With Nerdy Bonus Material: Why Clickers Are Particularly Useful for Limbic System Retraining
I was just thinking, “Oh shoot. I should have included a couple of TAGulators in my giveaway,” when I got an email from a generous donor offering to pay for a second set of DVDs! (Thank you!) So, now I’m offering it all! The whole enchilada: two sets of DVDs, a coaching session, and two TAGulator/clicker sets.
What is a TAGulator?
It was developed by people who do TAGteaching, which is clicker training for humans. (TAG stands for “Teaching with Acoustical Guidance.”) But you can use it even if you’re not actually clicking yourself. TAGteach International defines tagulators in their post, “What the heck is a tagulator, anyway?“:
A tagulator is a specially beaded string that allows you to keep track of your tags.
I like to make TAGulators for myself and my clients. It’s a way of reinforcing yourself for a behavior you want to do more often or continue to do. You move a bead/button every time you do the desired behavior, and then when you have moved all the buttons/beads, you give yourself the reward you promised yourself when you started. (I usually get myself a neuroplasticity or dog training book.)
When I was doing brain retraining, and I was really sick of it and didn’t want to do it anymore, I would sometimes use my clicker to focus me on a particular aspect of what I was working on and as a way to reinforce myself and keep me going. For example, I would focus on smiling while doing my brain training and then click myself for keeping a smile on my face for longer chains periods while training.
Normally a click is a “secondary reinforcer” or “conditioned reinforcer,” which means it’s meaningless on its own, but it becomes a powerful signal to the learner because it’s paired with some other “primary reinforcer” — such as a piece of food for an animal or a token or candy for a child. Money is the classic example of an incredibly potent conditioned reinforcer: a $20 bill has no inherent worth — if you gave it to a baby, she wouldn’t find it any more valuable than any other piece of soft paper or cloth — but because money has the ability to get people virtually any primary reinforcer (food, drink, comfort, pleasure, etc.) — we value it above actual primary reinforcers.
For me, the sound of a click is like money. Since I have a long positive-reinforcement history associated with the sound of a click (many, many happy dog-training moments since 1998), hearing the click made me happy all on its own. I didn’t even need to pair it with another reward. (Curious to know more? Here’s a post I wrote explaining more about what reinforcement is and how I used it to train myself.)
Why is a clicker particularly useful for brain retraining?
All secondary or conditioned reinforcers are processed through the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. And Karen Pryor makes a pretty compelling case in her book, Reaching the Animal Mind, for the distinctive sound of the “click” being particularly effective at going directly into the amygdala, without needing to be processed first by the neocortex. Here’s an excerpt from her post, “Amygdala: The Neurophysiology of Clicker Training“:
Research in neurophysiology has identified the kinds of stimuli—bright lights, sudden sharp sounds—that reach the amygdala first, before reaching the cortex or thinking part of the brain. The click is that kind of stimulus. Other research, on conditioned fear responses in humans, shows that these also are established via the amygdala, and are characterized by a pattern of very rapid learning, often on a single trial, long-term retention, and a big surge of concommitant emotions….
We clicker trainers see similar patterns of very rapid learning, long retention, and emotional surges, albeit positive emotions rather than fear. [Veterinary neurophysiologist Barbara Schoening] and I hypothesize that the clicker is a conditioned ‘joy’ stimulus that is acquired and recognized through those same primitive pathways, which would help explain why it is so very different from, say, a human word, in its effect.
If this is true, another contributing factor to the extraordinary rapidity with which the clicker and clicked behavior can be acquired might be that the click is processed by the CNS much faster than any word can be. Even in the most highly-trained animal or verbal person, the word must be recognized, and interpreted, before it can ‘work;’ and the effect of the word may be confounded by accompanying emotional signals, speaker identification clues, and other such built-in information.”
I am in the midst of writing a post about how much modern animal training and trainers (clicker trainers) have to offer the field of human neuroplasticity research and application. I come across relevant — and practical — applications in my work and studies of animal training all the time. This is just one example of that cross-fertilization!
Back to the giveaway!
Here’s the scoop: I’ll give away a clicker and a custom-made TAGulator to two people who comment on this or the previous post AND answer any of the quiz questions in the previous post correctly! (If you already answered them and you don’t know if you got them right, feel free to take another crack at them in a new comment.)
I have a variety of types of clickers (box, button, and party-favor type), and I’ll let the two winners choose their color and style of clicker. They’ll get some say in the design of their TAGulators, too. When I make TAGulators, I use buttons instead of beads because I have a ready supply of groovy, free buttons. (Thanks, Mom.) I’ll get in touch with the TAGulator winners to ask their preferences for button color, shape, or materials. (Want to see one? Find TAGulator pictures at the TAGteach International Shop.
All winners — of DNRS DVDs, coaching session, and TAGulators/clickers — will be chosen at random from people who comment on this or the previous post. Please see previous post for commenting/entry instructions.
*I do not represent, nor have any connection to, DNRS, other than as a very satisfied customer.