The ABCs of Rat Psychology

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDay 25: Skin­ner Hor­ror Files

Behav­ioral Psy­chol­o­gy Explained


Albert Bandura

Albert Ban­dura

The fol­low­ing infor­ma­tion is from Jed Brown’s report “The ‘Skin­ner Box’ School” which is repro­duced in its entire­ty as Appen­dix XX in my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca. This will be very help­ful for those who have nev­er been taught about behav­ioral psy­chol­o­gy. If you want to under­stand what is hap­pen­ing to chil­dren, this briefly tells the story:

Three dif­fer­ent types of psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion­ing have invad­ed schools with Out­come- Based Edu­ca­tion and edu­ca­tion reform. Each type has its spec­i­fied pur­pose in con­trol­ling the behav­ior, and there­fore the minds, atti­tudes, and val­ues of our young. The first is Clas­si­cal Con­di­tion­ing, devel­oped by a Russ­ian phys­i­ol­o­gist named Ivan Pavlov only a few years before Watson’s con­cep­tion of Behav­ior­ism. The sec­ond, cred­it­ed to B.F. Skin­ner, is Oper­ant or Instru­men­tal Con­di­tion­ing. The third, attrib­uted to Albert Ban­dura, is Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing. Each of these Behav­ior­ist con­di­tion­ing approach­es is woven through the OBE reforms of edu­ca­tion to accom­plish only one thing: to con­trol atti­tudes by con­trol­ling behavior.

Clas­si­cal, or Pavlov­ian Con­di­tion­ing can be defined as cre­at­ing a rel­a­tive­ly per­ma­nent change in behav­ior by the asso­ci­a­tion of a new stim­u­lus with an old stim­u­lus that elic­its a par­tic­u­lar response. Work­ing on phys­i­ol­o­gy exper­i­ments, Pavlov not­ed that each time the dogs he used as sub­jects were to be fed they began to sali­vate. He iden­ti­fied the food as the “old” stim­u­lus and the sali­va­tion as the response, or behav­ior. Pavlov rang a bell each time the food was pre­sent­ed to the dogs. The bell was iden­ti­fied as the “new” stim­u­lus. After sev­er­al pair­ings of the bell and the food, he found that the dogs would sali­vate with the bell alone. A change in behav­ior had occurred.

salivating dogAll well and good, but what do dogs, food, sali­va, and bells have to do with chang­ing atti­tudes in chil­dren? Just like Pavlov’s dogs, children’s behav­ior pat­terns can be changed with Clas­si­cal Con­di­tion­ing. Upon suf­fi­cient pair­ings, a child will asso­ciate old behav­ior pat­terns and con­se­quent atti­tudes with new stim­uli. The Pavlov­ian approach is there­fore a potent weapon for those who wish to change the belief struc­tures of our chil­dren. Fur­ther, Clas­si­cal Con­di­tion­ing may be used to set chil­dren up for fur­ther con­di­tion­ing that is nec­es­sary for more com­plex atti­tude shifts. The method is being used to desen­si­tize chil­dren to cer­tain issues that hereto­fore would have been con­sid­ered inap­pro­pri­ate for school-age children.

One exam­ple of an atti­tude change by Pavlov­ian con­di­tion­ing revolves around the word “fam­i­ly.” The term “fam­i­ly,” as it is applied to the home set­ting, is used as the old stim­u­lus. The alle­giance to par­ents and sib­lings that is nor­mal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the term “fam­i­ly” may be thought of as the response, or behav­ior. With the cur­rent edu­ca­tion reform move­ment the child is told by the teacher that the school class is now the fam­i­ly. Thus, the term “class” may be thought of as the new stim­u­lus. By con­tin­u­al­ly refer­ring to the class or class­room as the fam­i­ly, an atti­tude change takes place. By asso­ci­a­tion, the child is con­di­tioned to give fam­i­ly alle­giance to the class and teacher.

pavlov cartoonAn exam­ple of desen­si­tiz­ing chil­dren through Clas­si­cal Con­di­tion­ing can be seen in the inclu­sion of gen­der ori­en­ta­tion with­in the cur­ricu­lum. The school set­ting may be thought of as the old stim­u­lus. The for­mal school set­ting car­ries with it a whole set of emo­tion­al-behav­ioral respons­es, or behav­iors. There is an air of author­i­ty and legit­i­ma­cy that is attached to those sub­jects includ­ed in the cur­ricu­lum. This feel­ing of legit­i­ma­cy can be con­sid­ered a behav­ioral response. By plac­ing the top­ic of gen­der ori­en­ta­tion into the cur­ricu­lum, it is asso­ci­at­ed with legit­i­ma­cy of the school set­tings. Thus, chil­dren are desen­si­tized to a top­ic that is dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tion­al val­ue struc­ture, and hence they are pre­dis­posed to fur­ther conditioning.

