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I'm learning to train my dog. According to the experts, it all comes down to food. Nothing works as well as food rewards when it comes to getting an animal to do a trick. I assume that's because food is closely associated with survival, so over time you can create an association in the animal's brain between doing a trick and survival itself.

This made me wonder if humans can be similarly trained with food rewards. And it made me wonder if we do it inadvertently all the time. It seems to me that human brains must associate food with survival the same way a dog does. And like most other animals, we don't need to be starving to want a food treat.

When I grew up, my family ate dinner at 5:00 pm every night. If a kid was late, there was some risk that the best stuff was gone. So there was a food reward every day of my life that was associated with punctuality. My hypothesis predicts that I would be a punctual person, and that is very much the case. When I feel even the possibility of being late for any event or deadline, I experience an intensely unpleasant physical reaction. It is as if my very survival is at risk and I want the feeling to stop. My brother and sister, who are in other ways very different from me, are just as punctual. Were we all trained by food?

I start work earlier than most people and always have. But I didn't always like it. I grew to enjoy it over time. I realized recently that I developed a habit long ago of eating something within minutes of waking, such as a banana. Did I train myself with food to become a morning person?

If my hypothesis about training humans holds true, it has huge implications. You could easily mold human behavior over time by associating good habits with food. And you wouldn't have to starve a person to make the plan work, any more than you need to starve a dog to make him do tricks for tasty treats. It's a bit frightening to think about the power this method might hold.

This hypothesis might explain why movie theaters are popular even though most movies are bad. I will drive across town and watch a movie with bad reviews if there is some popcorn in the deal, even though I have a home theater and all the food I want at home. I tell myself that some movies are better with the crowd experience, or that it feels good to get out of the house. But I can't rule out the possibility that I am simply trained by food treats to go to the movie theater.

Is there anything to the hypothesis that humans are easily trained by food? Let's do an unscientific survey right here. Think of your own eating habits and consider when there has been a consistent pattern of a specific activity followed by a food reward. Then ask yourself if you are addicted to the activity that generally preceded the reward.

For example, if you have a habit of reading a physical newspaper every morning, do you generally eat something or have coffee while doing it? If so, my hypothesis predicts that it's the treats that make you love the routine more than the newspaper itself.

Any other examples from your life?
 
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Feb 20, 2009
If you'd said sex, I might be with you. That rarely disappoints. I've probably missed school, work and social commitments at different times (hopefully nothing to critical was missed) on that account. But food? Not so much.

I like food. I'm a foodie. I love to cook and am working on learning to bake as well. I like to drink with meals. But food to train me? Don't think so.

Some days I wake up not hungry. If I get busy at work, I miss dinner. If I get home late or am drafted into something after dinner, I can miss dinner. Substitutes are usually crappy - both taste and health wise. If I make a roast pork with some rosemary roast potatos or something, that's a good meal. But that's a wee bit of work. Many times, the Weight Watcher''s TV dinner is easier and that wins. So the food reward isn't so great. I am a sucker for peanut butter, chocolate (ideally both at once), and dead cow in all its wonders. But would I do much for any of them? Nope.

I've never (except by my own shopping decisions) had empty cupboards. I've never been barred from a snack like some carrots, a piece of toast, or an orange. I've never felt a famine like feeling. So I have no connection except intellectual between normal meals and survival. Certainly, if I don't eat at all until the evening, I may want a good meal, but it doesn't need to be gorging. But I also have an efficient metabolism.

I'll bet some part of Scott's results are heightened by being a vegetarian and active. Your body burns more energy just sitting still in that situation. And vegetarians often don't get the same level of fullness and repletion that ominvores do. So they are thinner. Hence probably more susceptible to hunger if they don't eat regularly. So to some extent, I suspect vegetarianism and an active lifestyle combine to make Scott more trainable with food.

If you are less active and an ominvore who can skip a few meals without much adverse effect, food isn't the same draw, unless you are eating for some kind of psychological reason that bears investigation.

Train me with nubile women of willing disposition, not a triple layer peanut butter chocolate kahlua cheesecake.
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
tom steiner (http://dilbert.com/users/tom_steiner/) sez:
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If I offer attractive women biscuits for sex and they refuse, does this disprove the hypothesis or has the graph simply flattened out at that point?
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Tom, the solution is obvious - offer biscuits and gravy...

Biscuits, by themselves, are just too dry...
 
