Psychology Professor Using Behavior Shaping to Train Lemur

Dr. Darby Proctor, assistant professor in the psychology department, has an ongoing study of primates at the Brevard Zoo. One of her projects is using behavior shaping to train a lemur named Matilda to use a touch screen computer. Matilda is a ringed tailed lemur whose scientific name is Lemur catta. Her species is found on the island of Madagasgar.

Shaping is a term that was introduced by B.F. Skinner, renowned psychologist, which describes a method of training where a series of behaviors are reinforced to give a progressive approximation of the desired final behavior.

Dr. Proctor teaches that “shaping is a very powerful mechanism that you can use to get animals to engage in some really interesting behaviors.”

Behavior shaping gets lemur to interact with touch screen

In this video, she is teaching Matilda to gradually work up to interacting with a touch screen computer. When she touches it, Matilda gets a food reward.

In the first session, Matilda was rewarded just for facing the computer. By completing this behavior task, she receives a portion of food. The objective is to begin to teach her that the touch screen is a good thing. The next steps in the process reward Matilda only if she progressively gets closer and closer to the screen.

Once Matilda becomes proficient at interacting with the touch screen, the progressive behavior modification will move from letting her touch anywhere on the screen to only being able to touch on certain parts of the screen to receive a reward. This forces her to visually locate where on the screen she has to interact in order to get the food reward.

Can the lemur learn to discriminate between different stimuli on the screen?

Ultimately, the study is to determine if she will be able to learn to discriminate between how different visual stimuli on the screen represent more or less reward.

Find our more about the all the psychology-related programs at Florida Tech.


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