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5 Insightful Accounts of quarrelsome behavior--jk

Why We Are a Quarrelsome Species


Scientific psychology provides the deepest insights into behavior.  The above stores are illustrative.


Why We Are a Quarrelsome Species



The case of Miss. Kathy Schroeder

            Miss. Schroeder is a 50ish lush, bleached blond hair who lives in an exclusive condo in Leisure World.  I know she is a lush because I volunteered one day to help her carry from her car a case of assorted liquors up to her 2nd floor condo, and because I have seen her early in the morning talking to a neighbor sipping coffee from a 18 ounce mug in a way suggestive of it being spiked with alcohol.  This was in 2000; I was working with Grant Jones installing stone flooring, stone counters, and showers in Dr. Reddy’s condo on the floor above.  About half way through the job, which lasted 2 weeks, Dr. Reddy got a complaint from Kathy that there was a crack in her ceiling, and that he better see that it was repaired.  According to Kathy, the pounding required to remove the old kitchen tile from Dr. Reddy floor had caused the crack in her living room ceiling plaster.   Dr. Reddy refused.  A couple of days later property maintenance also got this complaint.  A worker on the maintenance crew called up Dr. Reddy to tell him of her complaint.  This the Doctor related to Grant and me.  He went on to tell us that he had advised the crew to ignore her complaint.  That he had no intention to do any thing, nor should they.  On a past occasion three years ago she complained of water damager, a small streak running down the wall in her dining room.  The crew had painted it.  She then complained that the paint did not match.  Eventually the crew ended up painting the entire room.  She then wanted them to paint the two adjacent rooms, for of course they now didn’t perfectly match her living room.  On the basis of her past behavior, the Doctor, who happened to be a psychiatrist, predicted the same if anyone attempted to fix the small crack, then the cover-up paint would match. 

            The common sort of explanation of behavior, which invariable has as the causal engine the mind/will, lacks insight.  Kathy likes to create situations because she is mean spirited; she doesn’t like men; her parents did bring her up right; her husband was a wimp. Something has caused her mind to be out of whack, Therapy consists of someone putting her in her place or talking to her for hours.  The common way of speaking about behavior is vacuous.[i]  It is ad post hoc proper hoc:  pick a past even or condition like dysfunctional parent, and use it without any compelling evidence of a relationship to the problem behavior, in the common sort of explanation.   The mind is a black box inhabit with hate of men, mean spirit, sick will caused by dysfunctional parents, traumas, etc.  The common explanation is arbitrary and beyond proof and disproof.

Behavioral analysis removes the simplistic ill-will explanations.  Reinforcers can produce bizarre behavior, and in some instances behavior that isolates the individual.  For Kathy the primary reinforcers come from the relief of boredom:  quarreling relieves boredom.  She once her husband—deceased--now she quarrels with her neighbors.  The primary reinforcers come from alertness.  Epinephrine and nor epinephrine are the body’s stimulants; they produce alertness.   A fit of temper, even just angry, violent thoughts cause their release.  The feud also gives her something to think of that holds her interest.  Seeking these reinforcers, her brain distorts the vision of the crack (it appears to her several times larger than how others would see it).  Her brain concludes that if it had been there prior to the work she [ii]would have noticed it, thus it must have just happened to our removing the tile from Reddy’s kitchen floor.  Her brain also plants the thoughts that most others would also complain and that she is teaching Grant and me to be aware that we could cause cracks in the wall below when they rip up a floor.    The brain for the sake of reinforcers creates false memories.    Her past success in getting her dining room painted reinforces the belief that she was right when she complained about the water streak.  The greater the boredom, the greater the behavioral vector favors quarrels.   Quarrels are one way to reduce the aversive condition of being bored.  

            The frequency of behavior in a population when plotted will produce a bell-shaped curve.     For Kathy, for the quarrels with neighbors, she’d be on the extreme right, in the top 5% for frequency.    (12/4/04)



Ruth and the Patron From Hell

Others people have different “issues’.  Ruth, a very attractive for 45 years, bleached-blond waitress, served a bitch who complained about food and service in restaurants (which was very probably generalized to included other situations of being served).  (Description below).   

The woman was about 40 years of age, the man of about the same.  Their appearance did not set them apart, but her behavior did.  First, she didn’t wait to be shown to a table, but leading they took a table in Ruth’s area that had yet to be bussed. 

Ruth, who had been helping serve a party of 23 in the adjacent room, just happened to notice them seat themselves:  “Pardon, me, I will get I will have the table cleaned.”

The lady, whom Ruth heard her husband call “Sima” replies in a less than friendly voice, “I should hope so.”

