- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Stopping with the 'reinforcement schedule' crap

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 08, 19100 at 00:24:14:

In Reply to: References for Stoller posted by Piper on February 07, 19100 at 10:35:49:

: Let's start with the 'Analysis of Behaviour' by Skinner and Holland. Now in this work Skinner et al say that punishment cannot be defined in terms of eliciting a particular effect. The effect of a punishment they say can only be determined via experiment. However they do offer as an example of punishment the following:

: "A child reaches out and touches a flame. The child's behaviour was punished by a natural contingency" (Set 37).

: Are you going to deny the efficacy of that? Seems pretty obvious to me that punishment was effective in such a situation in stopping a child touching fire (and consequently suffering 'pain').

I'm not going to deny the efficacy of that. I'll let Skinner and Holland deny the efficacy of that. Again: 'It is generally not convenient to shape skillful behavior with a negative reinforcer because it elicits many respondents which may interfere with the behavior to be shaped' (Analysis of Behavior, McGraw-Hill 1961, p. 219, 32-37).

: In 'About Behaviourism', Skinner describes the effect of punishment as follows:

: "A punished person remains 'inclined' to behave in a punishable way, but he avoids punishment by doing something else instead, possibly nothing more than stubbornly doing nothing" (at 62).

And that's why punishment is NOT EFFECTIVE. Because the behavior 'waits' to return once the punitive stimuli is removed. Skinner's great discovery was that punishment impedes behavior, it does not extinguish behavior. Worse, punishment creates anxiety which interferes with shaping new behavior.

(See chapter 12 of Science and Human Behavior.)

: Can punishment be used to shape behaviour? (effective in your sense). Well, i think Skinner would have to say 'yes, in some circumstances' to this.

: In 'A New Preface to Beyond Freedom and Dignity' (in 'Recent Issues in the Analysis of Behaviour), Skinner specifically advocates punishment as a means of stopping people from smoking. He says:

: "punish smoking with criticism, complaints, restrictions on where one may smoke and heavy taxes on cigarettes" (at 118)

: But here skinner is advocating punishment in addition to reinforcement of not smoking and commendations for those who do stop. So it would seem that he thinks punishment in combination with positive reinforcers CAN be used to shape behaviour.

Well, Piper, I applaud your perseverance.

You have found Skinner saying something inconsistent with Skinnerianism (there are other examples). However, the OVERALL message should not be discredited by turning up one or two of his exceptional errors.

: So again if somebody is looking to piss somebody off or make them act in certain ways then punishment CAN according to Skinner DO these things, albeit he thinks that it is not a particularly efficient way of shaping behaviour (i.e. controlling people).

That's right. Not particularly efficient. Therefore your statement 'punishment doesn't work, no matter how effective skinner thought it was' clearly MISREPRESENTED Skinner.

Nice researching there, Piper, nonetheless.

: BTW Barry, I think reinforcement is a nonsense deigned to attempt to make psychology deterministic and thus scientific.

Well, the whole behaviorist movement was an attempt to take psychology out of the parlor rooms where charlatans defrauded the idle rich and to put it in the laboratories where human behavior could be studied in the hope of studying behavior on a scientific basis for the benefit of people. Obviously, the promise was not met! But to say, as Chomsky (and Rand) did, that Skinner was interested in controlling people or denuding them of their autonomy was a blatant falsehood.

And that's why I responded so 'aversively' to your post; because you were trying to associate Skinner with punitive sanctions.

: Why does a pigeon raise its head in a Skinner box to get food? Is it because such behaviour has been reinforced? Or is it simply because the pigeon EXPECTS IT? The latter i suspect.

The pigeon 'expects it' BECAUSE the pigeon's behavior has been reinforced. You seem to want observation to be the initiating agent of behavior. We look for nothing until we have been conditioned to look.


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