Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Not A Blog Entry About Operant Conditioning And MoneyWalking?

Journal Entry, Aug. 2, 2009: Weight = 171.2 lbs.; Coinage = $.51, 26 pennies, 1 nickel, 2 dimes; Glass bottles = 3.

Journal Entry, Aug. 3, 2009: Weight = 173.2; Coinage = $1.47, 32 pennies, 8 nickels, 3 quarters; Glass bottles = 12; Ground scores = 9; Best money find = .72 in coinage found at McDonalds, .47 in the drive through and a quarter in a newspaper vending machine. Also, finding 8 nickels during one 1.25 hr walk might be a personal record. One of the nickels was an “asphalt” coin, long embedded in a busy crosswalk that was suddenly calm and without traffic.

Feature Entry: Just when I was about to give up on a McDonald’s drive-through lane and their two newspaper vending machines, the MoneyWalker found .47 in change in one of the drive-throughs and a quarter in a newspaper stand. For weeks, it was hardly worthwhile to take the small detour to check their lanes because the lanes are always filled with cars and newspaper vendors seem to never deliver. Now the .72 in change has me hooked for several more weeks, with or without a payoff.

One of the reasons that finding coins works as a motivator for sustaining a walking/health benefit program is operate conditioning theory (OCT). OCT can be varied in many ways to reinforce behavior using contingencies linked to deprivations. First, locked deep in our brain is the notion that we need or want more money than we currently have—the deprivation. Then, if we walk and search, we will find money that will partially satisfy the deprivation. OCT uses reinforcement schedules that are either fixed or variable (also called random) and usually involves a ratio. For example, if a newspaper vending machine produced a quarter after every ten searches, it would condition my behavior using a fixed 1:10 ratio. If the coin was recovered anytime during the ten searches, it would be variable 1/10 ratio.

There are many combinations, but the one that seems to effect the length, distance, and time of the MoneyWalker’s walks is a random schedule of reinforcement with no set ratio. The walker never knows when he/she will be rewarded but it can happen any time after he/she walks the curbs, checks the telephone coin returns, feels for the abandoned money in the newspaper vendor, or checks the pavement around the car wash vacuum station... The reinforcement varies in the amount of money given and in the frequency of the delivery of the money. Hence, one always wants to walk again and again since there is always a chance that coinage reinforcement will occur, just when or where, or how much, one never knows. When I am not finding money, I start searching (pecking) faster and longer.

Dear reader, please excuse me for a second, “Yes dear, I know it is the third time you have asked me to repair the patio floor. Just keep asking and I promise to get around to it soon.”

Gotta run!



  1. Hasn't Mrs. MoneyWalker learned to throw coins in front of you to get the job done? Wouldn't that be operant conditioning?

  2. Yes, but if I don't get to my list soon, she will totally abandon positive reinforcement theory and use a more primitive form that involves negative consequences.