In 1906 Pavlov cut holes in dogs’ cheeks and inserted tubes to measure salivation. A bell was rung just before food was given to the dogs, and after a period of time it was observed that the ringing of the bell alone would increase the rate of the dogs’ salivation (pic) [“Pavlov, Ivan Petrovich (1849-1936),” The Encyclopedia Americana (New York: Americana Corportation, 1963)].1
Shortly after Pavlov was driving dogs crazy in Russia,i [John Broadus (J.B.) Watson (1878-1958)] at Johns Hopkins University…was doing the same thing to humans. Watson, the founder of what is known as the behaviorist school of psychology,2 believed the main significance of [his] studies lay not in the bare fact that people and dogs could both be conditioned to salivate to or withdraw their toes from inherently neutral stimuli, but in their implications for further and broader conditioning experiments. In particular, he suggested that human emotions might profitably be thought of as glandular and muscular reflexes which, like salivation, easily become conditioned.3
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)? 4 In the heat of the nature-nurture controversy Watson expounded5 the battle cry of the radical,6 militant7 behaviorist movement:8
In a classic and oft-cited experiment, Watson (Watson and Rayner, 1920), using classical conditioning principles,iii attempted to condition a fear responseiv in a young child named Albert. [Mary Cover Jones] (1924) reported:
In other words, Watson was able to demonstrate that the acquisition of a phobia (an exaggerated, seemingly illogical fear of a particular object or class of objects) could be explained by classical conditioning.12 By classical conditioning, the previously neutral stimulus took on the ability to provoke the anxiety reaction. The same principle presumably applies no matter what the feared stimulus is, which confers a kind of generality that many psychologists find appealing.13
It can be inferred that such fears could inadvertently build up in a home, so that a child is being conditioned when he is in bed in the dark and hears a loud clap of thunder, producing thereafter a fear of the dark.14 Watson and [Rosalie Rayner]v stated that the fear responses in the home environment are likely to persist indefinitely, unless an accidental method for removing them is hit upon. And in a concluding tasteless section of their article, they ridiculed the Freudian psychoanalyst who might one day try to treat Alberts phobia:
Originally, Watson had intended to decondition [or countercondition] Albert to the fear, but because he was an adopted child from out of town, this feat was never accomplished.16 Had the opportunity been at hand [they]
Unfortunately, most accounts of Watson and Rayners research with Albert feature as much fabrication and distortion as they do fact. For example, not one text mentions that Watson knew when Albert would leave his control a detail that might make Watson and Rayners failure to recondition Albert seem callous to some modern readers.
However, there are other reasons for such errors besides textbooks tendencies to tell ethically pleasing stories that are consistent with students common sense. One major source of confusion about the Albert story is Watson himself, who altered and deleted important aspects of the study in his many descriptions of it. For example, in the Scientific Monthly description of the study (Watson, J. B., & Watson, R. R. Studies in infant psychology. Scientific Monthly, 1921, 13, 493515), there is no mention of the conditioning of Albert to the dog, the rabbit, and the rat; thus Alberts subsequent responses to these stimuli can be mistaken for a strong generalization effect (for which there is little evidence). A complementary and equally confusing omission occurs in Psychological Care of Infant and Child (Watson, J. B. Psychological care of infant and child. New York: Norton, 1928). There, Watson begins his description of the Albert study with Alberts being conditioned to a rabbit. As a result, the reader is led to believe that Alberts fear of a rat (a month later) was the product of generalization rather than the initial conditioning trials.
