“The monkeys brain began anticipating the blackberry juice. Schultz probes started recording the ‘I got a reward!’ brain activity pattern the instant the monkey saw the cue on the computer screen, before the juice had arrived. In other words the shapes on the monitor had become a cue not just for pulling the lever, but also for a pleasure response inside the monkeys brain.”
Then Schultz changed the experiment a little. instead of the reinforcer being delivered immediately when the monkey responded correctly the blackcurrant juice was delivered late, and sometimes not at all. The result of this change was documented as follows:
“When the juice didn’t arrive at all or was late or diluted , the monkey would get angry and make unhappy noises, or become mopey. And within the monkeys brain, Schultz watched a new pattern emerge; craving.
A neurological pattern associated with desire and frustration erupted inside his skull. When the monkey saw the cue, he started anticipating a juice fueled joy. But if the juice didn’t arrive, that joy became a craving that, if unsatisfied, drove the monkey to anger or depression.” From; The Power Of Habits, Charles Duhigg.
Working with habits that have been reinforced for a long time can definitely be a challenge. By making sure we replace the old habit with a new one is important, and its also important, where possible, to avoid the cue for the old behaviour pattern. That way we can avoid having to tackle unwanted emotional responses from our learner as they go through the craving that can come with a habit that has been reinforced in the past.