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So many a year ago a bunch of psychologists were doing experiments on operant learning in animals. At one point they performed the following experiment: The basic setup is a rat or bird in a cage. Sticking out of one of the walls is a lever. Now, in some versions of the experiment, the lever causes food to be released every time it's pressed. The second version of the experiment involves releasing food every X number of presses, where X is some number bigger than one. The final version involves giving the food out at random intervals so that essentially the lever pressing actually has no correlation with the food being given. In each case the animal learnt relatively quickly that pressing the lever correlated somehow with food. the interesting part comes when the experimenters turned the food off, so that pressing the lever had no effect. The first group, that received food every lever press, tried pressing for a short while and then gave up when no food was forthcoming. The second group persisted for a bit longer, but also gave up eventually. But the last group continued pressing the lever forever, always hoping that maybe this time the food would come out.

And this, my friends, is the model of email and online community checking that many people follow. A new message could arrive at any moment, thus even during periods when the rate of emails slows down we can't help checking regularly 'just in case'. It's all very insidious, and makes me think of just how much money is being made by those advertisers that advertise in email and online communities. Quite a lot, judging by the way that most people I know follow this operant behaviour.
erratio: (Default)
The main inspiration behind the game I posted yesterday (people familiar with the acronym game will recognise the format immediately..) was that I've recently been trying to come up with analogies to explain my introversion to others. My latest effort is to compare people's socialising ability to Internet bandwidth. So really extroverted people are on the social equivalent of the unlimited or 100GB plan, with enough bandwidth to support every new social connection they make. Me, I'm on dialup; not only do I establish new connections slowly but I can only sustain so many at a time. Certain people who tire me out more than most can hog my bandwidth and make me incapable of hanging out with anyone else until I stop seeing them for a while. And there are other people who I only see once in a blue moon due to their bandwidth/content ratio or started establishing a connection and then gave up either because of their ratio or because I had too many other connections open at the time.

As you can see, it's actually quite successful as an analogy. But like all models it has deficencies. And like all extended analogies I can't use it  without feeling as though I've been transported back to high school English, where the emphasis was on deconstructing the texts to find literary techniques and which result in the tainting of several books forever for a lot of people.
erratio: (Default)
Do you think you're good at expressing yourself in English? Try this sometime: Being asked by your male Indian coworker to explain some stuff associated with female menstruation. Using explicit sex terms is right out both because we're at work and because I don't think they would make it across the language barrier. It's also somewhat awkward due to me being female and him being male; menstruation is not a normal topic of conversation, so my natural inclination is to use more indirect language. But English is his second language and there's a lot of terms that would require further explanation. So my challenge was to come up with a G-rated and indirect explanation of one of the more intimate aspects of female anatomy, using the simplest language possible.

I think 90% of these conversations are spurred by the fact that part of our job is to tidy the shelves containing the condoms and feminine hygiene stuff. The rest being supplied by the woeful lack of sex education my coworkers received in their home countries.

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