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B.F. Skinner and Radical Behaviorism

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B. F. Skinner, as he is known popularly, had made much contribution to psychology as he made confusions and debates. In delving into Skinner’s works, it is not surprising that researching about him and his ideas will overwhelm a student by the immense literature on Radical Behaviorism as well as will be lost in the confusion and humdrum of his “theory”. Thus, it is important in the narrative that it should be divided into smaller units as to delineate subjects about the whole topic. The first part will deal with a short biography of Skinner.

This will only trace his career but will also include some sketches of his life that may have contributed to his line of thought and thinking. Presented in the next section are some ideas about his Radical Behaviorism and a rather shallow understanding of it. The difficulty in here however is that as one goes deeper into Radical Behaviorism, the more it is complex and confusing that the brevity of this paper will not permit. The third part is the presentation of some of the influences Radical Behaviorism had made in other fields of study.

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Many authors and many scholars would claim that Radical Behaviorism had influenced their fields, although only some of these fields will be presented. On the next section, a presentation be made on the criticisms on Radical Behavior. With a gigantic amount of literature written by B. F. Skinner, it is in no doubt that there will also be a great amount of published criticisms on Radical Behaviorism and only a few have made their way here. As a whole this paper will not be an ambitious research about B. F.Skinner and Radical Behaviorism but just to answer on the surface as: (1) Who is B. F. Skinner? ; (2) What is Radical Behaviorism? ; (3) What are the fields of study influenced by Radical.

According to Hall, Lindzey & Campbell (1998) as well as Vargas (2004), Skinner lived his early life with much warmth and stability – his parents giving him much freedom on discovery and his inventiveness. As Skinner’s daughter, Julie S. Vargas (2004) would attest that her grandmother gave her father the freedom to discover things and to develop his abilities. On the other hand, she was also strict in social matters, such as etiquette, and the young man devised many things to help him remember his mother’s social controls (Vargas, 2004).

Nonetheless, the family gave emphasis on open debate over things and topics, although they have some conservative stance on certain things. With an interest on Literature, having been encouraged by Robert Frost, Skinner attended a small liberal arts school of Hamilton College where he majored in English, determined to become a writer (Hall, Lindzey & Campbell, 1998). He was not successful though in writing, then he left home for New York and went to Harvard University for graduate studies (Vargas, 2004).

In 1931, he received his Ph. D. and moved to the University of Minnesota in 1936 for an academic position, where for 9 years he would claim and establish a name as one of the most influential experimental psychologists of that time (Hall, Lindzey & Campbell, 1998). He then went to the University of Indiana for a short stay, in 1945 and returned to Harvard in 1948 to stay for the duration of his entire career until his retirement in 1974, where he would enrich all his ideas and theories (Vargas, 2004).

Finally, on March 18, 1990 one of the most celebrated and controversial psychologists of all time died of leukemia, leaving behind a “ripple effect of his life’s work” as the “Operant procedures have crated entire fields [of science]” (Vargas, 2004) Radical Behaviorism Radical Behaviorism is a term attributed to B. F. Skinner (Schneider & Morris, 1987), described as a distinction from the so-called Methodological Behaviorism and the “rest of psychology” (Malone & Cruchon, 2001). To contrast the two kinds of behaviorism, it is noteworthy to define both.

By definition, Methodological Behaviorism is the: …view that there is a distinction between public and private events and that psychology (to remain scientific) can deal only with public events … private events are ‘mental’ and, therefore, beyond our reach … the “arid philosophy of truth by agreement” (Skinner, 1945) [that] something is meaningful or objective only if at least two observers agree on its existence. (Malone & Cruchon, 2001) According to Skinner’s viewpoint, Radical Behaviorism is quite different because, “it does not distinguish between private and public events.

In so doing, it omits nothing commonly thought of as mental, but it treats ‘seeing’ as an activity similar in kind to walking (Malone & Cruchon, 2001). This is because Skinner “deny the mind/body dualism of the mentalists and the methodological behaviorists” (Malone & Cruchon, 2001). As an example, Malone and Cruchon (2001) succinctly described that: Thinking is something that we do, just as is walking, and we do not think mental thoughts any more than we walk mental steps. Personal experience is not necessarily ‘private’ experience.

That part of the world within our bodies is difficult to describe because society has a difficult time teaching us to name it. (Malone & Cruchon, 2001) In other words, Skinner departed from analyzing behaviour as actions affected by our thoughts rather he argued that thoughts are effects themselves to a degree from our actions (Malone & Cruchon, 2001).

Instead of saying that the organism sees, attends to, perceives, ‘processes,’ or otherwise acts upon stimuli, an operant analysis holds that stimuli acquire control of behavior through the part they play in contingencies of reinforcement. Instead of saying that an organism stores copies of the contingencies to which it is exposed and later retrieves and responds to them again, it says that the organism is changed by the contingencies and later responds as a changed organism, the contingencies having passed into history. (Skinner, 1987)

That is, “All operants and stimuli are members of classes of similar phenomena, defined by the environmental relations in which they participate. ” (Ritzer, 2005). This is further said in the article Evolution of Verbal Behavior as: …species-specific behavior did not evolve in order that a species could adapt to the environment but rather evolved when it adapted, so we say that operant behavior is not strengthened by reinforcement in order that the individual can adjust to the environment but is strengthened when the individual adjusts.

