On this day Burrhus Frederick Skinner, an American psychologist, died. His “pioneering” work in experimental psychology promoted behaviorism – shaping behavior through positive and negative reinforcement and operant conditioning. The “Skinner box” he used in experiments from 1930 remains infamous. To investigate the learning processes of animals, he observed their behaviour in a simple box with a lever which, when activated by the animal, would give a reward (or punishment). The reward, such as pellets of food or water, acts as a primary reinforcer. He observed the behaviour of animals adapted to utilize the opportunity for a reward. He extended his theories to the behaviour of humans, as a form of social engineering. In other words, he reduced people’s motivations to a linear mechanism as simple as a pigeon’s desire to have a pellet of food. For Skinner, psychological context was completely irrelevant. People – like pigeons – could be programmed with rewards, and their psychological state was beside the point. Nevertheless, his behaviourist models have come to dominate all aspects of the Western psyche. – (All Psych / Wiki / Chomsky / The Psychology of B.F. Skinner / Teachers.net)

Do you have favoured anecdotes, links, or media related to the topic? If so, please feel free to contribute!

Additional Rabbit Holes -

Tags: , , , , ,

  • Anonymous

    Somewhat related is Pavlov. What is not widely publicized is that when there was a flood in Pavlov’s laboratory, mos of the dogs drowned. But dogs in the upper row of cages survived, but just barely. They had to swim and press their noses to the mesh tops of their cages to get air.

    After the flood, the dogs who survived were no longer conditioned like they had been previously.

    Waiting for evacuation buses after Katrina, I noticed something very odd. None of us knew if we would survive or not. I noted far less racism and classism amongst us than I usually observed.

  • Elyusium

    “Nevertheless, his behaviourist models have come to dominate all aspects of the Western psyche.”

    Now, that is a very unfortunate event. This psyche living in the West passionately disagrees.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there was definitely a bit of hyperbole in that last bit… But I don’t think the overall argument that contentious.

blog comments powered by Disqus