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B.F.Skinner
Behavioral Psychologist


B.F. Skinner
B.F. Skinner is a behavioral psychologist who became famous for his work with rats using his "Skinner Box". He took the extreme liberty of transferring his experience and theories of rats directly to human beings. It should be kept in mind that rats and people are tremendously different creatures, yet Skinner had no problem with easily assuming what was true for rats, on a very simple scale, would be applicable to human beings in very different and complex situations.

Skinner had the "wonderful" idea to bring up his daughter in a Skinner Box (see picture below). How anyone could admire this man is beyond me. His book, Walden Two, is a utopian presentation of how he imagined the application of is theories would work out in real life. Of course, they never have worked out in real life despite his assertions and beliefs. In Beyond Freedom and

Dignity, Skinner put forth the notion that Man had no indwelling personality, nor will, intention, self-determinism or personal responsibility, and that modern concepts of freedom and dignity have to fall away so Man could be intelligently controlled to behave as he should. Despite the fact of the degree of implied human degradation involved,

the question always remained just who would decide what Man should

Mr. & Mrs., Skinner view daughter Debbie in a Skinner Box
be, how he should act, and who would control the controllers? The book is a ludicrous dissertation on flimsy behavioral psycho-babble and shoddy science, where simple ideas pertaining to rats and animals are casually transposed to humans. It is good to read some of this stuff to see how ridiculous absurd theories can be and even more how so many people can readily accept them as valid and useful.

In a traditional behavioral approach, Skinner followed in the footsteps of Pavlov and Watson. This view postulates that the subject matter of human psychology is only the behavior of the human being. Behaviorism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept. The behaviorist holds, further, that belief in the existence of consciousness goes back to the ancient days of superstition and magic and is useless. The behaviorist asks: Why don't we make what we can

observe the real field of psychology? Let us limit ourselves to things that can be observed, and formulate laws concerning only those things. Now what can we observe? We can observe behavior - what the organism does. This idea began with Wilhelm Wundt in the late 1800s, when the notion that psychology should forsake the human mind and inner personality. "Wundt asserted that man is devoid of spirit and self-determinism. He set out to prove that man is the summation of his experiences, of the stimuli which intrude upon his consciousness and unconsciousness. Realize, by definition, psychology means the "study of the mind or soul". To be honest, these practitioners should have named their subject something else, such as "people control" or "manipulating organisms", but instead they redefined the term psychology to no longer apply to the mind.

The rule, or measuring rod, which the behaviorist puts in front of him always is: Can I describe this bit of behavior I see in terms of "stimulus and response"? Per Watson, "By stimulus we mean any object in the general environment or any change in the tissues themselves due to the physiological condition of the animal, such as the change we get when we keep an animal from sex activity, when we keep it from feeding, when we keep it from building a nest. By response we mean anything the animal does - such as turning toward or away from a light, jumping at a sound, and more highly organized activities such as building a skyscraper, drawing plans, having babies, writing books, and the like."

The interest of the behaviorist in man's doings is more than the interest of the spectator - he wants to control man's reactions as physical scientists want to control and manipulate other natural phenomena. It is the business of behaviorist psychology to be able to predict and to control human activity. Watson says, "Why do people behave as they do - how can I, as a behaviorist, working in the interests of science, get individuals to behave differently today from the way they acted yesterday? How far can we modify behavior by training (conditioning)? These are some of the major problems of behaviorist psychology."

As should be obvious to the reader that "behavioral psychology" has nothing to do with psychology per se, and all to do with managing behavior. It denies the very thing which separates Man from the rest of the animal kingdom - the human mind. It is a soulless pursuit which sees Man as an animal who must adapt to the environment, that is, the social system and political regime, rather than adapting the environment to his own vision and will. In this regard the subject has embraced by governments all over the world, as hopefully it would supply them with an effective way to finally get the public to finally behave as they desire. It hasn't exactly worked out that way, but that hasn't stopped them from continuing to try.

