On certain similarities between mainstream psychology and the writings of B.F. Skinner.
Selected writings of B. F. Skinner are compared to 5 current topics
in main-stream psychology, including the role of the unconscious, human
language, the role of dispositions in psychology, human perceptions of
conformity and bias, and mindfulness. The striking similarities between
Skinner's work and these 5 current topics support Richelle's
(1993) prediction that psychologists may eventually discover that
Skinner was a forerunner in the theory and practice of psychology.
Key words: B. F. Skinner, the unconscious, the illusion of conscious will, language, dispositions, conformity and bias, mindfulness
|Author:||Goddard, Murray J.|
|Publication:||Name: The Psychological Record Publisher: The Psychological Record Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 The Psychological Record ISSN: 0033-2933|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 62 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||Event Code: 310 Science & research|
|Product:||Product Code: 8043300 Psychologists NAICS Code: 62133 Offices of Mental Health Practitioners (except Physicians) SIC Code: 8049 Offices of health practitioners, not elsewhere classified|
|Persons:||Named Person: Skinner, B.F.|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
In a recent article, titled "Psychology as the Science of
Self-Reports and Finger Movements: Whatever Happened to Actual
Behavior?," Baumeister, Vohs, and Funder (2007) noted that some
psychology disciplines have never studied behavior, that an increasing
amount of behavior is just marks on a self-report questionnaire, and
that the reasons for doubting introspective self-reports, and the
resulting need to observe actual behavior, have increased. Twenty years
earlier, in an article titled "Whatever Happened to Psychology as
the Science of Behavior?," Skinner (1987) noted that some
psychology disciplines have never considered behavior a subject matter
in its own right, that an increasing amount of behavior consists of
asking people what they might do, and that psychologists have mistakenly
assumed that people have introspective access to the causes of their
behavior. Despite the similarities, the article by Baumeister et al.
does not contain a citation to the work of B. F. Skinner, the founder of
radical behaviorism and arguably the most eminent psychologist in the
20th century (Haggbloom et al., 2002).
The present article will show other, sometimes equally striking, similarities between mainstream psychology and the writings of B. F. Skinner. The format and title of this paper liberally borrows from a classic paper in behavior analysis authored by Willard Day (1969). Day's introductory sentences provide a template for the present paper:
If "mainstream psychology" is substituted for "the Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein," the rationale in Day (1969) applies remarkably well to the present paper. Unlike Day, though, the writings of B. F. Skinner will be compared to five current topics in mainstream psychology, including the role of the unconscious, human language, the role of dispositions in psychology, human perceptions of conformity and bias, and mindfulness.
The Role of the Unconscious
In a recent study, participants holding a cup of hot coffee rated a target person as being warmer than did those holding a cup of iced coffee, and participants had no awareness of this physical experience on their personality judgments (Williams & Bargh, 2008). A surprising amount of human behavior may be influenced by environmental variables operating outside conscious awareness (Bowers, 1987; Custers & Aarts, 2010; Hassin, Uleman, & Bargh, 2005). For example, participants readily mimicked confederate behavior and did not notice that any imitation had occurred (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999), participants primed with the word elderly subsequently walked slower when they left an experimental room (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996), and participants waiting at an airport were more likely to make a donation if they had been asked questions about their friends, rather than their co-workers (Fitzsimons & Bargh, 2003).
The ability of the environment to unconsciously affect behavior resembles the research of the biologist Jacques Loeb, who had an enormous influence on Skinner (Hackenberg, 1995). By studying tropisms (in which simple organisms orient to a source of stimulation), Loeb provided a deterministic account of behavior that avoided hypothetical inner causes (Pauly, 1987). Skinner was sympathetic to Loeb's analysis and argued that a science of behavior could only proceed when an internal initiating homunculus was eliminated and that "behavior may be extensively modified by variables of which ... the subject is never aware" (Skinner, 1963, p. 957).
