Negative reinforcement is a bit like a train wreck: You know you should maintain speed and drive past it but you just can’t help slowing down to satisfy your curiosity. Recent interest in basic research on negative reinforcement sets the occasion to check our understanding of why animals need trainers who support the least intrusive principle for selecting behavior-change procedures. This principle doesn’t preclude the use of negative reinforcement per se; rather, it limits the use of negative reinforcement when it isn’t necessary, i.e., when positive reinforcement-based procedures may be equally efficient and effective.
All professions have ethical guidelines — that part of applied practice that science doesn’t (indeed can’t) address. And many of them adhere to the least intrusive principle, e.g., special education, mental health, medicine and law. In this presentation, Susan Friedman, Ph. D. will 1) examine the rational for a hierarchy of behavior-change procedures according to the least intrusive principle, 2) consider its impact on both animal welfare and trainers’ skills, and 3) address concerns with the adoption of this ethical guideline as it applies to the animal training profession.