 
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Feb 19, 2009
The movie theater idea doesn't work for me at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I would go to more movies if I could enjoy them at a lower cost. The cost of snacks at theaters is ridiculous! For a family of four, your putting out over $50 to see one flick. We have gotten to the point where we will sneak in our own candy. Sometimes more. The popcorn is the hardest because of the smell. :-)
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
I work with many fellow engineers and I always have candy and/or cookies at my desk. I can get answers from them faster than anyone. I'm not sure all humans respond to food but engineers are trained to eat just about anything they can get for free.
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
i am addicted to reading your blog. i always read it while eating lunch at work. hmmm...
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
If I offer attractive women biscuits for sex and they refuse, does this disprove the hypothesis or has the graph simply flattened out at that point?
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
Meetings. You want staff to attend meetings, tell them there will be coffee, muffins, lunch, whatever the food required for the timing and lenght of the meeting. GRIN
 
 
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Feb 19, 2009
Look up NLP and 'creating anchors'.
 
 
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Feb 19, 2009
Ik like the smell of a new book. No food reward necessary to read a 'physical' book.
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
I, like you, am not by instinct a morning person. I've not managed to train myself to be one. I suspect the reason for this is that my biorhythms mean I'm seldom very hungry first thing in the morning, so the reward loses its lustre. My appetite comes alive at about 9pm. That's when I eat my evening meal. I'll generally ingest most of my calories after dark. And I am considered a real night owl by my family and friends.
 
 
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Feb 19, 2009
So the problem then becomes turning the terrorists away from plastic keys, heaven, and virgins to something a bit more constructive? Reduce the amount of armies, guns, and bombs… but boy that’s gonna take a lot of Ho Hos and Ding Dongs I tell ya!!
 
 
Feb 19, 2009
Perhaps that's why we put up with the idiot bosses at work. If we didn't get paid, we couldn't eat. Of course, money, sex and power are also used as rewards too.
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
In general I agree with the hypothesis only so far as food is in short supply or it's a treat you wouldn't normally get. Most of the comments seem to be on the general reward principle but I think your point of food as a primal motivator is good given the right situations (although not all food situations).

Just for something you might find interesting, I am the exact reverse regarding food. Being a logical nerd my whole life I hated food and considered it an annoying waste of time. Later on, many other rewards as a result of food have given me positive association, such as socializing, dating, health, treating others, etc.
 
 
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Feb 18, 2009
Washing my face and hands before meals, my grandma was especially good with this one, probably because she was such a stickler to hygine and she was a great cook. Now, not only do i do this whenever I am about to eat but randomly throughout the day/night whenever i'm a bit stressed or upset and it is refreshing and oddly calming.

I always have a coffee first thing when i get to work, gets me out of bed and motivated.

I also read Dilbert while eating lunch or late breakfast, i guess i am using food and Dilbert as a reward or treat.
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
To skanadron: "for reasons completely unrelated to this". Oh, I don't think they're _completely_ unrelated... I think the fact that your friend is a boorish neanderthal probably crept into other areas of their relationship.
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
I've read the newspaper at the breakfast table for as long as I can remember. I was never sure whether I was eating while reading or reading while eating, until they stopped home delivery to my neighborhood several weeks ago. For a few days I simply ate my breakfast, and my kids seemed happy to see my face across the table. Now I grab a book. I have no idea what this means.

Does it help you to know that I'm eating a bowl of cereal right now?
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
I would like to thank you for giving me something to read that has a good bit of intellectual stimulation with a healthy splash of humor. Everyone around me is pretty much a moron and its nice to see theres other options besides dumbing myself down. When im reading your blogs around other people and I laugh out loud people look at me and I think to myself, "Yeah thats right im actually having a good time over here :)" But anyways, thanks for being smart and posting blogs! :D
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
Dogeater, I think your meals at the 'Y' would end immediately if your girlfriend found out that your user name is 'Dogeater'. That's harsh!
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
"I heard a great funny on fresh air - a guy who wrote a book about dogs. He went to a trainer and told her he was very concerned about his dog, as the dog was very attached to him, and he was worried about the dog should something happen to him. She told him not to worry - that she could take the dog, go to the market and get some liver, and after two weeks his dog wouldn't even remember what he looked like. At that point he realized he had a lot to learn about dogs. I can attest this works with cats as well."

Sounds made-up to me. Dog behavior isn't like that, it's cats who only care about being fed.
 
 
Feb 18, 2009
True story: My best friend trained his girlfriend to sit on command.

For a few monthes he would watch her and when she was about to sit down he would snap and give her a hot cheeto. To keep her from noticing he would say something right after snapping to make it seem like he was snapping to draw attention to what he was going to say, he always had hot cheetos with him, and he only did it on occasion, not all the time. Over time he slowly started doing it more frequently. Then he started taking the inititave and snapping then giving her a hot cheeto, even if she was not about to sit already. It eventually got to the point where he could just snap and within about two seconds she would be sitting down, he did not even have to feed her anymore. Then they broke up (for reasons completly unrelated to this) so he is no longer able to do this to her.
 
 
 
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