than I was at the time. It was so big in comparison to me, after a period of time, that when I would try to pet it or interact with it, the dog would basically “run me over” or knock me down. This obviously caused me pain, and I would start to cry. My parents were a bit concerned over the matter, and used punishment, as described above, to attempt to train the dog not to do this, a be a bit more gentle when interaction was taking place. Whenever the dog pushed me over, they hit it on the head. The dog did not like this. After a while, as you can image, the dog learned not to knock me over, although it took a lot longer than one might expect. Afterwards, the dog and I got along just fine.

Mood Congruent Memory

When it comes to college, nothing is more important than passing classes. It’s why we are here. Partying, sports, and other social activities are great, but at the end of the day, you can’t receive a degree if you didn’t pass. So how does one pass a class? A very short, and non-specific, answer is memory. There is all kinds of information on memory, and a myriad of techniques proposed for improving it. From state dependent memory, which involves your level of intoxication when you study, to making connections and retrieval cues to help you remember certain things, there is a bunch of different ways to study. One that I am familiar with personally (and knew about before taking this class) is mood congruent memory. Mood congruent memory says that whenever a specific mood is felt, you are more likely to trigger or cue memories that you had when you were also in that same mood. For example, if you are currently feeling depressed, you are more likely to think about experiences that you once had, which were depressing. The opposite will occur if you are happy. Basically emotions and moods are strong retrieval cues that can help you remember things.

I have always done well when it comes to school and studying, but I was always looking for new ways improve my habits. My experience happened by accident. One night, before a test, I was studying and eating Taco bell. Taco bell is, by far, my favorite place to eat. It always seems to puts me in a good mood. Now, I definitely was worried about the test the next day. I was cramming, and didn’t think I would do that well on the test. The next day came, and still I was very worried. Right before the test, I had met up with one of my buddies, and he was telling me some jokes. This put me in a good mood, which was good, since I was about to take the test. I don’t have too many different moods, so when I am happy, it is basically the same happy as every other time. I took the test feeling that way, and it seemed to help out. I won’t tell you that I aced that test, but I felt at the time that it definitely went better than expected. I was able to remember a lot more than I had thought I would be able. Obviously, this kind of coincidence had to have happened before, but I had never taken notice. This time I did, and I told my buddy, who happened to know something about mood congruent memories, I thought that there was something to this way of studying.

Now, I always make sure I am in a good mood while studying. I do this knowing that before my most difficult tests, I will go out of my way to have some fun, or do something I know will make me happy. This doesn’t always involve Taco bell, but occasionally I eat it before an exam, in hopes to produce the same effect. I now know there is evidence to suggest that this type of studying works, so I am sure to take advantage of it when I can.

Illusory Correlations and Energy Drinks

When two variables share a relationship, there is said to be a correlation between them. The correlation may be weak or strong, but if there is a relationship, the two variables are correlated. This is not to say that when two items are correlated, that one causes the other to occur. Correlation does not equal causation. For example, when ice cream sales increase, so does crime. This does not mean that when crime goes up, people buy more ice cream because of that crime, and vice versa. It is just that during the same time of year when ice cream sales are at their highest, so is the crime rate. An illusory correlation is a correlation that is perceived to exist, but no correlation is actually present. This is the case with many stereotypes or superstitions, such as the superstition where one is not supposed to where white after Labor Day.

My dad developed a correlation around energy drinks and bad health. He believes that there is a correlation around consuming even one energy drink and very negative health consequences. He has heard stories on the news and in popular media of teenagers dying from drinking energy drinks. While it is true that if one consumes a large amount of energy drinks, one will most likely incur negative consequences, such as heart palpitations, dehydration, or possibly even death, this is not the normal case. There is no actual evidence suggesting that drinking an occasional energy drink will do any harm at all.

My dad feels very strongly about this, but it is just an illusory correlation. He sees that energy drinks and health problems in young people are linked in some extreme cases, so in his mind, has correlated bad health with energy drink. Like most illusory correlations, education about the topic can change your paradigm, and I have tried to change his mind, but he remains adamant. I suppose some illusory correlations will just remain with the people who believe them.


“Energy Drinks.” Health Education. Brown University, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014.