Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comparing positive and negative reinforcement training methods.

A recent study in Denmark suggested positive reinforcement methods were preferable to negative reinforcement when training horses in potentially stressful situations.

They found that found that horses trained with positive reinforcement methods trained more quickly and showed less evidence of stress. 

What is the difference between positive and negative reinforcement? In Positive Reinforcement (PR), the desired behaviour is encouraged by giving a reward as a consequence of the behaviour.

A particular behaviour can also be encouraged by removing an unpleasant stimulus. This is known as Negative Reinforcement (NR). In this case, the reward is the stopping of a negative stimulus once the correct behavioural response is achieved.

Negative reinforcement differs from punishment, in which an adverse stimulus is given as a consequence of the behaviour. This results in the behaviour becoming weaker or stopping altogether.

Twelve horses took part in the study. All had previous bad experiences with trailer loading and their owners were now unable to load them.

Horses were randomly separated into two groups. The PR group received clicker training and were trained to follow a target (a yellow ball on a stick) into the trailer. For the NR method, an adverse stimulus was applied by pulling on the lead rope, or tapping the hindquarters with a whip. This adverse stimulus was stopped as soon as the horse obeyed.

Throughout the training sessions, the research team recorded heart rate, and noted signs of behaviour and discomfort.

Comparing the two methods, the researchers found that PR provided the fastest response to training. On average, the PR group spent less time on training sessions than did the NR group.


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