That Skinner was sympathetic to the unconscious is also supported by Skinner's claim that psychoanalysis may have come closest to a unified theory of man (Skinner, 1969), and Skinner cited Freud more than any other author (Richelle, 1993). Although Skinner was critical of inner Freudian constructs (such as the id, ego, and superego), Skinner and Freud shared several assumptions about human nature, not only about positivism and determinism but also in their emphasis on historical explanations as critical in explaining human behavior (Overskeid, 2007; but see Smith, 1986). Skinner and Freud also agreed that humans may not be aware of the true causes of their behavior (Skinner, 1969), which is confirmed by current psychological research (Dijksterhuis & Aarts, 2010; see also Wilson, 2002) and neuroscience, showing that the human brain primarily operates outside conscious introspective awareness (Frith, 2007; see also Libet, Gleason, Wright, & Pearl, 1983). *
Bargh (2008) noted that unconscious environmental influences on human behavior better aligns psychology with the natural sciences, in which the assumption of conscious primacy is less prevalent, and where examples of complex yet unconscious mechanisms in animals and plants are plentiful (see also Baum & Heath, 1992). Aligning psychology with the natural sciences was a common Skinnerian theme (Skinner, 1953), and Skinner's animal research would certainly be relevant (e.g., see Epstein, Lanza, & Skinner, 1981). Bargh's title, "Free Will Is Un-natural," also resembles Skinner's writings. For example, in Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner noted that while people feel free, this view "must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment" (Skinner, 1971, p. 17; see also Skinner, 1983, p. 318). Finally, Bargh noted that "by theoretically extending the reach of external stimuli to the internal representations of the environment ... much of what Skinner (1957) claimed in terms of direct environmental control over the higher mental processes has now been validated" (Bargh, 2008, p. 142).
While human behavior is clearly influenced unconsciously by environmental events, humans have a powerful tendency to infer that their behavior is driven by conscious acts of will. Recently, in The Illusion of Conscious Will (ICW), Wegner (2002) showed that conscious will may be an illusion, rather than a true causal sequence causing action. For example, driving long distances without conscious recollection (Salvucci & Taatgen, 2008) shows that action may occur without conscious will. Similarly, the feeling of willing a movement that cannot occur, such as in phantom limbs (Ramachandran & Blakeslee, 1998), shows that conscious will may occur without action. Notably, if conscious will caused action, conscious will must lock on to that causal relation, and contrary examples are not minor anomalies but evidence invalidating the principle (Wegner, 2004; see also Kimble & Perlmuter, 1970).
There are remarkable similarities between ICW and Skinner's work. For example, Skinner (1974) noted that conscious thoughts or feelings were typically invoked as behavioral causes because conscious thoughts or feelings may immediately precede behavior. However, conscious thoughts or feelings may be collateral products of environmental and genetic histories, rather than true behavioral causes (Skinner, 1974). Similarly, in ICW, external events may unconsciously influence action and generate unconscious thoughts. If those unconscious thoughts generated a conscious intention prior to behavior, the person would fail to detect the influence of the environmental event and mistakenly conclude that the conscious intention caused the behavior (Wegner, 2002). Compare ICW to the following Skinner quotation:
There is evidence that empirically valid but counterintuitive research generates criticism (Goddard, 2009), and the counterintuitive nature of ICW and Skinner's work has resulted in an odd alliance. For example, while Skinner was labeled a dangerous fool or a Nazi (Richelle, 1993), ICW was labeled "an unwarrantable impertinence" (Kihlstrom, 2004, p. 667) and a "blow that would be the end of the world" (Nahmias, 2002, p. 539). While Skinner was unfairly criticized for his robotization of man by a French journalist in 1974 (Richelle, 1993), more than 30 years later, Wegner wrote, "Are we the robots?" (Wegner, 2005, p. 19).
Wegner (2008) also compared the illusion of conscious will to a magic trick in that, just as an audience may not appreciate the backstage preparations needed to create the illusion of sawing a lady in half, a person may not appreciate the backstage preparations needed to create the illusion of personal agency. Skinner made a similar point when he noted that the appeal of inner causes resembles "the magical" (Skinner, 1974, p. 178). Wegner also made explicit that he was not immune from the illusion, just as Skinner made explicit that he was not an autonomous man (Smith, 1996; Vargas, 2004). In addition, Wegner suggested that an illusion of personal agency may facilitate social control, as actions perceived as voluntary may be "susceptible to modification through reinforcement" (p. 243; see also Rakos, 2004). Of course, social control and reinforcement were favorite Skinnerian topics (Skinner, 1976; see also Altus & Morris, 2009), and recent research in behavioral economics is consistent with Skinner's vision (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Finally, supporting the introductory comments by Day (1969), Skinner's libertarian position and consistent criticism of punishment and negative reinforcement are not only inimical to the dark Orwellian images often associated with Skinnerian control but closely resemble Thaler and Sunstein's (2008) principle of libertarian paternalism (e.g., see Dinsmoor, 1992; Flora, 2004).
