Monday, April 5, 2010

Speech Therapy

Dinner with friends of Elisa. Alice is a speech therapist. This is all behavioral. You need to learn fine actions with your mouth, get used to placing your tongue here and there, pursing your lips.

There, timing is everything again. Alice tells us that as the kid speaks, he gets instant feedback with such words as "excellent" at the very precise time when he pronounces the sound correctly. You don't wait for the end of the sentence. She explains this method comes from behavioral studies, probably directly from Skinner. Warm fuzzy feeling all around.

Karen Pryor tells us the clicker works better than the voice for animals. Why is that so? She doesn't know why. It just does. She retells the story of a dog trainer who calls her irate: I tried your clicker thing. My dog learned twice as fast as when I use my voice. I took the clicker and smashed it to pieces!

It is so clear that it would work so much better for speech therapy too. Two hypotheses about the advantage of the clicker over the voice:
  • The voice carries too much information, and thus the organism spends a lot of time trying to interpret if "good" meant "goooood!!!" or "gud (but please, better next time)".
  • The voice's timing is not as precise as the hand. When the right behavior happens, it takes a tad longer to articulate "Good" than to pinch a little object between the thumb and the index finger.
What is the essence of comedy, you ask a friend. And as he is about to answer something: "Timing!" I tried to make that joke many times, but it usually falls flat: my timing is not as good as Borat's when he takes his class in comedy.

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