What is another name for successive approximations?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Another term that can be used to refer to successive approximations is shaping. This method is also known as the method of successive approximations. Shaping involves gradually reinforcing behaviors that are closer and closer to the desired behavior, until the desired behavior is fully achieved. It is a technique commonly used in behavior modification and training.

I first learned about shaping when I was studying psychology in college. One of my professors explained how it can be an effective way to teach complex behaviors to animals and humans alike. Instead of expecting the individual to immediately perform the desired behavior, shaping allows for a step-by-step approach, rewarding small steps of progress along the way.

The main idea behind shaping is to reinforce behaviors that are similar to the desired behavior, and then gradually require behaviors that are closer and closer to the ultimate goal. By breaking down the behavior into smaller, achievable steps, it becomes easier for the individual to grasp and learn.

For example, let’s say you want to teach a dog to shake hands. Instead of waiting for the dog to naturally offer its paw, you can start by rewarding any movement towards the paw, such as a slight lift or tap. Once the dog understands that this behavior is being reinforced, you can raise the expectation and only reward more pronounced movements towards the paw, until eventually, the dog is fully shaking hands.

Shaping can be a time-consuming process, as it requires patience and consistency. It is important to provide immediate reinforcement for each approximation and to gradually raise the criteria for reinforcement. By doing so, the individual learns to associate the desired behavior with positive outcomes, reinforcing its occurrence.

In the field of psychology, shaping has been applied in various settings, including animal training, child development, and therapeutic interventions. It is a versatile technique that can be used to teach a wide range of behaviors, from simple tasks to complex skills.

To summarize, shaping, also known as the method of successive approximations, is a technique that involves reinforcing behaviors that are progressively closer to the desired behavior. It is an effective way to teach new behaviors by breaking them down into manageable steps and providing reinforcement for each approximation. Shaping has been widely used in behavior modification and training, and it can be applied to various contexts and populations.