Ruth, under her breath, “Oh god!  Just what I need.”


The table is cleaned, set, then Ruth gives them each a menu, and then rolls and water are brought out.  Ruth thinks: ‘So far fine; well, almost.  Sima’s tone predicts complaints.  Sounds like a parent talk to her young son.’


They place their order, still fine, but when her steak is brought out, she sends it back.  She ordered medium was the complaint.  It was medium, but Ruth knows better than to make this comment—fifteen years of serving the public has given her the ability to spot this kind of patron.  As Ruth takes back the steak, there is a comment about the service being slow.  Ruth is still helping to take care of the party of 23; they are on their desert. 


Next complaint is over the coffee.  As Ruth approaches the table, in a voice that could be heard halfway across the room,  “The coffee is cold!” 


Hearing this, the Maitre de comes, “What is the trouble?”


Ruth thinks of kicking his ankle for opening the door. 


Sima in a very agitated voice, “First, you were so tardy in seating us, we waited five minutes, and there were empty tables.  Finally, we seated ourselves.  Then my steak was under cooked.”  Pointing to Ruth, “This waitress has been ignoring us.  And she” her voice rising, “deliberately brings me a cup of coffee that is NOT hot!  Here, look!  Do you see any steam?”


Graciously, the maitre de, “I’ll personally bring you a hot cup of coffee.”


Sima, “It better be hot!” 


Ruth, though not prone to violent thoughts, is thinking how she would like to meet the bitch in the parking lot.  Of course Ruth didn’t get a tip. 


After word

In explaining the episode to me, Ruth thought the woman was mean spirited.  That is not an accurate analysis.  Sima did those things not from a mean spleen, but because certain observations made her behavior obligatory.  Sima is delusional:  she perceives within certain parameters that which isn’t.  Sima’s wait for service will be lengthened.  Sima will see more red than there is in the medium piece of steak.  The five minutes for which the coffee sat on the table before her became one minute, and her mind will erase the steam, which Sima observed when served the coffee.  These delusions entail for Sima that she believes that she has in the restaurant done the right things.  Moreover, by complaining, the restaurant will improve its service, a favor for patron, and perhaps they will fire the terrible waitress Ruth.  Ruth has observed the tip of the moderate psychosis--one that is moderate enough so that Sima can function like a gear with broken teeth in the machinery of society.


The distortion of observations occurs before the reinforcers.  Her anger results in natural stimulation through the release of epinephrine and nor epinephrine.  This relieves boredom.  The additional attention also relieves boredom.  Annoying her husband also reinforces her.  She is in a battling relationship, and doing battle is reinforcing.[iii] 


Ruth observed just one of Sima’s areas of abnormal behavior.  Sima perceives allergies and other physical ailments.  What happens is that such a person establishes a pattern of behavior, which is perfected and becomes habitual over the years.  Secondly, their delusional capacity supports this pattern.  Little things that a neighbor has done will become major.  Vicki will believe it is normal to phone the apartment manger over the music and the soft music has become quite loud to Kathy.  Moreover, those who fail to complain aren’t being good citizens.  No one should allow such inconsiderate behavior go unnoticed and unpunished.  A set of observations supports Vicki behavior.  Ruth is wrong; these people are not exceptionally mean.   


One area of delusions involves dining out.  Ruth observed the end product of years of conditioning.  What started out as an occasional justified complaint years before has evolved into this much more frequent and complex pattern.  Sima’s display of anger including her raised voice evolved too within limits.  Remove the adverse consequences and she would be louder and her language and spiced with curse words.  Delusions, just like the anger behavior, are not above conditioning. 




People set up obstacles for others to stumble upon.  Sue is an exceptionally person, bright, cheerful, energetic, fit and good looking.  Relates well to people at work, friends, and relatives.  But she is fanatically about house cleaning.  She imagines a danger from germs.  She does not go into the ocean.  Her explanation, I have heard on several occasions, germs.  The fear-of-germs explanation to others masks the behavior’s principle cause:  quarrels and creating something to do (excessive cleaning).  On coming home form work, after greeting the dogs, she would look about the house for spots, which she assumed her live-in lover Dan had made before he left for work.  Then when he came home, she’d point out what she found in a voice indicating her annoyance.  Quarrels with her housemate relieve boredom.  So do the angry thoughts a spot on a light switch generate.  The much longer than typical time spent cleaning relieves boredom.  Making unreasonable demands as to cleanliness starts quarrels.  Her relationship with Dan lasted 3 years.  The quarrel eventually extended to her sexual performance.  And she doesn’t understand why her Dan became involved with another woman, then moved out.  


