Jackpots are really a “trainer” thing. I define them as bigger or more preferred reinforcers presented after an approximation that might be particularly challenging for the bird to achieve. I also use them when an approximation is presented that is a bit closer to the final desired goal. In theory my hope is that the parrot will learn that the approximation that earned the jackpot is worth repeating. I see them particularly useful as a tool to keep behavioral momentum going and also to get past hurdles in training.
However, I am also careful not to jackpot too often. This is because a parrot may find it frustrating or perhaps even punishing to receive lots of great treats and then suddenly the good stuff disappears when you go back to the normally received reinforcer. I also don’t want the reinforcer to be so distracting that the parrot forgets what was happening in the training session.
Here is the really interesting thing. At this point there is no scientific data that supports “jackpotting” as a tool to facilitate training. In fact some think jackpots do more for the trainer than the animal. They just may be a superstitious trainer thing. It makes us feel good to offer a better reinforcer when the parrot has done well.
The good news is there are a few researchers working on experiments to test jackpotting. I am anxious to hear the results. I too am learning and perhaps I will soon learn that jackpots were really just reinforcers for me! We’ll soon see.
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