The real meat and pota­toes of Out­come-Based Edu­ca­tion is Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing, or Rat Psy­chol­o­gy, so called because B.F. Skin­ner used rats as his exper­i­men­tal sub­jects. A “Skin­ner Box,” a box con­tain­ing a press bar and a place to dis­pense a food pel­let, is used to con­di­tion the rat to press the bar (the behav­ior). A food pel­let (the stim­u­lus) is used to rein­force the desired behav­ior, press­ing the bar. The rat, hav­ing no idea what to expect, is placed in the box. Once in the box, the rat’s move­ments are explorato­ry and ran­dom. As soon as the rat looks towards the bar, the exper­i­menter releas­es a food pel­let. After eat­ing the food the rat resumes his ran­dom move­ment. Anoth­er look, anoth­er pel­let. Anoth­er look, anoth­er pellet.

rat psychologyOnce the rat is trained to look at the bar, he is required to approach the bar before the pel­let is deliv­ered. The rat must then come clos­er and clos­er to the bar each time before rein­force­ment is giv­en. Over time, the rat’s behav­ior is slow­ly shaped by the exper­i­menter; each tri­al the rat suc­ces­sive­ly approx­i­mates more close­ly the ulti­mate behav­ior of press­ing the bar. Even­tu­al­ly the well-con­di­tioned rat will con­tin­u­al­ly press the bar as fast as he can eat. Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing is, there­fore, defined as a rel­a­tive­ly per­ma­nent change in behav­ior by suc­ces­sive approx­i­ma­tions through repeat­ed tri­als using pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive reinforcements.

The con­cept of “suc­ces­sive approx­i­ma­tion” is key to under­stand­ing the use of Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing with Out­come-Based Edu­ca­tion. Just as for the rat, the exper­i­menter (the State) estab­lish­es the ulti­mate goals for chil­dren (press­ing the bar). OBE requires that spe­cif­ic behav­ioral out­comes be designed such that the chil­dren must mas­ter each out­come in suc­ces­sion. The out­comes are designed in a spi­ral fash­ion, such that as the child goes fur­ther in school, the out­comes more close­ly approx­i­mate the ulti­mate goals. As chil­dren mas­ter an out­come, the rein­force­ment is found in approval (food pel­lets). Anoth­er out­come, more approval. Anoth­er out­come, more approval (suc­ces­sive approx­i­ma­tion). When the Skin­ner Box exper­i­ment is com­plete, our chil­dren, like rats, will dance to the tune of the State.

rat psychology2Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing, although it does not car­ry the name con­di­tion­ing, has been described by Dol­lard and Miller as a spe­cial case of Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing. It is Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing applied to social behav­ior. Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing is the twen­ty-five cent word for mod­el­ing. There are two pur­pos­es for Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing in the schools. First, it is a method used to con­di­tion a host of social behav­iors, like par­ent­ing styles, gen­der roles, prob­lem-solv­ing strate­gies, and dis­ci­pline bound­aries. Sec­ond, it is used as rein­forcer of the behav­iors and atti­tudes pre­vi­ous­ly con­di­tioned with Clas­si­cal and Oper­ant Con­di­tion­ing.

Accord­ing to Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing, peo­ple mod­el the behav­ior of those with­in their “ref­er­ence groups.” Under nor­mal con­di­tions, the child’s pri­ma­ry ref­er­ence group is the fam­i­ly. Nev­er­the­less, chil­dren are being con­di­tioned with Clas­si­cal meth­ods to shift alle­giance to their new school fam­i­ly, their new ref­er­ence group. Once the new group is estab­lished, schools use sur­veys to gauge atti­tudes and then orches­trate the con­di­tion­ing process through Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing. Rely­ing almost exclu­sive­ly on coop­er­a­tive learn­ing (group learn­ing), OBE reforms unfor­tu­nate­ly use Obser­va­tion­al Learn­ing to estab­lish and enforce the prop­er behav­iors and atti­tudes through peer pres­sure and a forced “group think” process.

Observational Learning BanduraThe idea that our schools are not deal­ing in atti­tudes and val­ues is ludi­crous. The psy­chol­o­gists have ripped the schools from par­ents and teach­ers alike. Their only objec­tive is to cre­ate chil­dren who may look dif­fer­ent, but behave the same, think the same, and believe the same. They shall cre­ate in each child the “per­fect child.” Like John B. Wat­son, they shall cre­ate chil­dren as they see fit. They shall do it with con­di­tion­ing, not teach­ing. Is it any won­der that our schools are fail­ing to edu­cate chil­dren when we use rats as the exam­ple of exem­plary learn­ing? Wel­come to the “Brave New World.” Wel­come to the “SKINNER BOX SCHOOL.” [all emphases added]