Sue had set up an obstacle course; set standards at the far right of the bell curve of household cleanliness and then complained over what to others would have gone unnoticed.  Dan tried to live up to her standards, but every spot was caused by him.  Reinforcers concerning house cleanliness ruled her thoughts.


Consistency is lacking, for Sue has 2 large dogs.  They shed lots of hair, and there are dog dander and dog germs.  She doesn’t go in the ocean, but her dogs do.  And if she were truly fearful of germs, she would avoid people, since most diseases are carried and spread by people.  How could she French kiss Dan if she was truly afraid of germs?  Fear of germs is verbal behavior, a reason accepted by her friends.  The behavior developed not from a fear of germs, but from patterns of reinforcement; moreover, the explanation of germs came later.  Moreover, a test for abnormal behavior is where in the bell-shaped curve does it fall. 




            Denial of sex is one way my ex-girlfriend Barbara starts quarrels with me.  Yesterday she came by, but she was too cold in the empty office building for us to get it on.  The day before she told me that, “whores make out in cars.”   And there is always the excuse that I haven’t been sufficiently romantic.  However, being romantic often leads to a quarrel, for she seldom feels like making love or even hugging.  The relationship with Barbara was brief, and though she very much desires to continue it, I don’t.  I refuse to quarrel over lovemaking.  She won’t modify her behavior; the immediate reinforcers associated with the quarrel dominate.[iv]  And though Barbara wants me, her sexual attitude repulses me.  I have my track shoes on; I have done as I’ve recommended. 


We all make use of anger to reduce boredom.   However, some people seldom quarrel because they are less bored and/or they truly know what aversive conditioning does to a relationship.  I have the training in philosophy and scientific psychology and a strong desire to avoid angry thoughts and thus quarrels.  To me it is like lying to others, a type of behavior to avoid. 


            When I find that Barbara places obstacles in the path of my sexual enjoyment that are not necessary or common, I analyze them as bones of contention.  The short-term reinforcement from the quarrels is greater than that of being loving.  Sue’s bones are with dirt; though she has two large dogs that shed hair and dog dander.  A marker for recognizing bones of contention is that the behavior produces results contrary to the individual’s best long-term interest and/or inconsistencies such as in the examples of Sue’s dogs.  Quarrels and anger produce the principle reinforcers that maintain this type of behavior.   






Why it is so difficult for humans to follow the dictates of reason and do the very obviously prudent things?  Why don’t they behave prudently?  It is one thing to set down the techniques of weight reduction (as I have done in the previous sections); it's another to be prudent and implement them.  There is a complex set of reinforcers that cause over eating; more than the afore-mentioned reinforcers associated with taste of food, peer conditioning, and social setting. The short answer to why not is that the animal side of the brain has more input into behavior than the rational side.  There are answers deeper than mind-based, deeper than: “The obese person eats too much”, “has bad eating habits”, and “he is weak willed”.  Behavior is shaped through reinforcer. The account of Tom’s behavior sets out those reinforcers, and is an example of how to look behind the curtain of mind to the basic causes.  Lacking a reinforcer analysis, popular explanations fall short. 

The pattern of reinforcers that create the behavior problem is far from obvious.  Many of the reinforcers are mild.  Think of vectors forces (as in vector algebra) deciding the direction of an action. It is a process going on in the inter-connected inner regions of the brain, which is connected to and influenced by the cerebral cortex.  (For an explanation of the illusion of free will and conscious choice the American Scientist article of 2004 is on point.  A simply experiment proves that thoughts are a epiphenomena.)  Thoughts (a type of verbal behavior, that Skinner calls silent whispers) are only one vector in a complex decision process occurring in a deep region of the brain, just like it does in other primates.  And like primates the types, and intensity of forces are hidden in the complex and long history (compared to the laboratory, young pigeon).  Further complexity is added by the biological inheritance that establishes the proclivities to respond in certain ways to stimuli.  However, a listing of the events that reinforce (for the following example) Tom’s problem behavior is instructive, and it is available, unlike the complex history and the inner processes. 

