Operant conditioning based on inner motivation
Another step in the evolution of behavior-controlling mechanisms is creating useful behavioral patterns through operant conditioning based on inner motivation. The organism’s motivation should be seen as a particular physiological state of the organism, not as an abstract term describing heading towards a goal. The basis for a new behavioral pattern is not the development of one of the many existing specific behavioral patterns, whose trigger stimulus would be connected with other outer time or locally associated stimuli. It consists in strengthening of those behavioral patterns that the organism has found to be connected to a specific pleasant inner stimulus (Lorenz et al. 1974). Specifically, this entails behavioral patterns that evoke a feeling of pleasure or inhibit an unpleasant feeling of distress. Different stimuli coming through the organism’s senses are continuously transformed into a common pleasure-distress “currency”; this simplifies and makes more effective the creation and strengthening of momentarily useful behavioral patterns necessary for the survival of the organism. Transformation of the outer stimuli into the inner common currency enables the organism to free itself from the constraints of its material world. If – from the point of view of the fitness of the individual – it is advantageous to seek a particular objectively unpleasant stimulus, e.g. one that is usually followed by an injury, biological evolution can “program” the members of the species to a certain form of “masochism”; the objectively unpleasant stimulus will be perceived as pleasant in the particular situation (see examples of passive cannibalism in some kinds of arthropod males during mating) (Fedorka & Mousseau 2002).
Behavioral regulation through the above-described pleasure-distress mechanism can be compared to regulation by a proportional regulator, as the intensity of the output signal (e.g. the feeling of delight) is proportional to the intensity of the input signal – stimulus coming from the surroundings. In behavior control, a similar effect can be achieved through regulation by a derivation regulator (the intensity of the output signal is proportional to the fall or rise of the intensity of the input signal) and integration regulator (the intensity of output signal is proportional to the duration (and usually the intensity too) of the input signal) (Fig. XVI.2). Integration regulators can be used to control the spontaneous activity of organisms. If there is a prolonged lack of incoming stimuli, a phenomenon we can call “charging the boredom condenser” may occur. If the unpleasant feeling of boredom is too strong, the animal will try to discharge the “boredom condenser”, for example by playing. Play is – amongst other things – a highly effective way of testing new behavioral patterns. The patterns that have been shown to be effective for an individual with a particular phenotype in its usual environment can later be included into a behavioral repertoire of the individual.