Verbal Behavior (Skinner, 1957) was a theoretical extension of operant conditioning to human language. The book was lengthy, and Skinner spent more than 20 years revising and updating the manuscript in consultation with colleagues and students (Skinner, 1957). In broad strokes, Skinner hypothesized that a speaker's verbal behavior could be rewarded by an audience's attention, extinguished by an audience's inattention, or punished by an audience's criticism (Skinner, 1957). The book was attacked by Chomsky (1959), whose critique popularized cognitivism and contributed to the decline of behaviorism (Todd & Morris, 1992; Virues-Ortega, 2006).
Notably, though, even Chomsky conceded the following:
Chomsky (1959) also directed readers to Krasner's (1958) review summarizing 31 studies showing that particular verbal utterances could be increased with social rewards. Krasner noted that "only a handful of Ss in these studies become aware of the learning nature of the situation" (Krasner, 1958, p. 164) and that social reward may be effective partly because social rewards can operate outside conscious awareness. Indeed, when the studies in Krasner are carefully examined, it is remarkable how similar the methodologies are to the methodologies outlined by Bargh (2008). That is, in studies cited by both Bargh and Krasner, researchers introduce an environmental event while participants are engaging in a separate activity, and behavior is measurably changed outside conscious introspective awareness.
Several researchers have also since shown that Chomsky's critique contained serious flaws (Catania, 2008; MacCorquodale, 1970; Palmer, 2006) and that Chomsky may not have actually read the entire book (Richelle, 1993). For example, Chomsky criticized the drive reduction theory of reinforcement, which never characterized Skinner's position (MacCorquodale, 1970); Chomsky associated Skinner with naive environmentalism, which Skinner consistently rejected (Palmer, 2006); and Chomsky criticized Skinner for ignoring the discussion of objects or people never seen when Skinner had discussed exactly those topics (Richelle, 1993).
Current research on language instruction has also confirmed the strength of Skinner's analysis, particularly in autism, in which a preferred item may be placed in a child's view (but out of reach) with the child rewarded when the item is correctly named (Pellecchia & Hineline, 2007; Sundberg & Michael, 2001). Recently, Schlinger (2008) has shown that citations to Verbal Behavior increased 61% from 1984 to 2004 and that Chomsky's critique has not had the devastating effect on Verbal Behavior that psychologists might assume. Renewed interest in Verbal Behavior may also have been a reaction in the 1980s to both structural linguistics, and its failure to generate practical applications, and linguistic attention to the contextual and social components of language (Schlinger, 2008). Consequently, the death of Verbal Behavior has been "greatly exaggerated" (Schlinger, 2008, p. 336).
The Role of Dispositions in Psychology
Skinner (1990) was critical of hypothetical inner causes in psychology and stated that an emphasis on inner causes (or dispositions) ran the risk of causing an important relation between behavior and its antecedents to be lost. Skinner noted that dispositions were common in psychological theories that appeal to "events taking place somewhere else, at some other level of observation, described in different terms, and measured, if at all, in different dimensions" (Skinner, 1950, p. 193; see also Smith, 1990). Supporting the ease with which a person can mistakenly assume inner causality, Wegner and Wheatley (1999) also showed that participants believed they were responsible for a forced action when they were led to simply think about the action before its occurrence (see also Malle, 2004). Thus, Wegner and Wheatley showed that people are easily fooled into a belief in inner causality, which may partly explain why dispositions are favored in psychology (Skinner, 1950).
Recently, Field and Hineline (2008) coined the term dispositioning, in which ordinary human language hypothesizes internal entities (like personality traits) that have the explicit status of causing behavior. Although formal psychological theory, grounded in scientific epistemology, might give less privileged status to dispositional explanations, Field and Hineline outlined several examples of dispositioning in formal psychological theory. Notably, psychologists have difficulty avoiding dispositioning even when discussing the dangers and problems of using dispositional terms. Like Wegner and Skinner, Field and Hineline suggested that dispositional terms are common because temporal contiguity affects human (Michotte, 1963) and animal (Killeen, 1978) perception of causality, and dispositions can be hypothesized to occur immediately before behavior, while environmental and evolutionary causes are temporally more remote.
