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The changes in psychology as to practice and analysis is not just a product of a growing trend to muddled thinking demonstrated by the growth in spiritualism and the anti-scientific holistic/alternative movement in “health”.  A mind based spiritualistic psychology gains imputes from the underlying anti-materialism of a mind/soul dualistic world weltanschaung.  But part of the change comes from the very failure of behaviorist to communicate.   Their sharply defined language makes grasping the broader relationships (patterns of behavior) sufficiently obscure so as to discourage those outside the field from adopting a new way of talking about hunger, slot, and such.  Patients have voted through the selection of therapists for cognitive psychology--not knowing that they have made the wrong choice.

    In the battle for minds, the cognitive psychologist published many fold more pop-psychology books and dominated the pop-psychology magazine, Psychology Today.  Language, press, and patient preference has caused the cognitive approach to regain in the universities the influence lost to behaviorists in the 60's and 70's--rather than a demonstrable theraputic superiority.

B.F. Skinner had a humane agenda.  He devoted the last 30 years to popularizing behaviorism and increasing its practical usefulness.  He developed programmed texts, teaching machines, wrote several works for the general public, and made himself available to the press.  By the 60’s in universities scientific psychology dominated the curilculums of universities.  —though community colleges and the more commercial institutions continued to teach primarily mind-based psychologies.  Facts and science don’t necessary win the head count—if so than the churches would have been sold to land developers.


          In a series of papers an effort has been made to continue where Skinner started. 


Why Behaviorism



From the early 60s for about a decade behaviorism was the dominant point of view being taught at universities.   The reversion at universities to mind-based psychologies has been caused human rather than scientific factors:  (1) The resurgence of orthodox religions, spiritualism and the anti-scientific holistic/alternative movement in “health”.  A mind based spiritualistic psychology gains imputes from the underlying anti-materialism of a mind/soul dualistic world weltanschaung.  (2) The requirement of adopting a radically different way of understanding human behavior and apply its concepts and language requires far more effort than for the use of cognitive psychology.  (3) The failure of behaviorists to develop a simplified, conversational language.  Ordinary language assumes a mind as director of actions.  It is far more similar to use this language than for example to list the reinforcers involved in post-traumatic stress syndrome or obesity.  (4) Very little effort has been made to communicate to the man on the street the superiority of behaviorism. 


          B.F. Skinner recognized the need to communicate, and wrote several popular works starting with Walden II, About Behaviorism, Science and Human Behavior, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and The Design of Cultures.  He devoted the last 30 years to popularizing behaviorism, developing applications such as teaching machines and programmed texts, and made himself available to the press. 


          Consider the nature of things and foundations.  A chair is quite different from its underlying atomic and subatomic building blocks.  The mind is quite different from the brain, and human behavior is far more complex that that of a mouse.  Behaviorism bridges this gap while preserving the similarities through the central role it gives operant and respondent condition, and it also provides a way to account for what is labeled purposive behavior without assuming a separate incorporeal agent or creating purpose in systems of atoms.  There is a fundamental conflict between the concept of purpose and will used by cognitive psychologists and the brain. 


Below is part of a continue effort by JK in support of behaviorism.  Skeptics ought to be critical of mind-based psychologies. 


Shelia, is a young, attractive, Negro mother, and her 6-year old son.  I observed her at work, and then later shopping in a local grocery store.  At work her socialization patterns were excellent.  However, in the store I observed another side of her.  There her son grabbed a box of hard candies, and stuck it in her shopping cart.  He looked at her to gauge her response. 

“You can’t have it,” Shelia snaps.

“Why not,” Jimmy whines. 

“Because I said so,” Sheila retorts as she takes steps away from the cart and gets closer to Jimmy.

“I want them: I want them,” he pouts defiantly.

“You want them, here,” and she slaps his face.

The scene goes on for another minute before the shopping continues. 

This pattern of behavior obviously has been repeated numerous times.  Jimmy knew his mother’s response, and Sheila seemed eager to slap Jimmy and engage in the mini scene, and Jimmy sought this confrontation.  This is not a rational pattern of behavior, for a robot, logical like being would consume time unproductively this way.  A logical being with emotions would cultivate the happy, cooperative behavior.  This is much more like the dog leaving a bone out for the have a confrontation with another dog.  There is a subconscious method by which the brain produces behavior, and often the behavior is more dog-like than logical being like. 

