A very interesting theory about why clicker training is effective

Karen Pryor is widely recognized as the initiator of clicker training and continues to be one of the leading authorities on the subject.

In this post she puts forth a fascinating theory about why the clicker is so effective.

Pryor is working with German scientist Barbara Schoening, a clicker trainer and a veterinary neurophysiologist in private practice. Schoening drew Pryor’s attention to the relationship between clicker training and research on stimuli and the limbic system [the oldest part of the brain].

Pryor says that “Research in neurophysiology has identified the kinds of stimuli—bright lights, sudden sharp sounds—that reach the amygdala [part of the limbic system] first, before reaching the cortex or thinking part of the brain. The click is that kind of stimulus [italics mine]. Other research, on conditioned fear responses in humans, shows that these also are established via the amygdala, and are characterized by a pattern of very rapid learning, often on a single trial, long-term retention, and a big surge of concommitant emotions.

We clicker trainers see similar patterns of very rapid learning, long retention, and emotional surges, albeit positive emotions rather than fear [italics mine]. Barbara and I hypothesize that the clicker is a conditioned ‘joy’ stimulus that is acquired and recognized through those same primitive pathways, which would help explain why it is so very different from, say, a human word, in its effect.”

So, maybe that’s why clicker training is so effective.

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