Saturday, March 7, 2009

Delayed Feedback

Procrastinators around the world know how much work can get done at the last minute. The pressure mounts and finally they have to act because the alternative is worse. If they don't do something right now there will be consequences.

It doesn't really matter how it's bad, as long as the repercussions are both swift and unpleasant. The instinct to avoid pain is extremely powerful, even when compared to seeking pleasure. The immediacy of the feedback enhances its effectiveness.

Animal trainers know that the timing of a correction or a reward is extremely important in teaching the animal what to do. If your dog sits on command, but does something else before you can reward him, he won't connect the reward with the sit.

Humans respond to immediate feedback too. If we do something immediately painful, like burning our hand on a hot stove, we're going to stop it immediately, and try our best not to do it again.

If the negative feedback is delayed, however, we won't connect it very closely with the activity that caused it, especially if we enjoy it. Smokers understand this and continue smoking despite the damage they are doing to their life support system. It's certainly easier not to quit and accept the consequences.

With something like smoking though, you won't know which cigarette gave you the cancer. It's not a case of going just up to the line but not over. Every smoke makes it worse, and the only way to stay healthy is to quit the habit as soon as possible. Quitting is tough, and getting healthy will take a long time, but it's better than the alternative.

With situations like smoking, like sub-prime mortgages, crack cocaine and climate change, the enjoyment comes now but the pain comes later on down the road. Delayed feedback. The time lag between cause and effect means we're committed to more pain than we feel right now. To avoid future pain, the only responsible course of action is to stay as far from the line as possible.

How advanced are we really?

No comments:

Post a Comment