A second reason for textbook authors errors, it seems, is the desire of many of us to make experimental evidence consistent with textbook theories of how organisms should act. Unfortunately, misrepresentations of Watson and Rayners (1920) work are not confined to introductory-level texts.18
Watson’s behaviorism was an extremely strong influence on American psychology,19 [though] technically, any behavioral approach that came after Watson and his immediate contemporaries may be called neobehaviorism. The neobehaviorists were as diverse as their forebears, but their differences as well as similarities show how American psychology developed during the behavioral era.20
In the late 1930s, Harvard psychologist Burrhus Frederick (B.F.) Skinner [1904-1990],…a member of U.S. Army Intelligence, fine-tuned the art of human control into what he termed “operant conditioning.”… His simple (and quite familiar by this time) notion was that the reinforcement of a repeated negative stimulus (punishment) (pic) or positive stimulus (reward) formed the basis for learned behavior.21
Skinner recognized the critical importance of constancy of conditions in his experiments and developed the instrumental conditioning chamber or Skinner box (more pics).22 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 animals 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.23
Skinner developed the idea of shaping, or the method of successive approximations. Shaping begins by reinforcing a behavior that is vaguely similar to the desired behavior (video). Once that behavior is established, when variations occur that are closer to the desired behavior those can be rewarded. This can be continued until the behavior you want is being performed. The idea of shaping can create a behavior that would not show up in ordinary life.24
During World War II, Skinner conducted a series of experiments in which he trained sets of pigeons to navigate bombs dropped from aircraft so they would hit their targets accurately. The pigeons were to be harnessed inside the nose cones of the bombs.27 The pigeons were trained with slides of aerial photographs of the target, and if they kept the crosshairs on the target, they were rewarded by a grain deposited in a tray in front of them. Skinner later found that the pigeons were less easily disturbed under confusing circumstances if they were fed hemp (marijuana) seeds rather than grains.28 Skinners control system used a lens in the nose of the bomb to throw an image of the approaching target on a ground-glass screen. If the targets image moved off center, the pigeons pecking tilted the screen, which moved the bombs tail surfaces, which corrected the bombs course. To improve accuracy, Skinner used three pigeons to control the bombs direction by majority rule [Charles Eames and Ray Eames, A Computer Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 131].29 These birds would have been the equivalent of modern guidance computers.30
Bizarre as it sounds, the experiment apparently worked, and Skinner was eventually able to interest the army brass in observing a demonstration. The operation became known as “Project Pigeon” [compare Project OrCon] and was classified until [1958.31] It was never used, however, partly because the officers who considered it found it ludicrous, but also because by this time the U.S. was preparing to launch the atom bomb.32 Skinner went home with 24 trained pigeons, which he kept in a dovecote in his garden.33, vii
His experiments did not stop with pigeons.
Skinner’s most famous invention, aimed at producing a “socialized child,” was the environmentally controlled [“baby tender” (or Aircrib or Heir Conditioner) (more pics),] a crib-sized container into which he put scores of children including his own.34, viii [Skinner built the] conditioning chamber for his daughter as an improvement over the conventional crib since it provided a clean, quiet, physically safe, and comfortable place. He had the air filtered and heated and maintained a constant temperature at an appropriate level of warmth with monitoring to make any clothing other than a diaper unnecessary. The infant had room to move freely and there was no danger of smothering or coking [sic]. The device was not successful commercially but is clearly a prototype of todays specialized cribs used in our hospitals.35
Years later, with his academic reputation firmly established, Skinner had more success in initiating programmed instruction and the use of teaching machines in school settings (video). He invented the first of these devices to promote the principle that mechanical and electronic teachers were more reliable and effective than human ones a stand that won him both acclaim and opposition in educational circles.36
His ultimate aim was not only to control the behavior of isolated persons, but to gain insights into how to control society as a whole.37 Skinner argues that our traditional concepts of freedom and dignity must be sharply revised. They have played an important historical role in our struggle against many kinds of tyranny, he acknowledges, but they are now responsible for the futile defense of a presumed free and autonomous individual; they are perpetuating our use of punishmentix and blocking the development of more effective cultural practices.38 He asked: What do we mean when we say we want to be free? Usually we mean we dont want to be in a society that punishes us for doing what we want to do. Okay aversive stimuli dont work well anyway, so out with them! Instead, well only use reinforcers to control society. And if we pick the right reinforcers, we will feel free, because we will be doing what we feel we want!39
Significant funding of psychology by the federal government started during World War II, particularly from 1941 to 1945 when the United States was formally involved in the conflict.40 The behavioral orientation has remained central to post-World War II American psychology for a variety of reasons, including the interest on the part of psychologists, educators, and helping professionals of all types in ways to change human behavior (influence learning and performance); faith in laboratory research, observable phenomena, experimental methodologies, and animal studies;…and a belief that, in general, the activities of people and other higher life forms are molded more by the environment than genes.41 As a working method, behaviorism has proven itself remarkably effective in many areas of life.42
