Opus and Superstitious Behaviour

A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend two weeks working with four dolphins in Hawaii, studying their ability to learn language, specifically sign language. Occasionally the dolphins would exhibit behaviour which was not expected and they would start to repeat that behaviour every time you gave a particular sign. For example you might give the sign to nod their head, and the dolphins nods, but then also spits a bit of water. The spit was not required, but because the dolphin gets rewarded for the nod, they start to incorporate the spit. The staff at the lab called this “superstitious behaviour”. Doing something causes a reward to happen, so keep doing it.

All that to say that I’ve noticed some Montreal metro passengers have started exhibiting superstitious behaviour. We have new rechargable ticket cards which are used by placing them on a card reader at the turnstile. There is a small delay while the card is processed – about a second – then the green light comes on and you can proceed. But people are impatient; they place their card and nothing happens immediately, so they start waving it about and flipping it over. Eventually the green light comes on, they get their reward. Their primitive dolphin-like brains think the waving and flipping caused the green light to come on so they keep doing it.

That’s my metro observation for today.

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