"Although this was written in 1971, I might as well be reading a speech by Al Gore, or a Green Party mission statement from 2003. It is true that further into the text Sinner says some troubling things like, "By questioning the control exercised by autonomous man and demonstrating the control exercised by the environment, a science of behaviour questions the concepts of dignity and worth." But these sorts of fatements are buried in a text immensely pragmatic. Skinner is clearly proposing a humane society policy rooted in his experimental findings. He is proposing that we appreciate the immense control (or influence) our surroundings have on us, and so sculpt those surroundings in such a way that they "reinforce positively," or in other words, engender adaptive and creative behaviours in all citizens. Skinner is asking society to fashion cues that are most likely to draw on our best selves, as opposed to cues that clearly confound us, cues such as those that exist in prisons, in places of poverty. In other words, stop punishing." Lauren Slater writes inOpening Skinner’s Box, emphasize mine.
There’s a lot to nitpick at Slater for. She did after all write a memoir calledLying, but she also approaches B.F. Skinner in a way that popular psychology does not. The legend of Skinner’s daughter raised in a box, the engineered behaviour of rats and pigeons - a man who believed that science could predict every human behaviour. He sounds cold, doesn’t he? But what Skinner had lived through was two world wars. He had seen the nation’s science programs rocket through machines of war - building the better weapon. And he had seen the nation’s home science move towards making the better household.
Perhaps he thought - if we can invent a better weapon and a better home appliance, we can invent a better human. Perhaps he was striving for a utopia. And given his findings, that with the right sets of parameters (rewarding good behaviour, a literal treat for action - such as slowly getting a rat to turn in a circle based) humans could be programmed to notbe betterbut ratherbehave well. That is the root of this behaviourism.
How do we learn? How do we become addicted to things? What shapes our world? These are all forms of conditioning. Skinner is the largest name inoperant conditioning(if you hear “classical conditioning” that refers to Pavlov and his slobbering dogs). OC is basically being encouraged or punished to do something - cause/effect model, CC is action being paired with a natural occurring response more or less. So if every time you reach for a cookie I slap you in the face, you will associate reaching for the cookie with being slapped in the face. Alternatively, if every 5 minutes you don’t reach for the cookie I give you a mint, that becomes a paired association. However, CC is more like youtensingright before I slapped you in the face - the reaction being paired with the action is the tensing + cookie, as opposed to the slap itself, because the tense is (most likely) an involuntary motion on your part. MORE OR LESS, there is a lot of conditioning literature out there probably more accurate than reading a tumblr.
But the point is. We don’t always consciously learn. When we getfeedbackof some kind - a metaphorical slap to the face, someone yelling at us, someone giving us a dirty look, a poster telling us that we are fat, a poster telling us that all religious people are insane - our brains track this. If we get highfived for a racist joke we are receiving positive reinforcement to be racist. Experience builds learning, whether we think of it as learning or not.
I think Skinner was right in some ways. But we can’t just expect to work towards behaving well - because we are so networked and so exposed to media, society, our parents, our schools, the television, the internetbecause of these thingswe need to be better as well.
The perfection myth is just that, a myth. But the cliche of “you’re always learning” is quite true. Imagine you use tumblr and feel great when you get a lot of reblogs - what has happened there? A little positive reinforcement. These kind of small examples are applicable for real life as well.
Think harder, be better.