So I read a completely fictional book a while ago called “John Dies at the End” and part of the hilarious, but nightmarish plot was an idea that monsters from an alternate dimension are currently training Earth children to become a fighting force numb to empathy and remorse. The way they did it was by introducing video games that were increasingly violent. That’s what started my mind turning.
A (not so) quick psychology lesson on behaviorism before I go into the thought that’s been festering in my mind all morning and has finally burst, spreading it’s pus of paranoia and hormonal imbalance and becoming this article.
These days we call behaviorism ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis. You break each task you want to teach, or maybe learn, into small steps, and focus on each step as a goal until it’s achieved, then move on to the next step, reinforcing presenting behaviors as appropriate to your overall target. It’s really operant conditioning that I’m talking about, the proverbial “carrot and stick.” I’m also talking about shaping, one of the most powerful tools psychologists have.
With operant conditioning, you encourage each step with a reinforcer of some sort, prearranging that behavior. With shaping you look for naturally occurring behaviors that you want to reinforce to ensure they are the ones happening more often until maybe a competing behavior is gone completely.
The point is to change a behavior one very small step at a time. However, this approach is used in a social context, so it’s not just scientists screwing with rats and pigeons and whatnot. So we use it to teach kids with autism how to follow routines in school, though conditioning is truly a part of everything we do to teach anyone anything. How often do you tell someone who helped you that you appreciated it? Guess what, you just conditioned that person to help you again in the future. And you know what? The reason you said thanks is because you’re conditioned to praise behaviors you’d like repeated. Like I said, it’s everywhere.
Now onto what’s really on my mind: the brain-washing alternate dimension monster and the shooter games I so enjoy. I love shooter games, and believe that even people who don’t give a crap about video games can still rock a shooting game and ask for more. Why do I like shooting things in video games? Because I don’t get to go on out on the range anymore, and because I still like the fact that I can hit a target or because I’m instantly rewarded with points, and a rating, and maybe I’ll get more than the other players. This “liking” is a bit of dopamine and adrenaline my brain sends along like a favorite drug dealing uncle.