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The Superstitious Pigeon

Anyone ever heard of this? It was behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's famous experiment.

He placed a starving pigeon into a box. Every few minutes a pellet of food would come out. One time, the pellet came out just as the pigeon was raising a leg. From that time on, whenever the pigeon was hungry, it would raise its leg, because it believed that this action would result in a pellet. Another time, the pigeon had its leg in the air and its head cocked when a pellet came out. From that time forward, the poor bird stayed in a head-cocked, leg raised position nearly 24 hours a day.

The point of this experiment was to show that, somewhere, ingrained in the DNA of our animal nature is a belief that random rituals will produce desired results. This is the basis of superstition and, some would argue, religion.





I keep on thinking of Skinner's experiment every time I read many of these posts about various pre-and-post shaving techniques and products used. So far, I've tried a bunch of them and none of them really produces the BBS, irritation-free shave I seek. But the minute I find one that does (or develop one of my own), I'll be an evangelist for that method, even if the results might be due more to random factors (the amount of steam in the bathroom, my energy level, how I slept the night before) rather than the method itself.

This isn't to say that any of these methods don't work. Clearly, they do, and the numbers of advocates for certain methods is a good testimonial to their efficacy. It's just that, in the end, all of these things are ultimately rituals of some kind of another, and one man's leg lift is another man's tail shrug.

Jeff in Boston
 
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I have to **** my head whilst shaving, otherwise I drop the pellet in the sink.

I'll have to try standing on one leg...
 
Personally, I don't think any shaving product or pre shave ritual will give you a BBS Shave. Whether you get such a shave or not is dependent on the razor you use, how sharp it is and your ability to use it and your beard type. All these soaps and creams and other paraphanelia may be more pleasant to use than others and have better qualities and I'm sure guys will swear its the cat's meow but I doubt it.
 
you may be onto something...tonight I'm going to try shaving without the mirror, I've been irrationally thinking it's been helping my shaving ritual!

























actually, that is something I actually have believed for a good long while, a good prep is extremely beneficial, but so many variables are involved in day-to-day prep, that one small discovery on one particular day that made the shave oh-so-great may actually have had nothing to do with it, but may cause someone to do that same thing over and over.

good post
 
The point of this experiment was to show that ingrained in animal nature is an irrational belief that random rituals will produce desired results.
I don't think this is necessarily a logical conclusion of the results. It's subjective to assume that what (to us) is irrational or random is the same to the bird. If anything, it shows an amazing ability to learn and adapt from just a single instance. I personally consider it quite brilliant that the bird can correlate what it was doing at the time it was rewarded with the possibility that it was rewarded for doing that.
 
Looks like that pigeon is examining some growth under his beak, thinking that a switch to feathers might be in order. (Sorry, had to say it :blushing:)
 

ouch

Stjynnkii membörd dummpsjterd
Moderator Emeritus
B.F. Skinner

It's a good thing he didn't try to market razors.
He did. It's called the Fusion. You may notice a lot of guys standing on one leg with their head cocked holding one.
 
The number of "People say that if I _______ my shave will get better" threads has been increasing as of late, so I thought I'd bump this thread to remind people of the power of superstition and perception of cause and effect.

Jeff in Boston
 
I don't think this is necessarily a logical conclusion of the results. It's subjective to assume that what (to us) is irrational or random is the same to the bird. If anything, it shows an amazing ability to learn and adapt from just a single instance. I personally consider it quite brilliant that the bird can correlate what it was doing at the time it was rewarded with the possibility that it was rewarded for doing that.
I would agree. I think correlating events does not necessarily translate into superstition, religion or whatever. In this specific case, we might be imposing an observational bias. The roots of religion, IMO, stem from a need for meaning and a coping mechanism to deal with one's mortality. However, there is not denying this is interesting. So much for "bird brained"; way to go pigeon! :thumbup1:
 
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Interesting experiment - I didn't know about it.

I would agree. I think correlating events does not necessarily translate into superstition, religion or whatever. In this specific case, we might be imposing an observational bias. The roots of religion, IMO, stem from a need for meaning and a coping mechanism to deal with one's mortality. However, there is not denying this is interesting. So much for "bird brained"; way to go pigeon! :thumbup1:
But if that were the case, wouldn't it learn that cocking its head and standing on one leg doesn't always result in food?

I think I'll need to go catch me one of those flying rats to see for myself :sneaky2:
 
I would agree. I think correlating events does not necessarily translate into superstition, religion or whatever. In this specific case, we might be imposing an observational bias. The roots of religion, IMO, stem from a need for meaning and a coping mechanism to deal with one's mortality. However, there is not denying this is interesting. So much for "bird brained"; way to go pigeon! :thumbup1:


For some reason this topic reminds me of this xkcd comic strip.

It is difficult to know the exact effect of different aspects of a shave, but I can't be bothered to set up a series of double-blind tests each time I try something new. So, I just go with the anecdotal method of "That seemed to work" or "AHH, my face is on fire!". I generally try things a few times before making my mind up though. I think that is reasonable for shave products, but for medicine I only trust the peer-review process of whether or not it is good enough to get on Oprah.

Also, I agree that false correlation is not sufficient to explain all superstition. For example, we often believe things for cultural reasons (like believing that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck).
 
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...The point of this experiment was to show that, somewhere, ingrained in the DNA of our animal nature is a belief that random rituals will produce desired results. This is the basis of superstition...
If in the middle of a drought somebody started dancing and the clouds let loose a torrential rain, I think I'd start dancing too. But I honestly think superstition stems from the fear of the unknown and respect for nature and/or deities rather than the belief that rituals produce results. Of course, sometimes it's just for entertainment value. (How my poor mother must have suffered with those broken backs!) For me, the magic of rituals is in capturing a reproducible feeling or sensation that carries some deeper meaning. A story is told which conveys excitement; a shave cream is applied which conjures up the joys of shaves long past.

The pigeon just learned that when I move my leg like so... food appears. A dog doing it's business on the rug is going to get reprimanded. One action produces a result, and you learn the correlation. It's a learned behavior, not really a superstition or a ritual. The 'wet monkey theory' makes a similar point, though I've only heard it used in a religion argument. A group of monkeys learns a behavior and passes it to the newly introduced monkeys. Luckily one person's shaving technique doesn't affect the rest of us, so we developed a YMMV style of thinking.

So I'll just keep my preshave routine and recite the alphabet backwards with my shaving mug on my head, thankyouverymuch. :lol:
 
Sure, Skinner gets a bad rap around here...but that's just to divert our attention away from Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiments...which should demonstrate to us that when the Shaveapocalypse hits, we shouldn't expect our friends here with the most power (i.e., shave stuff) to be benevolent. :smile:
 
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