Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Punishment & Operant Conditioning

As we discussed in class today, punishment can be used to influence behavior in subjects, but it does come with some major downsides. Punishment doesn't actually teach a desired behavior, it just discourages bad behavior. Physical punishments that parents use can sometimes teach unintended lessons: hitting solves problems, parents are to be feared, etc.

However, we have all seen and perhaps experienced robust examples of how punishments can effectively discourage unwanted behaviors. My recent most favorite example of people creatively employing punishment to deter a behavior comes from Vilnius, Lithuania. The Mayor of that city, fed up with people parking their expensive cars in no parking zones, launched this video (which appears to be more of a public service announcement than an organized enforcement campaign) of himself running over expensive, but illegally parked cars with a tank.

Why were expensive cars the problem? Presumably inexpensive cars parked illegally would create as big of a problem for the city, but there seems to be some assumptions being made about the motivations of the owners of the fancy cars: the Mayor notes wanting to send a message to drivers who "think they are above the law." Perhaps, also, it is more fun to run over expensive cars?

The mayor was honored with an Ig Nobel prize (the humorous counterpart to the Nobel prize)at this year's ceremony at Harvard University.

My favorite quote from the video: in answer to the question of what the city should do about the problem, Mayor Zuokas says, "It seems that a tank is the best solution."

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