Tom, who is 42, and is 110 pound overweight, last night drinks a pint of milk and eats the last third of a Maria Callander cherry pie for an evening snack, 90 minutes after completing a large dinner, while watching a boring TV show with his wife.  Tom will, being lactose intolerant, have a gas attack, later energy from the sugar in the pie.  The gas gives him a full feeling until about mid-night (a mild reinforcer), prevent the negative reinforcer of hunger, and deprive others of the pie (an anti-social reinforcer).  He likes the kidding he gets about his great appetite.  This evening there is nothing interesting going on, so he agreed to watch on television a movie with his wife.  Adding the desert to his large meal insures that he will feel tired during the film while he digests his large meal, and thus be less bored (another reinforcer).  Moreover, about the time the movie is over, the sugar from the pie will take effect, and he will have energy to work on several business correspondences, an activity he will find more enjoyable than to continue to watch television.  By depriving others of the pie, he is expressing hostility in a subtle way, which is mildly enjoyable.  A similar pleasure is derived from the foul odor caused by his lactose (milk sugar) intolerance.  His wife becomes annoyed and calls him a “rude bastard”.  The exchange between them will break up the monotony of the movie.  Tom likes the taste of cherry pie, and the milk to wash it down.  The list of reinforcers goes on:  the activity of eating the pie and milk during the beginning of the movie is a mildly reinforcing distraction from a film that bores him.  He will sleep sounder this night following a second snack.  These are the principle reinforcers that occur that evening.

  There are other long-term ones.  Given Tom’s dislike of physical exertion, being obese permits him to avoid such exertion.  Given their less-than-loving marriage, being physically unattractive yields subtle reinforcements.  Man by instinct will strike out against the source of both adversive stimuli and the cause for the blocking of the obtainment of pleasures.[i]  In this case being physically unattractive and poor in bed are two subtle ways of disappointing his wife, and thus they add to the vector algebra of his obesity.  By far the greatest long-term reinforcer is the effect of weight upon his physical energy level.  A large percentage of our society uses substance (alcohol, plaxil,  valium, marijuana, etc.) that reduce their energy level; food in quantity does the same, as also does obesity that puts a load on the heart and thereby cause less oxygenated blood to go to the brain.  It is these long-term and the prior mentioned short-term reinforcers from his large meal and snacks that are stronger than the prudent rational reinforcement that is associated with being fit.  Most people end up in the middle state of out of being out of shape, but not obese. 

Many small, some long term, others like breaking wind, short-term contribute to the total of reinforcement Tom gets from eating more than he burns off.  While Tom could easily, if challenged cease from any of the weak reinforcers such as the silent but chocking farts he makes near his wife, or the consumption of the last slice of cherry pie.  He cannot overcome at the same time the collection of these reinforcers.  They result in Tom eating more than he burns.  Changing the pattern of reinforcers, so that he would obtain those associated with a person of normal weight is like climbing over a mountain to get out of a valley.  Tom is in the valley of obesity and he can’t escape.  A major change in his environment would make the exit more likely.  Major changes are often associated with permanent weight loss.  By listing the reinforcers, and working out a program to remove them, then new behavior will evolve.   

[i]   The use of adversive stimuli is the way a baby manipulates its parents to attend to its needs and to entertain the baby.  When hungry, she cries.  Much of social training indirectly deals with suspension of this behavior.  Adults do the same but in lesser degrees.  Being bored by a conversation, we say something inflammatory, argumentative, changes the topic, or simple ignore the speaker.



We have no trouble in recognizing the hot buttons and troubling quirks in people such as Kathy, Sima, Tim & Sue, but what about yourself?  A way to check this process in self-examination of your memory is to question about how common do other people do the same:  look for you hot buttons and odd things that are inordinately important to you.  What are the consequences?  Fretting so much about dirt and spots in your car so that you won’t allow others to sip coffee in it--that is a sign.  If there is a long list of things you don’t do, insist that others in your presence don’t do, and become annoyed when others do them, then that is a sign.  Another way to check is to recall what sort of things that you ask your housemate to do?  If they become an issue for quarrelling and anger, then you have fallen into a reinforcement pattern which will tare apart your relationship.


Another marker is consistency.  Having your car spotless to the point of not drinking coffee in it, but your bedroom is a mess, that lacks consistency.  Compulsiveness is another trap people get into.  But when you demand that others do what you do compulsively, the reinforcer from quarrels has entered into the pattern of behavior.  There are the usual, cleaning and other chores, then there are the special ones, such as to arrange the flatware a certain way in the drawer, to have the window blinds pulled a certain way, to say a specific prayer, eating a special diet, cleaning the floor in a certain way.  Unless your housemate is an idiot, he will have worked out by his thirtieth year how to clean the floor sufficiently.  Why must your spouse say a certain prayer?  And is there really a scientific basis for your special diet?  The position you take will seem logical to you, after all it is your brain that is justifying what it approves.  But if that position becomes an issue for quarrels with the people you live with if they are of a different mind, then reinforcers created the conflict. 


