Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Importance of Timing

For people who are unfamiliar with the effects of operant conditioning, understanding how paramount timing is can be difficult. We live as humans where much of our culture is based on punishment which occurs after the fact. The difference between immediate ramifications and delayed ramifications is that one elicits an emotional response, and the other is a logical construct.

Now, think about the following two situations. If it's been too long since you've done either then go ahead and try again so you can feel what I'm talking about.

Think back to the last time you were at a party and got there late. They had a cooler stocked with beer and soda, and almost all the beer was gone. You reach into the cooler trying to find one and don't have any luck, so you keep digging. Your hand ends up getting cold enough that it hurts so you pull it out, wait a few seconds and go back to digging. Did you hesitate as you went in to dig deeper, or did you still put your hand back in without a second thought knowing full well that it might hurt pretty bad again?

Everyone at some point in their life should have had a rubber band snap or break on them and sting like hell. We learn pretty quickly to test the tensile strength of rubber bands before trying to stretch them too far. So what do you feel as you stretch one to its peak? Do you feel that little twang of fear from being stung in the past? If not, try finding a rubber band and snapping it onto your skin ("spider bites" we used to call them) a few times and see if you start feeling that twinge of dread after a few stings. If that doesn't work, try licking a 9-volt battery, or touching a really hot (but safely so!) plate, or if you're fortunate enough to have a TENS unit, try pressing the button to turn it on while it's on a high setting and wired to someplace where the shock will be jarring. The fact is that once you experience that immediate response, you should feel a palpable reluctance to do it again.

Those scenarios might not work for pain pigs, but hopefully the following explanation will help draw the same conclusion. In both scenarios some kind of negative stimulus is both present and of a similar level of intensity. The difference between the two is that in the case of the instant response your brain is more prone to see the action and effect as the same instance since they occurred simultaneously (or close to it). When the timing is not precise, your mind is able to isolate the action and its effect as different incidences since they occupy different places in time. The result is that you logically know the incidences are related but don't have the emotional response of deliberately doing something that you know has a definite, negative component. This leaves all sorts of things open, such as a boy hoping that he'll catch a break, or thinking he can otherwise mitigate the punishment he deserves.

As an example of this approach, think of it as it can apply to speech. In my “Control is Best When Stolen” stories (Day 1 especially), you can see the Dom use this methodology. If you punish a boy for speaking after the fact, he'll learn that he can at least get a sentence out if he's feeling overwhelmed. This leaves him with some degree of power in that if he's annoyed or angry about something he can still spit out a sentence laden with hostility to express himself. If instead the boy is corrected immediately as he manages to blurt out a single syllable, he'll become aware that speech is pain. When he finds he is "afraid" to express himself, the annoyance or anger he feels will quickly become replaced with a systemic feeling of helplessness.

I should also note that of course punishment can also be hot, but I personally feel it's only a valuable tool once the boy has lost hope in your capacity for mercy. Using corrections prior to punishment can get him to that mindset, so that when he realizes he's done something wrong his innate hope will be crushed and replaced with panic driven by the knowledge of what's to come.

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