Eliezer Yudkowsky, I’m told, used to be a not-nice critic. The problem was his delivery: “blunt, harsh, not sufficiently tempered by praise for praiseworthy things” (Alicorn Finley). However, this changed about a year ago, when Anna Salamon and Alicorn Finley decided to try to train him to be nicer. Alicorn describes it like this:
Me, Eliezer, Anna, and Michael Blume were all sitting in my and Michael’s room (where we lived two houses ago) working on, I think it was, a rationality kata [= way of doing things], and we were producing examples and critiquing each other. Eliezer sometimes critiqued in a motivation-draining way, so we started offering him M&Ms when he put things more nicely. (We also claimed M&Ms when we accomplished small increments of what we were working on.)
Some updates on that story. M&M’s didn’t work when I tried to reward myself with them later, and I suspect several key points:
1) The smiles/approval from the (highly respected) friends feeding me the M&Ms probably counted for more than the taste sensation.
2) Being overweight, M&Ms on their own would be associated with shame/guilt/horror/wishing I never had to eat again etc.
3) Others have also reported food rewards not working. One person says that food rewards worked for them after they ensured that they were hungry and could only eat via food rewards.
4) I suspect that the basic reinforcement pattern will only work for me if I reward above-average performance or improvement in performance (positive slope) rather than trying to reward constant performance, because only this makes me feel that the reward is really ‘deserved’.
- Andrew Critch advises that ‘step zero’ in this process is to make sure that you have good internal agreement on wanting the change before rewarding movements in the direction of the change
- The Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) has some experience learning to teach this.
- CFAR has excellent workshops but not much published/online material. A good mainstream book is Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.
I like this example because the change was long-lasting and important.