Conditioning us to roll up and win

Positive reinforcement

After a long and dreary period of COVID isolation, I was excited and happy to participate in the quintessentially Canadian Tim Horton’s Roll Up to Win contest.

Of course, to minimize public health risks, the traditional “Roll Up the Rim to Win” on the paper cups was replaced with just the online Roll Up to Win contest. I watched a particularly long and steadfast lineup of vehicles going through a Tim’s Horton’s drive-through ordering, then receiving their morning caffeine fix.

Like lab rats in BF Skinner’s box, I observed people methodically scanning their reward cards, paying a paltry piece of silver equal to about a toonie then receiving their reward of fresh brewed coffee and a free play on the Tim Horton’s app.

As I received my coffee, I came to the insightful conclusion that Tim Horton’s Roll Up to Win contest is a classic example of the psychological principle of operant conditioning.

I took a first-year introductory psychology course at UBC in the mid-1980s. Among some of the concepts we were introduced to were learned and modified behaviour in animals and humans.

Operant conditioning is a fancy term that basically describes a modifiable behaviour that is changed by associating it with a positive, or sometimes, a negative reinforcement.

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist who pioneered research into the burgeoning field of modifiable behaviour. In his classic experiment, he placed laboratory rats in a cage. He made a lever in the box that dispensed a morsel of food when pressed. He taught the rats that to receive the treat, they had to press the lever.

He conditioned their behaviour and made the rats learn that by pressing the lever they would be rewarded. This is an example of a behaviour that is modified by positive reinforcement. Pressing the lever more results in more morsels of food being dispensed. Conversely, behaviour can also be modified with negative reinforcement, with a negative outcome for a certain behaviour.

I surmised that I was something akin to a lab rat in Skinner’s box, receiving my coffee and a free Tim’s play.

I scanned my Tim’s app at the time of purchase over my cell phone. I received my coffee and got the chance of “rolling” or tapping for a prize. I liked the colourful cups that were adorned with all sorts of teasers about the prizes to be won.

I excitedly opened the Tim’s app and pressed the Roll Up to Win icon on my phone and waited for the result. At the time, I probably received a hit of the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine in the limbic system of my brain. However, I consciously limit my purchases, dampen my dopamine and like to think I am in control of my behaviour.

The contest is a classic example of the effect of operant conditioning on human behaviour. Buying a coffee from this company is implicitly associated with the positive reinforcement of also having a chance to win a prize. If I am any indicator, it is probably an advertising juggernaut for the company.

I am not suggesting the practice is right or wrong, moral or immoral or promoting addictive gambling behaviour. It seems to be innocent enough and I still like to think I am control of my responses. I make a conscious choice to limit my behaviour in cost and frequency. After all, I am supporting the economy, getting the beverage I paid for and engaging in a little fun lottery of sorts.

After taking a break to ponder on my observations, I realized I was less enamoured with the contest and it is time to move on. like to think I am in the driver’s seat and I control my responses. I believe I make my choices, no matter whether operant conditioning is involved or not.Making a conscious choice to limit my response and modify my behaviour is, after all, what makes us human and above animals. I am not a laboratory rat

I think I will go to another establishment for my morning coffee. They might have free loyalty prizes or bonus points.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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