Markers combine additively:  there is lack of sufficient reason (as with special prayers and diet), compulsiveness, things not commonly done, and quarrels.  Convention makes it easy to find silverware in the drawer, but how he cleans the floor doesn’t matter, just that it gets clean.   Having the silverware neatly arranged, while there are piles of old advertisements, junk mail, old newspapers, and receipts piled high on the kitchen counter is an inconsistency.  Things are done for a sufficient purpose such as conforming to the society’s standard for cleanliness, and that purpose ought to be consistently applied, deviation ought to occur within reasonable limits, and quarrels ought to be at most infrequent.  (1/5)




What Can Be Done?

            What frustrates me is that I can see the patterns, but I can’t get others to step outside the reinforcement traps.   The only way to change behavior is to set up a pattern of reinforcers sufficiently strong as to replace the quarreling ones.  But merely talking about it won’t work.  If I were their therapist, I would attempt to get them to change things bit by bit over months, then the relationship would gradually become cooperative.  Unfortunately it is easier to get a person to change eating and drug usage behavior than to develop a cooperative, loving relationship.  With drugs, tobacco, and diet, over 60 percent of those with one of these problem will have it for the remainder of their life.  If I were to attach a number to battling including frigid relationship,[vii] it would be over 90%.  And though a number, like my parents, will improve in old age, it is age that has brought the change. 


This pattern a result of our primitive biological heritage, makes man a rational animal with our rational part submerged by reinforcers.  The result of our biological heritage includes not just battling relationships, quarrels with neighbors, quarrels with serving people and employees (as in the above examples), but also acts of mass violence.  A reading of a history of the British Isles from the time of Henry VIII reveals how popular the quarrel with Catholics was.[viii]  Group against group is so very human.  The group can be as small as a family, a local organization, or as large as a nationality, ethnic group, or race.  Prejudices are part of the human landscape. 


            The Greeks knew the solution.  Start with the child, train him to think rationally and once a teenager have him go to a school taught by philosophers like Epicurus, Aristotle, Zeno, and Plato.  By the time he finishes his school, around the age of 25, he will be sufficiently different from the common herd so that he will associate with other who had stamped upon their psyche the rational (including scientific) perception of things sufficiently strong so as to have rational analysis have much more influence upon behavior than is found among the common herd.  He will be pursing the Greek vision of the good-life.




[i]    This topic is full developed in a series of 4 articles on the ghost in the machine; the one on thought being the most pertinent.

[ii]   This is an important point with many cogent examples:  examples of how police plant ideas in witnesses, of how some psychologists and psychiatrists “dig” for repressed memories and plant ideas in their patient’s mind, which they reinforce with verbal praise when the searched for response is given.  A reading of the interview techniques used by the psychologists and psychiatrists reveals how the bizarre cases of satanic torture of young children and of the school custodian’s sexual contact with preschoolers have developed.  This process of implantation produces the response in the children of sexual contact. 

[iii]  It is the same as with children, they poke at, push, and insult as a response to being behavior they attempting to suppress.  Observe the behavior of two siblings, 5 and 4 years of age, and you will see many such examples. 

[iv]  Quarreling is stronger than sex.  It builds up, and a number of relationships of friends, I know that sex is infrequent if at all.  The pattern slowly develops over the first 10 years.  They no longer are turned on by their spouse.  And as they get older the need becomes less. 

[v]    A positive reinforcer is operational defined as a thing that will increase the frequency of the behavior that follows it (the converse for a negative reinforcer).  Operant conditioning (the production of new behavior) is the result of reinforcers.  For example, “adult social reinforcement has been used to condition smiling at four months, vocalization at three months, and milk has conditioned head turning at four months.”  In The Analysis of Human Operant Behavior, Ellen P. Reese, p. 13.  Reinforcers and the process of operant conditioning are the building blocks of complex behavior.

[vi]   The use of aversive stimuli is the way a baby manipulates its parents to attend to its needs and to entertain the baby.  When hungry, she cries.  Much of social training indirectly deals with suspension of this behavior.  Adults do the same but in lesser degrees.  Being bored by a conversation, we say something inflammatory, argumentative, changes the topic, or simple ignore the speaker.

[vii]  Often couples by the time they are in their 50s, they have lost the drive to make love.  In the Kinsey study (page 351 of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female) for married women age 51-55, 24% have sex less than once a month, and 26% report an average of once every 2 weeks.  At the other end, 15% have intercourse of 2.5 times per week or more.  Moreover, by the age of forty, the median has dropped to once a week.  JK was having sex daily at that age.  .

[viii]   One illustrative example comes with the potato famine.  Prime Minister John Russell and his Tory Party had instituted an aid program for the Irish, who happen to be Catholic.  In the interim election his party lost significant ground, and would have fallen from power if they continued to aid the Irish.  Half the population of Ireland died or emigrated within 3 years.  (Another example of love thy brethren.)  

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