[Donald O. Hebb] (1904-1985) probably did more than any other individual to reestablish modern physiological psychology as part of behavior theory.43, x Hebb spent the years 1942 to 1947 at the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology in Orange Park, Florida. It was at Yerkess laboratory that Hebb noticed the emotional response elicited by chimpanzees on seeing a clay model of a chimpanzees head. Their response could be elicited by any detached body member such as a hand. Their response also extended to humans, since they reacted to a mannequin hand. This emotional response increased with age.44
Hebb continued to deal with the problem of human intelligence and brain action. It was in 1944 that he adopted the position that would come to be known as the cell assembly theory.45 A cell assembly is a group of neurons clustered together functionally because of a past history of being stimulated together. Their main characteristic is that they are capable of acting together for a time as a closed system. They may have been produced through some sensory event, or they may have been aroused by some previously existing assembly. One cell assembly may activate another assembly.46
Cell assemblies that are activated at the same time may become organized into phase sequences, which are a sequence of cell assembly functions. Taking the child as his subject, Hebb tells us that when a baby hears footsteps
Hebb stated that Neural transmission is not simply linear, but apparently always involves some closed or recurrent circuits; and a single impulse cannot ordinarily cross a synapse two or more must act simultaneously, and two or more afferent fibers must, therefore, be active in order to excite a third to which they lead [Ibid.]. The reflex arc is not a simple loop but one that may have many loops built into it, some of which may be recurrent or reverberatory and others of which are simply closed. He also opposed the notion that the nervous system was a passive transmitter of sensory information from receptors. He based his opposition on the idea that the central nervous system may be activated without external stimulation.48
It was from this background of communications research that information processing theory originated. In 1948 Norber Wiener at MIT coined the word cybernetics in his book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. The notion of feedback mechanisms was particularly influential in the later cognitive science.50
[Operant conditioning is used in the science of electroencephalograph (EEG)-based cursor control brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies. By successive training of mu (and beta) brainwaves, a cursor can be moved on a computer screen just by thinking about it.]
i In the course of his epoch-making experiments on the conditioned reflex, Ivan Pavlov observed that, when subjected to prolonged physical or psychic stress, laboratory animals exhibit all the symptoms of a nervous breakdown. Refusing to cope any longer with the intolerable situation, their brains go on strike, so to speak, and either stop working altogether (the dog loses consciousness), or else resort to slowdowns and sabotage (the dog behaves unrealistically, or develops the kind of physical symptoms which, in a human being, we would call hysterical). Some animals are more resistant to stress than others. Dogs possessing what Pavlov called a "strong excitatory" constitution break down much more quickly than dogs of a merely "lively" (as opposed to a choleric or agitated) temperament. Similarly "weak inhibitory" dogs reach the end of their tether much sooner than do "calm imperturbable" dogs. But even the most stoical dog is unable to resist indefinitely. If the stress to which he is subjected is sufficiently intense or sufficiently prolonged, he will end by breaking down as abjectly and as completely as the weakest of his kind.
Studies show the teen criminals of tomorrow are “literally being manufactured, programmed, hardwired to behave in a certain way.” *
There is perhaps no bigger or more important issue in America at present than youth violence.†
Defiant, violent under-5s are a growing concern in creches and preschool centres and inattentive parents are being blamed for their hard-to-manage offspring. Early childhood educators are reporting more anger and violence from children in their care, says Warwick Pudney, a senior lecturer in psychotherapy at the Auckland University of Technology. Teachers are enduring kicks, punches, damage to property, hitting of other children and being told to **** off, says Mr Pudney, who advises primary and early childhood workers on child behaviour. In a paper on anger and violence in early childhood, he says self-centred behaviour and angry outbursts often stem from a lack of attachment to, and time with, parents and the most difficult children tend to be those who spend the most time in care.
Children who spend more than 20 hours a week in care are more likely to develop behavioural problems that extend into adulthood.
And behavioural experts say if problems arent addressed by the age of 8, children are more likely to go on to a life of crime and unemployment, with mental health and addiction problems.
[BF] Skinner renamed this type of learning respondent conditioning * since in this type of learning, one is responding to an environmental antecedent.
Respondent behavior is part of an animal's inherited biological structure, it is something the animal was born with and for the most part is not something the animal had to learn. Respondent behaviors are elicited by preceding stimuli. The stimuli that originally elicits a respondent is called an eliciting stimuli. One gets respondent behavior by presenting an eliciting stimuli before the behavior, and not by controlling the consequences of what happens after the behavior occur[s].
Watson believed that infants have three innate emotional responses. They are: fear, rage and love; each of them is elicited by distinctive stimuli. Fear outcomes from sudden, loud noise or loss of support, rage from physical restraint that prevents movements, and love from stroking and manipulation of the encourageous zones (Top-psychology 2001).