Skinner (1961) also noted that the clinical use of dispositional terms, with a more or less pessimistic prospect of improvement, may impede an analysis of the environmental conditions contributing to behavioral problems. Langer (2009) made a similar point when she noted that clinical labels (like depression) discourage a search for the environmental conditions that may improve or impair behavior. Recently, Haslam, Ban, and Kaufmann (2007) showed that psychiatric medicalization causes lay people to conclude that behavioral problems result from identity-defining aberrations that may require harsh and coercive control. Today, there is growing alarm that psychiatric medicalization may be misguided (Horwitz, 2002; Kirk, 2005), that drug use has increased and may be causing harm (Safer, Zito, & DosReis, 2003; Valenstein, 1998; Whitaker, 2010), and that financial incentives, rather than proven scientific benefit, may have expanded drug treatments (Cummings & O'Donohue, 2008; see also Watters, 2010). Finally, acceptance and commitment therapy (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) and behavioral activation therapy (Kanter, Busch, & Rusch, 2009) are effective non-drug therapies rooted in Skinnerian principles (Flora, 2007; Rutherford, 2009).
Human Perceptions of Conformity and Bias
Skinner maintained that people should be wary of introspection because "there are no sensory nerves going to the right parts of the brain" (Skinner, 1987, p. 782) and introspection was like "trying to hear supersonic sounds or see electromagnetic radiation beyond the visible range" (Skinner, 1974, p. 238). Skinner's comments are supported by research showing that consciousness is unable to access the predominantly unconscious brain processes involved in human behavior (Frith, Blakemore, & Wolpert, 2000). Skinner also noted that introspectively observed feelings were "warm, salient, and demanding" (Skinner, 1975, p. 43) and introspection was common when people explained their own behavior, even though the contingencies by which the verbal community reinforced introspection were defective (Skinner, 1957). Consequently, Skinner concluded that "in spite of the apparent intimacy of the world within the skin, and in spite of the advantage a person enjoys as an observer of his personal history, another person may know more about why he behaves" (Skinner, 1974, p. 34).
Classic experiments in psychology have demonstrated the power of conformity, or social influence, on human behavior (Asch, 1956; Milgram, 1963). Further, people consider others more conforming than themselves in a wide range of domains, from political views to consumer purchases (Pronin, Berger, & Molouki, 2007). A person may fail to detect conformity because the processes leading to conformity operate outside introspective awareness, but people treat introspection as a gold standard in self-assessment (Pronin, Gilovich, & Ross, 2004). Since an introspective analysis cannot detect conformity, an introspective illusion occurs and the person erroneously concludes that he or she was not a victim of conformity (Pronin et al., 2007). However, by focusing on the behavior of other people, the person may detect conformity in others (Douglas & Sutton, 2004), supporting Skinner's claim that another person may better know the reasons behind a person's behavior (Skinner, 1974).
In addition, people readily infer that there is bias in others, such as the hindsight bias (Ash, 2009) or intergroup bias (Gaertner & Dovidio, 2008), but deny bias in themselves, as the processes leading to bias may also operate outside introspective awareness (Pronin, 2007). This asymmetry also has implications for conflict escalation, as people assume that when others disagree with them, the others are in error, since they themselves believe they objectively perceive reality (Kennedy & Pronin, 2008). Finally, people believe they feel things more deeply than others (McFarland & Miller, 1990), supporting Skinner's view that introspection is flawed, since research could not show conformity or bias if people can find no traces of conformity or bias and can feel things more deeply than others.
In a recent article, Pronin (2008) noted that people's tendencies to view themselves using introspection results in positive illusions, pluralistic ignorance, and miscommunications. Skinner made a similar point when he noted that privacy interferes with accurate knowledge (Skinner, 1975). Pronin also noted that people have difficulty realizing that perception may not be accurate because of imperfections in vision and the distorting pressures of hopes and desires. Skinner made a similar point when he noted that humans may not be able to perceive reality accurately because they cannot see the environment "on its way in" (Skinner, 1975, p. 44). Finally, Pronin noted that a person's focus on intentions, rather than past behavior, may result in unrealistic optimism, particularly when a person is faced with a deadline. Skinner made a similar point when he noted that intentions may not translate into behavior until environmental contingencies are changed (Skinner, 1987).