The thinking, and acting on thoughts as an analysis of behavior falls apart with this and many other troubling accounts and the subconscious is called in for an excuses for the imprudent behavior as a way to account for the breakdown of the rational will.  Consider Sheila’s verbal account—the putative rational thought process.  If asked she would respond, that Jimmy deserved to be slapped, and she was teaching him self-control and respect for her.  The brain will always when required of it will produce an explanation.  For the behaviorist this is an accompanying piece of the puzzle, and not at the root of its cause.  For the behaviorist the verbal account is just another type of behavior.  There is not two boxes one open called the mind, the other one closed called the subconscious.  There is just one black box, and it causes all of the behavior, including verbal. 

A more insightful approach to understanding the causes of Jimmy & Sheila’s behavior would be to examine the pattern of reinforcers.  Running in the background are the reinforcers associated with that behavior in that situation.  The stimulation from anger, which made subsequent shopping more enjoyable, was her principle reward.  While for Jimmy, the stimulation form his emotional display was his principle reward.  Moreover, if he behaves well by the time they get to the checkout stand, Shelia will reinforce him with a candy bar.  A collection of minor reinforcers are also at work, angry thoughts, subsequent telling her husband about Jimmy, the attention she gets in the store are among the reinforcers.

Does Shelia will to slap Jimmy?  She might think, He’s asking for it; one more sound, and pow!  What caused those thoughts (silent whispers B.F. Skinner insightfully calls them)?  What caused Shelia to step from behind the cart and stand next to Jimmy?  Does the thought I will slap Jimmy if he opens his mouth again cause Shelia to stand next to Jimmy?  What caused her to think those thoughts?  Does she think what should I do now, and then slap him?  And what proceeds what should I do?  Hardly, for such an analysis would result in an infinite regress.  Thoughts aren’t the cause of that behavior, but rather the language part of it.  Something is running in the background and she observes its results.   Behavior, including thoughts, just pop up.  They are shaped by conditioning patterns, including peer responses (socialization).  Conditioning is running in the background. 

Various patterns are competing.  With Shelia and Jimmy the whining and slapping has become a frequently occurring pattern when they are shopping in a grocery store.  For another parent, Jennie, in a like situation, would handle it differently.  Jennie would take the candy out of the cart, say a forceful no, and later reward their Bryan for not making a scene.  The subconscious is simply another label for what is running in the background that determines the conscious behavior.[i]  The reinforcers which created the scene in the store create other issues of contention.   Shelia has the stimulation of anger influence her behavior much more than Jennie. 

Jennie has been through socialization (a large complex pattern of conditioning) developed a pattern of getting her children to be cooperative, and thus she rarely gets physical with her Ricky.  Moreover, her husband Bob would behave in ways to discourage the use of physical aversive reinforcers in rearing their children.  Their peer group, mostly Mormons, also frown on such child rearing methods, and they social reinforcers to reward parents that have well-behaved children.  Jennie because of these factors does the necessary things to have a cooperative relationship with her five children, and she has succeeded.  

Abusive-contentious patterns have undesirable consequences.[ii]  Among these consequences:  less love for that parent, rebellious behavior in the child, lack of communication with the parent, and other avoidance behavior.  Instead of having the child and parents function as a team, there have frequent hostile encounters.  These patterns can, depending upon focus, be quite destructive.  Consequences frequently include low grades and disruptive behavior at school, antisocial behavior such as delinquency, pregnancy, and rap music, and mental and physical health which are affected by drug usage and obesity. 

Unfortunately the therapist’s intervention and thus ability to change the reinforcers in the pattern he is treating is quite limited—except for a few special situations, such as in a mental hospital.  The behaviorist is limited to a list of recommendations, but such is far from controlling the environment as in a hospital.  Verbal counseling generally fails in most cases to make a lasting change.  To deal with the Shelia-Jimmy pattern of behavior, there needs to be fundamental changes in the reinforcers, and the therapist ability to bring about such changes is limited.[1] 

            The example of Shelia and Jimmy illustrates how a mind based explanation down plays what is running in the background by considering thoughts as in the foreground.  The simple solution is to assume that there is a mechanism that applies in a vector like analysis the effects of past conditioning.  It is what others schools of psychology, with misleading entailments, call the “subconscious.”  What we observe is the results of this vector process. 

We have memory and can make predictions about how we respond in a given situation:  there are patterns of behavior and we have memory and language.  There is a large portion of the brain given to language.  Supposed this was lost due to a stroke.  She was truly mute—like a person blind from birth.  Shelia was without language.  She still would, even though she couldn’t hear Jimmy, follow the same pattern of behavior. 

A behavioral analysis based upon reinforcers and the biological inheritance that makes certain things more or less reinforcing produces insights lacking in the mind-based analysis.  These insights help the behaviorist understand imprudent behavior.  There are more examples of imprudent behavior at Five Insightful Accounts of Quarrelsome Behavior.  These examples illustrate the depth of understanding which comes from a behavioral analysis.  



