Yeah, um… well…

I don’t expect to find anything, but I’d like to have this test done just in case.”

How many times has your doctor dropped this little number on you? I’ve gotten it lots of times, and it never used to bother me. Then one day a test came back and I was summoned to the office… sooner than previously arranged.

Those of you who have studied behavioral psychology might be familiar with variable reinforcement schedules. In a nut shell, it’s one of the best ways to teach a lab rat to perform, even when the little guy doesn’t get rewarded every time. If you reward him every time he does something you want him to do, he’ll stop shortly after the rewards stop… something my professors referred to as “extinction” (of the behavior). If you don’t reward him every time, but there’s a pattern to the rewards, he’ll stop shortly after you break the pattern. Ah, but the variable schedule produces uncertainty. He never knows when the reward’s coming, so it takes longer for him to realize when it’s stopped, and wha-la! Behavior that’s less prone to extinction.

If I recall, the Skinner folk will tell you that punishment is not as effective a tool for behavior modification as reinforcement, but we’ll set that aside for now. It’s a rather inconvenient fact for this entry, so I’d just as soon you forget about it.

For the purposes of this entry, I’m the lab rat, anxiety is the desired response, and a positive test result is the “reward” designed to encourage this response.

So a week ago my doctor wanted me to have a CAT scan done on my brain, due to all the headaches I’ve been having. “I don’t expect to find anything, but I’d like to have this test done just in case.” So sayeth the good doc.

Do you suppose this made me feel better?

Yeah, it really didn’t.

However, the test came back negative, so the trained response is one step closer to extinction. Woo-hoo!

Author’s note: if I’ve gotten any of the principles of behavioral psychology wrong, gimmie a break. I didn’t much care for the folks in that department, and it’s been 15 years for crying out loud!

Give the gift of words.