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A Parrot’s Powerful Lessons

A Parrot’s Powerful Lessons

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parrot, A Parrot's Powerful LessonsIn my November Meetup group, I asked the question, “Is punishment and reward the most effective learning method?” The answer is no, and most people got the answer right. All you have to do is think of teenagers to know that punishment and reward doesn’t always work.

If you take a look at nature’s approach to learning, you’ll see that reward and punishment doesn’t work in the wild. You would pretty much be dead before you could learn anything. So what does work?

Irene Pepperberg, adjunct professor of psychology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachussetts, stumbled on the powerful answer while training an African grey parrot named Alex. She used a version of a social modeling technique called model-rival. She mock-trained a colleague on abstract ideas such as color, shape, spelling, and phonics while Alex watched. Alex and the colleague are rivals who “compete” for Dr. Pepperberg’s attention.

One day while Dr. Pepperberg was “teaching” her colleague colors, Alex blurted out, “What color Alex?”

Dr. Pepperberg replied calmly, “Gray. You’re a gray parrot, Alex.” And that moment began a series of successes with Alex learning colors, shapes, sizes, spelling, and phonics.

What is the primary lesson here for humans?

Individuals, especially children, learn more than we think by watching their parents and peers. I was 33 when I spent the night with my parents one day while my house was temporarily unavailable to live in. I hadn’t lived with them since I moved out at 18. I watched in total shock as my dad did something I do every evening before bed: walk around to each door and check the locks. Did I get that behavior from him? I must have, I thought incredulously. As the visit progressed, I watched, with my mouth wide open, my mom and dad carry out more behaviors I shared with them.

Our subconscious picks up, copies, and adopts more behaviors from the people we are exposed to than we could ever believe. We need to model the behavior we want our kids to develop, and we shouldn’t be so surprised when they pick up our bad habits.

Can we model happiness?

I don’t know of any formal studies that have measured happiness modeling, but there is a non-scientific saying that “happiness is contagious.”

So try this at home yourself; the holidays are a perfect time to practice happiness. Express your happiness through gratitude, creating, loving, laughter, and your favorite things. Everyone, including your kids, will be watching.

Are the people around you happier when you are happy? I think so. It’s the only way to experience the holiday season.

(Sources: Animals in Translation by Temple Grandinwww.thealexfoundation.orgWikipedia.)

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