A key criticism of the mind/homunculus cause for behavior is that of infinite regress:  it move the causal question to another entity; however, the same question is raised about that entity—like the chicken-and-the-egg regress, which came first?  So now Sheila’s mind has willed her to move from behind the shopping cart to standing next to Jimmy, and willed her to think, “on more sound, and pow!”  But what caused her mind to produce that movement from behind the shopping cart, and for her to think “pow”?  Does the mind have a mind (the infinite regress)?  Creating in an explanative mind is simply the black box way of avoiding explaining. 

The commonsense reply to this conundrum is that the mind considers how Jimmy behaves and deliberates over the need to teach Jimmy how to behave in the store, and produced the words and movement in Shelia.  Emotion factors such as stress affect this deliberation.  Thus in the commonsense explanation, there is a part in Shelia’s mind that deliberates according to principles and goals and arrives at a course of action, which when affirmed, Shelia carries out.  This process of deliberation has been influenced by community norms, her upbringing, her views on parenting, and the desires of her husband.  Also just mentioned are emotional factors, namely, the mood that she is in, which can be further broken down under the heading of stress and boredom.   

This commonsense approach is close to the behavioral analysis her rational faculty and her history of conditioning.  In the behavioral approach, the rational faculty has a history of influences (conditioning) including those which shape her rational side.  Behaviorism categorizes the conditioning according to sources of conditioning (parents, community, husband); this parallels the commonsense analysis.  Moreover, the behavioral approach acknowledges boredom (label satiation) and neural conditions such as levels of neural transmitters is again close to the commonsense stress.  So why overturn the old apple cart?

A persistent problem of commonsense approach is:  how does community norms (its mechanism) affect Shelia’s behavior?  This is like asking how does clouds produce rain?  There is an association between clouds and rain, and between communities and members’ behavior.  Operant conditioning provides the answer of peer conditioning.  There is a long history of the people in their lives through verbal responses, and the more subtle rewards related to status in the group and the reinforcers associated with status that contribute to the shaping of her behavior concerning the physical abuse of Jimmy.  Shaping of her behavior is also occurring in related situations, such as her response to the way close friend Alicia treats her children.  Behaviorism provides the modus operandi for Shelia & Jimmy’s behavior.  It is the same sort of modus operandi as demonstrated in the laboratory with the pigeon pecking the light.  A vector-like selection process (which I call the subconscious process) is going on in our brain and our cat’s.  Thus issues (1), (2), & (3) are resolved—as promised in paragraph 2. 

Why is Shelia frequently physically abusive to her son?  This too has its answer in her complex history of conditioning and in the reinforcers associated with displays of temper.  Imprudent behavior is a result of reinforcers.  How consistently Shelia follows the moral principles she espouses is itself a product of conditioning.  What are the social reinforcements for being truthful, for example, determine this sort of verbal behavior.  Similarly Shelia has certain concepts pertaining to child rearing which are learnt and shaped by her environment.  In her situation the shaping of her behavior was not sufficient to overcome the rewards from physical abuse of Jimmy.  Even though her verbal behavior casts this training of Jimmy as the best alternative, her rational side in reflective moments knows this to be imprudent.  To have an abusive relationship with her son increase statistically the frequency of delinquency and other forms of poor socialization.  Moreover, in later years it is far more likely that Jimmy will avoid his mother and unlikely come to her aid in her declining years.  Being an abusive parent is another example, like alcohol abuse and obesity, of imprudent behavior.  Imprudent behavior is not however the failure of the mind in its leadership, but rather the results of a complex pattern of operant conditioning.  Peer conditioning establishing community norms is not operating upon a detached mind/soul, as in the commonsense account, but rather is imprinted upon the systems which produces the effects of operant conditioning in the brain.  That which makes the chicken peck at the disk, in a much more complex way, makes Shelia slap Jimmy.  Imprudent behavior is the product of conditioning.

And since it is the product of conditioning, by changing the pattern, the behavior changes.   Antibuse, produces physical discomfort when ethanol is consumed, and thus is a very effective negative reinforcer for controlling drinking.  If sufficient negative consequences followed Shelia’s physical abuse of Jimmy, that pattern of behavior would not have developed.[2]  The problem then becomes one of bring sufficient rewards and aversive stimuli related to her abusive behavior in order to change it.  Behaviorism gets to the core of the problem and reveals ways to change problem behavior.  Mind based, commonsense analysis often reveals ways, but without the same clarity, for its picture of behavior is distorted.  By correcting problem behavior and improving upon what is right, behaviorism promotes the good life, thus fulfilling (5).  


