Reward and Punishment
The deepest dialectic in the mind is approach and
avoidance. Objects of desire are approached. Objects of fear are avoided.
Rewards and punishments drive approach and avoidance. Pleasure and pain are
feeling states that express feelings attached to reward and punishment.
There is a tension in humans that will never go away. Humans want things.
The human sense of time is warped around desires and the sense of sequences is
built from needs and desires. The drives that organize projects in the world are
balanced between two reciprocal tendencies – to venture out and seek rewards
that satisfy needs and to avoid punishment by exercising caution and retreating
when necessary to avoid danger. This dialectic is basic to animal systems and
continues into the most advanced human thought processes.
Higher level planning is built on a foundation of innate
drives. The basic vocabulary of drives involves body needs felt as desires,
rehearsed as fantasies and expressed as goal-oriented behavior. The outside view
is that humans are driven to find rewards, gratifications of basic body needs.
If you are optimistic, the world out there looks promising and you head out on a
search for rewards, things that will please you. The human brain is an amplifier
that turns small signals in large efforts. The energy required to work every day
is considerable. The signals inside the brain that organize the work and keep
the sequence going day after day are minute
Anticipatory states involve recognizing the body need and
organizing a behavior sequence to satisfy that need. Hunger is the feeling;
appetite is the drive, hunting for food is the seeking behavior, eating is the
consuming behavior and satiety is the feeling of gratification that
follows. Eating food involves pleasurable sensations, mostly in the mouth and
internal chemical signals that regulate brain states. Humans use a variety of
words to describe the complete experience of searching for and finding things we
need or believe we need: “I like. I need. I wish. I want. I love. I have to
have. I need to have. I hope. I desire. My dream is to… My goal is to…” These
words reveal a progression from the first rumblings of need inside the body to
the consummation of the drive.
Humans have a small number of essential needs and a large
number of derivative, non-essential needs. Animal needs propel us into the world
in search of gratification. As we approach our goal, avoidance programs emerge
and we become more alert, cautious and are ready to flee to avoid illness,
injury and death. Positive feelings are associated with seeking behaviors that
encourage us to find good food, clean water, safe places to rest and nice to
people to share all of the above. Yang and Shadlen suggested; ‘”Our brains allow
us to reason about alternatives and to make choices that are likely to pay off.
Often there is no one correct answer, but instead one that is favored simply
because it is more likely to lead to reward. We show that rhesus monkeys can
also achieve such reasoning. We have trained two monkeys to choose between a
pair of colored targets after viewing four shapes, shown sequentially, that
governed the probability that one of the targets would furnish reward. Monkeys
learned to combine probabilistic information from the shape combinations.
Moreover, neurons in the parietal cortex reveal the addition and subtraction of
probabilistic quantities that underlie decision-making on this task.”
Animal learning is based on establishing enduring memories
of rewards and punishment. The most tenacious memories are formed when
punishment follows an action. Rewards are generally weaker and must be repeated
to form an enduring memory. Chemical rewards such as alcohol or heroin are
powerful and can quickly establish recurrent drives and approach behaviors that
are difficult to extinguish. The close linking of a behavior to a reward or
punishment is “conditioning.”
While humans are strongly conditioned and often act like
programmed robots, another level of anticipatory planning, risk assessment and
strategic self control can provide more optional behaviors that suggest “free
will.” Humans regulate each others' behavior with rewards and punishments.
Affiliations are based on promising and then delivering rewards. Children are
trained buy offering rewards or threatening punishments. Cooperation is achieved
by a combination of rewards and sanctions against group members who fail to
deliver rewards or who are overly punitive.