People who win big at lottery, betting on their horse at race or investing in an exciting IPO are known as “jackpot winners”. Before making large-ticket impulse purchases it would be wise to consult tax and financial professionals first.
Pryor defined jackpot reinforcers as rewards which were much larger and unexpected compared to regular reinforcement (Don’t Shoot the Dog, 1984). Experimental tests using jackpot reinforcers on response acquisition and maintenance have produced inconsistent or negative outcomes.
How it Works
At times, we all daydream of winning the lottery or getting in early on an IPO – these ‘jackpots’ not only excite but can also be lucrative investments as early investors see massive and rapid gains when buying into an initial public offering (IPO) of a company.
Karen Pryor’s initial description of jackpot reinforcers suggests they differ from standard reinforcers in three ways: they are larger, less predictable and change the pattern of reinforcement for responses of interest. Unfortunately, few experimental analyses on their effects on response acquisition or maintenance have yielded any clear evidence of systematic differences between their effects on response acquisition or maintenance.
Assistant professor Hee Mok Park and co-author Joseph Pancras expand on their research by exploring the impact of jackpot wins not only on those directly affected, but also those around them. Their analysis indicates that winners and those witnessing them increase gambling behavior significantly within two hours after witnessing such wins.
Why It Matters
Karen Pryor details in her post about the Jackpot Effect how this principle is utilized in sea parks to keep dolphins and orcas motivated through high value reinforcers like mackerel. These provide large, infrequent reinforcements only given after reaching specific milestones or accomplishments.
One of the challenges associated with assessing jackpot reinforcers is its difficulty in defining its effectiveness; some applied behavior analysts fear a jackpot will take away training time; meanwhile others worry that smaller, qualitatively different jackpots might have different effects on response maintenance.
Raggedy Ann or Ken dolls, teddy bears, or other objects that reinforce behavior like food pecking can help pigeons stay pecking for sustenance more than stuffed mackerels do; but which reinforcer should really count as the jackpot reinforcer? Pryor suggests that “a jackpot reinforcer must be of astonishingly large magnitude, delivered contingently, and come as a surprise. Additionally, its effects must maintain responses without additional reinforcement.”
The Big Win
The term “jackpot” first entered English language during 19th-century poker, when no other hand could surpass a pair of jacks in terms of winnings. Over time, its usage also spread to slot machines where winnings build until either someone hits it big or runs out of cash and loses everything belonging to the house.
Behavior analyists have proposed that jackpot reinforcers can help shape and motivate responses; however, experimental investigations of this idea have yielded mixed or even adverse results.
One potential cause for inconsistent results could be the form and delivery method used for jackpot reinforcement. Some studies use shaping trials with the final reward being an extremely valuable treat like mackerel; since such rewards only appear after performance breakthrough, making between-subject comparisons challenging – in turn hampering our ability to assess their effects on response acquisition and maintenance.
The Small Win
Small wins make us feel happy, leading us to stick with our goals more actively and overcome loss aversion by taking risks that might yield bigger gains.
Applied behavior analysts employ the term jackpot to refer to any reinforcer that “is exorbitantly large, contingently delivered, and comes as a surprise” (Pryor 2006). Although it seems sensible not to overuse such surprises too frequently, its effect remains uncertain as is necessary frequency for maintaining this element of surprise.
Further, jackpots differ qualitatively and could alter their effectiveness; for instance, Raggedy Ann may reinforce responding more than Ken doll. When designing reinforcement sequences, this distinction needs to be carefully taken into account. Still, if jackpot events truly have the effects some researchers claim or suggest, they could prove invaluable in applied behavior analysis.