In part, mindfulness is the concept that while people often fail to pay attention to their surroundings, they can be trained to focus on, and alter, their environment to improve personal well-being (Langer, 1989). Skinner's own ability to focus on, and alter, his environment was legendary. For example, at 10 years of age, after being reprimanded for failing to hang up his pajamas, Skinner used a string to connect a closet hook to a sign reading "Hang up your pajamas." When he forgot to hang up his pajamas, the sign was prominently displayed on his bedroom door, and the sign was raised above eye level only when his pajamas were properly hung on the closet hook (Bjork, 1993; see also Epstein, 1997; Smith, 1992; Vargas, 2004).
In the book Counterclockwise, Langer (2009) noted that when a person reaches for a dish on a high shelf and accidentally drops it, the person may mindlessly assume that he or she is clumsy rather than being mindful of the possibility that the shelf was designed for someone taller. Older adults may also fail to think about changing their rooms; for instance, the idea of discarding a table that is never used may not even be considered (Langer, 2009). The control of our environment also has health benefits. For example, nursing home residents caring for a plant in an environment that emphasized personal responsibility showed better health compared to residents whose plant was cared for by staff in an environment that emphasized staff responsibility (Langer & Rodin, 1976). In support of the health benefits arising from environmental control, Skinner was revising a manuscript the day before he died and delivered a 15-min talk, without the aid of notes, less than 2 weeks before his death (Vargas, 1991).
In the book Enjoy Old Age, Skinner and Vaughan (1983) also emphasized the importance of altering the environment to improve well-being, particularly as a person ages. For example, like Langer (2009), Skinner and Vaughan noted that high shelves may be avoided by putting things within easy reach and that a pleasant living space may be accomplished by discarding never-used items (Skinner & Vaughan, 1983). Also, like Langer, Skinner and Vaughan noted that nursing homes may hasten the death of their residents by giving unneeded help (Skinner & Vaughan, 1983). Skinner even worried that he was guilty of the same mistake when he pushed branches aside for his granddaughter and deprived her of the opportunity to learn how to avoid branches (Epstein, 1980).
There is also a similar degree of optimism when comparing Counterclockwise (Langer, 2009) with Enjoy Old Age (Skinner & Vaughan, 1983; but see Chance, 2007). For example, Langer (2009) discussed the psychology of possibility and encouraged people to question old ways of thinking and behaving (Langer, 2009). Similarly, Skinner and Vaughan (1983) encouraged people to convert self-evident truths into their opposite and to avoid doing things in habitual ways (Skinner & Vaughan, 1983).
Finally, Counterclockwise contains a section called "Reversing Zeno's Paradox" in which a final goal may be reached by taking small steps (Langer, 2009). For example, Langer (2009) discussed a nursing home resident with upper body paralysis who was first encouraged to raise her arm and, after much work and many steps, was finally able to blow her nose. Reversing Zeno's Paradox resembles Skinner's principle of shaping, in which successive approximations to a final goal are reinforced (Skinner, 1938; see also Peterson, 2004).
Summary and Conclusion
Research showing that the environment unconsciously affects human behavior supports Skinner's view that human verbal and nonverbal behavior can be unconsciously shaped by environmental factors. Wegner's research showing that conscious will may be an illusion nicely corresponds with Skinner's view that inner agency, and dispositional terms, was a powerful impediment in psychology. Finally, Pronin's research that introspection is flawed and Langer's concept of mindfulness have clear parallels in Skinner's work. With certain notable exceptions (e.g., see Bargh, 1997; Bargh & Ferguson, 2000), why have psychologists generally failed to notice these striking similarities?
One possibility is that behavior analysts may be removed, or insulated, from main-stream psychology (Fantino, 2008; Harzem, 2000). As the university reward structure fosters increasing specialization (Dewsbury, 2009), behavior analysts and mainstream psychologists may be publishing in different journals (and attending different conferences), and there may be little interaction between the two groups. In addition, publication barriers may exist in mainstream psychology journals even when behavior analysts are attempting to dispel Skinnerian myths (e.g., see Morris, Smith, & Lazo, 2005). In an unsettling paper, Morris et al. (2005) outlined how mainstream journal editors conveyed the implication that Skinner was "history."
