operant conditioning: “the behavior is followed by a consequence, and the nature of the consequence modifies the organisms tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.”
A behavior followed by a reinforcing stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.
What if you don’t give the rat any more pellets? Apparently, he’s no fool, and after a few futile attempts, he stops his bar-pressing behavior. This is called extinction of the operant behavior.
Schedules of reinforcement
Continuous reinforcement is the original scenario: Every time that the rat does the behavior (such as pedal-pushing), he gets a rat goodie.
An aversive stimulus is the opposite of a reinforcing stimulus, something we might find unpleasant or painful.
A behavior followed by an aversive stimulus results in a decreased probability of the behavior occurring in the future.
This both defines an aversive stimulus and describes the form of conditioning known as punishment. If you shock a rat for doing x, it’ll do a lot less of x. If you spank Johnny for throwing his toys he will throw his toys less and less (maybe).
On the other hand, if you remove an already active aversive stimulus after a rat or Johnny performs a certain behavior, you are doing negative reinforcement. If you turn off the electricity when the rat stands on his hind legs, he’ll do a lot more standing. If you stop your perpetually nagging when I finally take out the garbage, I’ll be more likely to take out the garbage (perhaps). You could say it “feels so good” when the aversive stimulus stops, that this serves as a reinforcer!
Behavior followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.
Skinner (contrary to some stereotypes that have arisen about behaviorists) doesn’t “approve” of the use of aversive stimuli -- not because of ethics, but because they don’t work well!
Behavior modification -- often referred to as b-mod -- is the therapy technique based on Skinner’s work. It is very straight-forward: Extinguish an undesirable behavior (by removing the reinforcer) and replace it with a desirable behavior by reinforcement
There is an offshoot of b-mod called the token economy. This is used primarily in institutions such as psychiatric hospitals, juvenile halls, and prisons. Certain rules are made explicit in the institution, and behaving yourself appropriately is rewarded with tokens -- poker chips, tickets, funny money, recorded notes, etc. Certain poor behavior is also often followed by a withdrawal of these tokens. The tokens can be traded in for desirable things such as candy, cigarettes, games, movies, time out of the institution, and so on. This has been found to be very effective in maintaining order in these often difficult institutions.
wherein he describes a utopia-like commune run on his operant principles.
Beyond Freedom and Dignity.
The bad do bad because the bad is rewarded. The good do good because the good is rewarded. There is no true freedom or dignity. Right now, our reinforcers for good and bad behavior are chaotic and out of our control -- it’s a matter of having good or bad luck with your “choice” of parents, teachers, peers, and other influences. Let’s instead take control, as a society, and design our culture in such a way that good gets rewarded and bad gets extinguished! With the right behavioral technology, we can design culture.
With the right behavioral technology, we can design culture.
Both freedom and dignity are examples of what Skinner calls mentalistic constructs -- unobservable and so useless for a scientific psychology. Other examples include defense mechanisms, the unconscious, archetypes, fictional finalisms, coping strategies, self-actualization, consciousness, even things like hunger and thirst. The most important example is what he refers to as the homunculus -- Latin for “the little man” -- that supposedly resides inside us and is used to explain our behavior, ideas like soul, mind, ego, will, self, and, of course, personality.
Instead, Skinner recommends that psychologists concentrate on observables, that is, the environment and our behavior in it.