[Watson] was forced to resign his chair at [Johns] Hopkins because of a sex scandal
involving his assistant, Rayner.
It is extremely easy for therapists to take advantage of their clients trust and to exploit it.
Inaccurate stories began to circulate that Skinner had raised his children like rats in a box, and that they had suffered grievously as a result. Perhaps conflating Skinners children with Watsons, some rumors had it that they became mentally ill or committed suicide.
The number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 [in 2003] to reach a new high of nearly 6.9 million, according to a Justice Department report [released 26 July 2004].* This is about 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States, the report said, and the total includes people in jail and prison as well as those on probation and parole.
* For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America's rank as the world's No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars. Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it's more than any other nation.
[In the 1950s,] Donald Hebb found a form of torture far more effective than drugs or beatings. He could induce a state of psychosis within 48 hours, even in the healthy, well-adjusted students who volunteered to be guinea pigs. "By sitting them in a cubicle with goggles, gloves and headphones, cut off from their senses and sensory stimulation, they soon suffered hallucinations and then breakdown."
2 Ibidem, pp. 30-31.
8 Rathus, Psychology, p. 430.
9 Hetherington and Parke, Child Psychology, p. 80; See also Dennis Coon, Introduction to Psychology: Exploration and Application, 5th ed. (St. Paul: West Publ. Co., 1989), p. 9; Rathus, Psychology, p. 430; and Robert I. Watson, Sr., and Rand B. Evans, The Great Psychologists: A History of Psychological Thought, 5th ed. (New York: HarperCollins Publ., Inc., 1991), p. 479.
10 Watson, Sr. and Evans, Great Psychologists, p. 483.
12 Op. cit.
14 Watson, Sr. and Evans, Great Psychologists, p. 483.
15 Fancher, Pioneers of Psychology, p. 298.
16 Sue, Sue, and Sue, Understanding Abnormal Behavior, p. 72.
20 Watson, Sr. and Evans, Great Psychologists, p. 485.
21 Keith, Mind Control, p. 31.
23 Article restructured from a lecture provided by R.W. Kentridge, Skinner Box, at http://www.biozentrum.uni-wuerzburg.de/genetics/behavior/learning/SkinnerBox.html.
24 Culture Worx, B.F. Skinner, at http://www.cultureworx.com/principles-bfskinner.htm.
25 Keith, Mind Control, p. 31.
29 Project Pigeon, at http://www.asofyet.org/muppet/other/insanities/project_pigeon.html.
30 Watson, Sr. and Evans, Great Psychologists, p. 491.
31 James H. Capshew, Engineering Behavior: Project Pigeon, World War II, and the Conditioning of B.F. Skinner, Technology and Culture, 34, 1993, at University of Dayton, OH, http://www.udayton.edu/~psych/DJP/histsys/pdfhs/hsbehavior2.pdf.
32 Mindess, Makers of Psychology, pp. 96-97.
33 firstname.lastname@example.org, Weird animal stories [project pigeon], 11 March 2003, at http://www.gamerz.net/archives/weirdwars/200303/msg00006.html.
34 Keith, Mind Control, p. 31.
36 Mindess, Makers of Psychology, pp. 97-98.
37 Keith, Mind Control, p. 31.
41 Ibidem, p. 549.
42 Mindess, Makers of Psychology, p. 107.
43 Watson & Evans, Great Psychologists, pp. 491-492.
44 Ibidem. p. 492.
45 Op. cit.
46 Ibidem, p. 493.
47 Op. cit.
48 Ibidem, pp. 493-494.
50 Watson & Evans, Great Psychologists, p. 623.
51 Ibidem, p. 624.
Skinner's Ping-Pong playing pigeons video; contact me if you're interested in a copy
B.F. Skinner: A Fresh Appraisal video
BF Skinner defining Operant Conditioning: Quicktime video
Skinner discussing consequences in the classroom: Quicktime video
Skinner answering questions: MP3 audio
Skinners On Having a Poem (discussion of Chomskys review)
Project Pigeon collegues Marian Bailey and Keller Breland
Marian Baileys obituary
Deborah Skinner Buzans I was not a lab rat
Rat basketball: Quicktime video
Brainwashed at the Mouse House? Disney News resource (Share your experiences)
Take a quiz: