Function matters: a review of terminological differences in applied and basic clicker training research

Short Synopsis: “Animal trainers often assume clicker training is a “science-based” way to train animals. But, the few studies that have compared clicker training to a control have not provided evidence that adding a clicker is beneficial to training. This may be because research on clicker training has studied only one of several potential functions of the clicker stimulus that have been discussed by animal trainers. ” – from abstract

“In sum, existing research suggests that adding a clicker to positive-reinforcement-based training does not present advantages above unconditioned reinforcers alone.” – from paper itself

“The above review of the literature should be read with caution for two reasons. First, the studies above examined clicker training of a simple target behavior followed closely in time and space (i.e., contiguously) by an established reinforcer. This likely differs from many training settings where the clicker is used precisely because an established reinforcer cannot be presented contiguously with the click and/or the response. Nevertheless, this further supports a central point of this article—more research on clicker training is needed. Second, most of the studies above examined clickers as potential conditioned reinforcers. But, animal trainers often suggest clickers serve stimulus functions other than as conditioned reinforcers. Thus, it is possible the research above failed to use the clicker consistent with its assumed function in animal training contexts.” – paper itself

Authors: Nicole R. Dorey​, David J. Cox

Publication: Peer-J Life and Environment

Publication Date: September 2018

Applies To: clicker training

Sample Size: 6 papers, literature review



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