Verbal behavior is an epiphenomenona

            Let us begin with a thought (silent whispers) experiment.  You are sitting reading this paper, responding to the printed words.  Now suppose after 10 minutes a thought comes into your mind about your cat.  You think ‘I haven’t fed her.  And then you start emitting the noise “meow, meow, meow, a behavior that is often reinforced by the presence of Tigre (the cat’s name).  This behavior was not proceeded by silent whispers.  Now your daughter responds, “Tigre is in the kitchen.”  You think about the cat for another 15 seconds, and then return to reading this paper. 

     How do you decide what you do?  You don’t ponder the putting down this paper, that you shall have a silent whisper about Tigre, or that you shall emit the sound ‘meow.’  There is a selection process (SP) going on in the brain.  Operant conditioning explains how the environment effects this selection process.  Silent whispers are not the selection process, but rather a type of behavior produced by SP.  The silent whisper about Tigre is no different in kind than your looking away from this paper, and your making the sound ‘meow.’  Your verbal behavior is not different in kind from the other behaviors you just exhibited. 

Everything you have just done is a product of SP, which you are not privy to.  You have a memory which permits you to make predictions as to your up coming behavior.  You have mastered verbal skills—that which your 4-year old daughter lacks—that permits you to make statements apply psychological analysis such as “petting Tigre reduces tension.”  You do not stop behaving, actions keep being emitted including silent whispers and chatter occupy most of your waking hours.  Almost all of the silent whispers and chatter occur while engaged in physical activities.  Your brain is a behavior factory, one with multiple assembly lines.  Among them are breathing, digestion, locomotion, use of hands and arms, and verbal behavior.  You don’t have a window on it.  Behaviors just keep popping out.  You are better able then your spouse to predict your behavior.  Your memory of past actions is much greater than your spouse’s.  But you don’t control your behavior, your brain and its selection process does.

If there was a rational you, a separate section, like a soul box, that directs behavior, then you and everybody else would do all the right things.  If there were a rational soul boxes then there would be no alcoholics, no fat people, no people who can’t control their spending, and every couple would be a cooperative and loving team.  We have verbal skills including those which follow the principles of logic.  But it isn’t logic which selects the results, but rather conditioning patterns, like the one which caused you to pet your cat.  If the environment strengthens the patterns for logical behavior, then that person will more likely not engage in any of the imprudent behaviors such as frequent consumption of alcohol.  In verbal behavior we talk about will and directing actions, but it is the brain that does the direction.  There is no ghost in the machine.  We are brothers to the cat and the computer.  Behavior provides opens the window on the environmental process which shapes the brain’s selection process. 

Logic is like playing the piano:  training improves performance.  But you simply can’t will to be trained in playing the piano; rather environmental conditions and your history bring about the taking of piano lessons.  Though we talk of making the decision to play the piano, it is merely an accompanying epiphenomena.  The decision to take piano lesson is like the decision to scratch your back.  Those who are skilled in logic will on an average engage in much less imprudent behavior.  However, logic cannot overcome all the various combination of factors that lead to imprudent behavior; however, it contributes to the process that produces behavior, and thus reduces the incident of imprudent behavior. 


[1] The dismal results from office visit treatment are the result of the limited manipulation of reinforcers.  If radical change occurs it is because of a change in the pattern of reinforcers occurring outside the office.  Occasionally a client will actually implement the changes recommended by his behavioral therapist.

[2] My mother hand was held by a very strong negative response by my father, that her relatives thought it crude to slap their children, and by extension me, and that my mother very much wanted to seem modern.  Peer conditioning and a set of goals (to seem modern) were sufficient to counteract the operant rewards of physical abuse of me.  Otherwise, she would have done to me as her father had done to her. 

[i]  Behaviorists have no need for either conscious or subconscious in their analysis.  Behaviorism explains all behavior as the result of conditioning upon the physical substrata of brain and neurotransmitter.  A thorough going application of its principles entails that man is basically a complex cat, and among its complexities are the ability to use tools and language.  Is a cat conscious, does it will to chase a mouse, or does it simply behave according to conditioning and its biological inheritance?  However, for the sake of communication with those who are not behaviorist, the distinction between conscious and subconscious is quite useful.  Moreover, to deny the conscious and subconscious is not only to sidetracks the issues discussed but also discredits the behaviorist psychologist.  “How can he think that I don’t have a mind which thinks and chooses what I do,” will be the linguistic response either thought or spoken. 

[ii] One topic is building a loving relationship, another on control of eating.  The concepts and approaches there can be applied here.