Skinner uses the idea of global problems to justify research into and the attempt to manipulate people - pollution, food shortages, depletion of natural resources, overpopulation, war and crime. To him the question is how to induce Man to behave properly so as to use new forms of energy, eat less meat, form smaller families with fewer children, use birth control, and act decently to each other. A seemingly noble purpose with a devious means to achieving the end.

As with all behaviorists he assumes Man is incapable of responsibility, self-discipline, self-determined morality and even autonomous achievement because there is no self in the first place. To him you simple "react" and "behave" to external forces, and thought and awareness are nothing more than annoying, meaningless by-products. The result of this is that the concepts of consciousness, awareness, self-control, will, self-determinism, and personal responsibility cannot and do not exist within their ideological frameworks. These are considered minor things and of no meaningful significance. At best all internal subjective states, including feelings, are nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain or stimulus-response reactions to evolutionary and immediate environmental forces.

He states in Beyond Freedom and Dignity:

". . . yet almost everyone attributes human behavior to intentions, purposes, aims and goals."

". . . as if they had wills, impulses, feelings, purposes, and other fragmentary attributes of an indwelling agent."

"We shall not solve the problems of alcoholism and juvenile delinquency by increasing a sense of responsibility. It is the environment which is 'responsible' for the objectionable behavior, and it is the environment, not some attribute of the individual, which must be changed."

"But as analysis of behavior adds further evidence, the achievements for which a person himself is to be given credit seem to approach zero."

"If all else fails, punishable behavior may be made less likely by changing physiological conditions. Hormones may be used to change sexual behavior, surgery (as in lobotomy) to control violence, tranquilizers to control aggression, and appetite depressants to control overeating."

It is interesting to note that modern psychology's failure to impart decent morality and education actually causes much violence and aggression, but instead of addressing this at the source, psychiatry jumps in to handle the "real problem", as they conceive it, which is really only a symptom of their own earlier failures, and prescribe oppressive treatments of drugs and lobotomy as solutions. They call their failures "learning disability", "dyslexia", "aggressive disorder", "attention disorder", and hundreds of other things. Skinner advocates complete environmental control of the individual (as a behavioral psychologist), but if that fails, then force the individual to conform through drugs and brain surgery (psychiatric methods).

The "modern" behavioral view sees you as only a "behaving biological organism". From this view who needs responsibility or any personal morality based upon the concept of human causality? To them these concepts are meaningless and useless. Of course, this approach in itself causes all manner of other problems which they then purport to solve with their biochemical and physiological psychiatric interventions. They first themselves cause the problem by advocating and enforcing unworkable methods of learning and morality, and then they apply more crazy methods in their pretentious attempt to "cure" the "mental disorder" they themselves initially brought about through their wacky psychological theories. Notice this keeps them in business and in power.

The Skinner Box

Operant Conditioning

"Operant conditioning" describes one type of associative learning in which there is a contingency between the response and the presentation of the reinforcer. This situation resembles most closely the classic experiments from Skinner, where he trained rats and pigeons to press a lever in order to obtain a food reward. In such experiments, the subject is able to generate certain motor-output, (the response R, e.g. running around, cleaning, resting, pressing the lever). The experimentor chooses a suited output (e.g. pressing the lever) to pair it with an unconditioned stimulus (US, e.g. a food reward). Often a discriminative stimulus (SD, e.g. a light) is present, when the R-US contingency is true. After a training period, the subject will show the conditioned response (CS, e.g. touching the trigger) even in absence of the US, if the R-US association has been memorized.

Skinner's experiment

A Skinner box typically contains one or more levers which an animal can press, one or more stimulus lights and one or more places in which reinforcers like food can be delivered. The animal's presses on the levers can be detected and recorded and a contingency between these presses, the state of the stimulus lights and the delivery of reinforcement can be set up, all automatically. It is also possible to deliver other reinforcers such as water or to deliver punishers like electric shock through the floor of the chamber. Other types of response can be measured - nose-poking at a moving panel, or hopping on a treadle - both often used when testing birds rather than rats. And of course all kinds of discriminative stimuli may be used.

In principle, and sometimes in practice, it is possible for a rat to learn to press a bar in a Skinner-box by trial and error. If the box is programmed so that a single lever-press causes a pellet to be dispensed, followed by a period for the rat to eat the pellet when the discriminative-stimulus light is out and the lever inoperative, then the rat may learn to press the lever if left to his own devices for long enough. This can, however, often take a very long time. The methods used in practice illustrate how much the rat has to learn to tackle this simple instrumental learning situation. The first step is to expose the rat to the food pellets he will later be rewarded with in the Skinner box in his home cage when he is hungry. He has to learn that these pellets are food and hence are reinforcing when he is hungry. Now he can be introduced to the Skinner-box.

Initially there may be a few pellets in the hopper where reinforcers are delivered, plus a few scattered nearby, to allow the rat to discover that the hopper is a likely source of food. Once the rat is happy eating from the hopper he can be left in Skinner box and the pellet dispenser operated every now and then so the rat becomes accustomed to eating a pellet from the hopper each time the dispenser operates (the rat is probably learning to associate the sound of the dispenser operating with food - a piece of classical conditioning which is really incidental to the instrumental learning task at hand). Once the animal has learned the food pellets are reinforcing and where they are to be found, it would, however, still probably take some time for the rat to learn that bar-pressing when the SD light was on produced food. The problem is that the rat is extremely unlikely to press the lever often by chance. In order to learn an operant contingency by trial and error the operant must be some behavior which the animal performs often anyway. Instead of allowing the rat to learn by trial and error one can use a 'shaping' or 'successive-approximations' procedure. Initially, instead of rewarding the rat for producing the exact behavior we require - lever pressing - he is rewarded whenever he performs a behavior which approximates to lever pressing. The closeness of the approximation to the desired behavior required in order for the rat to get a pellet is gradually increased so that eventually he is only reinforced for pressing the lever. Starting by reinforcing the animal whenever he is in the front half of the Skinner-box, he is later only reinforced if he is also on the side of the box where the lever is. After this the reinforcement occurs if his head is pointing towards the lever and then later only when he approaches the lever, when he touches the lever with the front half of his body, when he puts touches the lever with his paw and so on until the rat is pressing the lever in order to obtain the reinforcer. The rat may still not have completely learned the operant contingency - specifically he may not yet have learned that the contingency between the operant response and reinforcement is signaled by the SD light. If we now leave him to work in the Skinner-box on his own he will soon learn this and will only press the lever when the SD light is on.

From this procedure, even difficult to get rats to conform to, Skinner developed the absurd theory that Man could and should be controlled in a similar way for his own good and for the good of civilization. Skinner follows in the tradition of all elitists who imagine they know what is best for everyone else and have no compunctions about enforcing his ideas upon others in there own best interests.

The Stimulus and the Response: A Critique of B.F. Skinner - by Ayn Rand

Meaning & Motivation - the truth about what really makes people really do things, but more what enables them to live life causatively as a sane and responsible human being.

Note: The book Beyond Freedom and Dignity was written under a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (HIMH). This shows first, the relation of the government to behavioral engineering, and second, that even this massive government organization which claims to deal with "mental health" is quite comfortable dealing with theorists who blatantly deny the very existence of a mind and therefore anything "mental". Possible the NIMH should change it's name to something more appropriate, such as the "National Institutes of Human Control and Conditioning" - which would be a more apt name for what they are actually concerned with.

Suggested Reading!

About Behaviorism - by B. F. Skinner

Beyond Freedom and Dignity - by B. F. Skinner

Behaviorism - by John Watson

Waldon Two - by B. F. Skinner

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