Illis : During animal training, clickers affect the brain, in ways that food doesn’t.
During animal training, clickers affect the brain in ways that food doesn’t.
Let’s unpack that statement.
Some animal trainers use food in their training. And some of those trainers add a markerMarker Marker A signal used to mark desired behavior at the instant it occurs. The clicker is a marker. signal, such as a clickerClicker A toy noisemaker. Animal trainers make use of the clicker as an event marker to mark a desired response. The sound of the clicker is an excellent marker because it is unique, quick, and consistent., during the learning phase when teaching a new behaviour.
The animal does some behaviour, and hears a clicking sound, immediately followed by receiving a treat. The click marks the correct behaviour, and the food constitutes a so called reinforcerReinforcer Anything a animal will work to obtain. , that makes it more likely that the animal will repeat the same behaviour again.
And yes, the food is important: without it, the animal wouldn’t go back to showing the same behaviour. But the sound of the clicker isn’t simply a marker that pinpoints the exact moment the correct behaviour occurred.
Here’s why: clickers become predictors of upcoming reinforcers such as food, and as such, they engage the core emotion SEEKING systemSEEKING system There is a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, aka the "seeking system," that drives humans to explore and learn new things. When activated, the system releases dopamine and makes us feel good. in the brain.
When the SEEKING system is activated, there’s a surge of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine leads to increased focus, improved learning and memory formation.
So, for a clicker-savvy animal, that surge of dopamine will be triggered when the clicker is sounded – not when the food arrives, but when it’s predicted.
Another example of the SEEKINGSEEKING system There is a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, aka the "seeking system," that drives humans to explore and learn new things. When activated, the system releases dopamine and makes us feel good. effect: watch someone when they are about to open a wrapped present.
Kids on Christmas Eve, for instance.
You’ll notice that all the starry-eyed engagement, all the arousal, occurs while the gifts are still wrapped and they’re in the grip of that dopamine surge involved in the SEEKING response. Once they’ve opened the present and seen what’s inside, SEEKING subsides as the dopamine levels diminish. There may be satisfaction, but not this engaged focus that’s seen when they still don’t know what’s in the gift.
SEEKING is involved in anticipation, and that’s where clickers come in. If you’re training animals, and a clicker isn’t in your tool box, you should reconsider.