This is to say that Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism rests on the study of behavior in a sense that behavior is not caused by the stimuli but depends on the actions that a person reacts to in a certain setting (environment) resulting into another reaction, thus; “The environment not only triggered behavior, it selected it. Consequences seemed, indeed, to be more important than antecedents. ” (Skinner, 1987). Some Influences by Skinner’s Behaviorism

Surely, the influence of Radical Behaviorism in the applied fields has been proven by academic scholars in numerous research writings as part or a whole of some other fields in psychology. One such field is Human Geography, so called because it is “concerned with the spatial differentiation and organization of human activity and with human use of the physical environment” (Norton, 1997) and is concerned mainly of human behavior in an environment.

In here, Norton (1997) corroborated that Human Geography is related to Radical Behaviorism because the principle of cultural materialism as an approach to the study of the former is similar to latter as: Radical behaviorism is concerned with the identification of the principles of individual behavior and talks about reinforcers and punishers, while cultural materialism is concerned with group behavior and talks about benefits and costs. Both argue that behavioral responses to environmental variables precede mental rationalizations as to the reasons for responses.

” (Norton, 1997) Norton (1997) further adds that the research approach of Human Geography is “the analysis of behavior in landscape”, advocating the use of Radical Behaviorism. Secondly, it has also influenced the approaches of the analysis of Human Cognition as Barnes and Holmes (1991) would contend. This is because, they said that, “radical behaviorism does, on the contrary, and as opposed to earlier forms of behaviorism, direct considerable attention towards phenomena called ‘cognitive.

’” (Barnes and Holmes, 1991), giving credit to the importance of the “contextualistic perspective” in the analysis of human thought. Further, they said that, “its current burgeoning of interest in human behavior, and particularly language and symbolic control, have yet to be fully appreciated and explored” (Barnes and Holmes, 1991), such that Radical Behaviorism, “can play an important role in developing psychology into a fully formed science” (Barnes and Holmes, 1991). Third, as formulated by Skinner, one such field influenced by Radical Behaviorism is the analysis of Verbal Behavior and communication.

In the study conducted by Forsyth (1996) on the Language of Feeling, he identified Behaviorism as a good approach to such an analyses furthering understanding of the communication process. He said that “the functional analysis of verbal behavior has served as the cornerstone for behavior analytic research and theory about emotional behavior beginning with how people learn to label and describe their experience using language”, commending its use in clinical behaviour analysis.

Fourth, an interesting proposal of the use of Radical Behaviorism is the simulation or duplication of a community called Walden Two (Cullen, 1991), based on a novel by Skinner of the same title. The interesting part is that this proposal carried out for a community of disabled children having behavior deficits. This community was called Comunidad Los Horcones which was started in 1971 and has continued up to the present, followed the guiding rules based on the novel (Cullen, 1991).

Cullen (1991) argued that the guiding principles of Radical Behaviorism can sustain a community, nonetheless the presence o only a handful of these kinds of community make it less probable for practical use. In the outset, the promise that, “it might provide the basis for sensible planning in the lives of people with learning disabilities” (Cullen, 1991). Criticisms Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism came out into the academic arena without and exemption from criticisms.

According to Malone and Cruchon (2001), Skinner’s over-simplification of in his prose on the principles of Radical Behaviorism to gain public readership caused further criticisms because those who read it misunderstood it further. They said that these criticisms are, “attributable to the opacity of his prose and the excessiveness of his proposed applications” (Malone & Cruchon, 2001).

Thus, the writings of Skinner led to many misconceptions as well as misinterpretations of Skinner’s works (Ruiz, 1995). Skinner have regretted this himself later in his life as he “eventually complained at having to redress misconstructions in the literature” (Ruiz, 1995). Quite interestingly is that Skinner’s Radical Behavior, undoubtedly had been misconstrued with these “labels” and had been the source of fierce criticisms from many quarters (Ruiz, 1995). Furthermore, Ruiz’s (1995) first entry in the misinterpretation list about Radical Behaviorism as “a mechanistic stimulus-response psychology”, was also claimed by Hall, Lindzey and Campbell (1998). In the long run, Skinner suffered misinterpretation rather than the validity of his Radical Behaviorism as a science.

All three sources would agree that Skinner was misinterpreted and misunderstood (Malone & Cruchon, 2001; Ruiz, 1995; Hall, Lindzey & Campbell, 1998), because his readers and supporters as well as critiques always place labels on approaches, techniques or methods of analyses. Conclusion B. F, Skinner is a remarkable scholar of the 20th century, having to influence a handful of fields of study. In retrospect, Skinner started out with a humble beginning and his upbringing may have contributed to the immense power of thinking.

His Radical Behaviorism, was an attempt of Skinner to delineate his ideas from the whole of behaviorism and the rest of psychology. In such doing, a new breed of approach had taken shape. His ideas on Radical Behaviorism eventually influenced many other fields of study for application and as an approach to many experiments. On the other hand, with such a remarkable approach, B. F. Skinner and Radical Behaviorism had been attacked by numerous criticisms simply because of its complexity; Skinner himself often over-simplify his writings to cover a wider audience that also caused much confusion and labeling on Radical Behaviorism.

Nonetheless, many students and scholars also interpreted and cleared-out his ideas for better understanding such as Malone and Cruchon’s work (2001). Finally, Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism, according to most articles and proposition has a great promise to give for the science of psychology. While it is a fact, as many sources would say, that Skinner’s works are misinterpreted and confused, there is no way that in the subsequent debates and further studies on his Radical Behaviorism that it will shed more understanding to a wider audience.

B.F. Skinner and Radical Behaviorism essay

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