Sign-Tracking: Unmasking the Secrets of Addiction
This story introduces the reader to the phenomenon of “Sign-Tracking”, as revealed by the behavior of “Sign Tracker” the Raccoon character and protagonist of the story. Sign-Tracking is observed when animals repeatedly experience pairings of a small object with a food reward. As revealed by the story, this experience leads to the development of feeding behavior directed at the small object predictive of the food. Sign-Tracking has been widely reported by behavioral scientists studying the effects of this type of Pavlovian conditioning procedure; thus, the strange behavior of “Sign Tracker” is based, in part, on research findings published in scientific journals.
The Raccoon in the story exhibits several features of the Sign-Tracking phenomenon:
- The Raccoon’s Sign-Tracking behavior develops after he has experienced repeated pairings of the kindling wood (reward symbol) with the food (reward substance).
- The Raccoon is compulsively drawn to the reward symbol (kindling wood) as though unable to impede the performance.
- The Raccoon behaves toward the kindling wood symbol as though it were actually food, i.e., salivating and gnawing on the kindling wood symbol.
- The Raccoon actually loses many possible food rewards because he becomes so involved in symbol-directed behavior.