Miller and Pollock (1994) noted that sometimes psychologists use new names for old concepts, and thus correspondence with a prior literature may be missed. For example, people tend to perceive others as more similar to themselves, in what is called a false consensus effect (Ross, 1977). However, because prior research had labeled the phenomenon assimilative projection, or assumed similarity, researchers failed to cite much of this prior literature (Miller & Pollock, 1994). Emotional intelligence also generated great excitement, but psychologists had studied a similar phenomenon called social intelligence for at least 65 years (Landy, 2006).
Consider how the use of new names for old concepts may apply to Malle (2004). The book title How the Mind Explains Behavior appears incompatible with radical behaviorism. But, on closer inspection, one discovers that Malle is studying verbal explanations, which is clearly relevant to Verbal Behavior (Skinner, 1957). To take one example, a person may verbally explain a transgression by citing the pressures of studying and a lack of sleep (Malle, 2004). While Malle suggested that the explanation serves an impression management function, Skinner might suggest that the explanation avoids punishment (Skinner, 1957). Remarkably, Malle's book does not contain a single Skinner citation, and behavior analysts seem to have ignored Malle completely. Skinner (1945) emphasized that an operational analysis of psychological terms was critical in a science of behavior, but mainstream psychologists and behavior analysts may be focusing more on the terms rather than the operational analysis.
O'Donohue, Callaghan, and Ruckstuhl (1998) noted that scientific progress typically requires that people overcome powerful epistemological barriers, or obstacles, posed by their prior views. As folk psychology is more compatible with cognitive science and less compatible with radical behaviorism, this may partly explain the problematic exegesis that has plagued many of Skinner's ideas (see also Goddard, 2009). Current empirical research supporting Skinner's radical behaviorism may be part of a larger secular trend in psychology that may eventually allow people to overcome these powerful folk psychological beliefs.
Finally, the present paper joins other efforts to integrate Skinnerian ideas into mainstream psychology. For example, Roediger (2000) noted that even the most cognitively oriented experimentalists study some sort of behavior, Overskeid (2008) suggested there was a window of opportunity for reintegrating behavior analysis into mainstream psychology, and Uttal (2000) outlined why behaviorism may be the next wave of scientific psychology (see also Uttal, 2004, 2007). Richelle's (1993) prediction that psychologists may eventually discover that Skinner was a forerunner in the theory and practice of psychology may prove to be remarkably prescient.
This work was supported by a sabbatical leave from the University of New Brunswick, Saint John, and a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
I would like to thank Laurence D. Smith for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper and Marilyn MacLeod for her support.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Murray J. Goddard, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada E2L 4L5. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Murray J. Goddard
University of New Brunswick
By discovering or rediscovering Skinner and Skinner's views as they really are, psychologists could also put their own current reflections in proper perspective ... in many areas of theory and of practice, he was
It is my purpose to point out certain similarities between the Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein and the work of B.F. Skinner. In doing this, I hope to stimulate a somewhat deeper appreciation of Skinner's views than is generally found among psychologists at the present time. I hope also to influence the critical appraisal of Skinner's work, so that it might come to bear more cogently upon the position as it has actually developed. I feel that much of the current criticism (e.g., Chomsky, 1959) misses its mark largely because it seems to take for granted that Skinner adopts philosophical perspectives which are in fact inimical to his views. (Day, 1969, p. 489)
As the experimental analysis has shown, behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences, but only by consequences that lie in the past. We do what we do because of what has happened, not what will happen. Unfortunately, what has happened leaves few observable traces, and why we do what we do and how likely we are to do it are therefore largely beyond the reach of introspection. Perhaps, that is why, as I will show later, behavior has so often been attributed to an initiating, originating, or creative act of will. (Skinner, 1989, p. 14)
In fairness it must be mentioned that there are certain nontrivial applications of operant conditioning to the control of human behavior. A wide variety of experiments have shown that the number of plural nouns (for example) produced by a subject will increase if the experimenter says "right" or "good" ... It is of some interest that the subject is usually unaware of the process. (Chomsky, 1959, p. 32)
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