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Number 1 MILLER - Psynllnlnuy As a Means[If Prumuting...

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Unformatted text preview: Psynllnlnuy _ As a Means [If Prumuting lllllllflll Welfare GEORGE A. MILLER I believe that any broad and successful application of psychological knowledge to human problems will necessarily entail a change in our conception of ourselves and of how we live and love and work together. Instead of inventing some new technique for modifying the environment, or some new product for society to adapt itself to however it can, we are proposing to tamper with the adaptive process itself. Such an in- novation is quite different from a “techno- logical fix.”. . . . ' Instead of trying to foresee new pay— chological products that might disrupt our existing social arrangements, therefore, we should be self-consciously analyzing the general effect that our scientific psychol- ogy may have on popular psychology. As I try to perform this analysis for myself, I must confess that I am not altogether pleased with the results. . . . One of the most admired truisms of modern psychology is that some stimuli can serve to reinforce the behavior that produces them. The practical significance of this familiar principle arises from the implication that if you can control the oc- currence of these reinforcing stimuli, then you can control the occurrence of adaptive behavior intended to achieve or avoid them. This contingency between behavior and its consequences has been demonstrated in many studies of animal behavior, where en- vironmental conditions can be controlled, or at least specified, and where the results 'can be measured with some precision. Something similar holds for the human animal, of course, although it is complicat- ed by man’s symbolic proclivitie‘s and by the fact that the disparity between experi- menter and subject changes when the sub- ject is also a man. Between men, reinforce- ment is usually a mutual relation and each person controls the other to some extent. This relation of mutual reinforcement, which man's genius for symbols has gener- alized in terms of money or the promise of money, provides the psychological basis for our economic system of exchange. Psy- chologists did not create this economic system for controlling behavior, of course. What we have tried to do is to describe its. psychological basis and its limits in terms sufficiently general to hold across different species, and to suggest how the technique might be extended to educational, rehabil- itative, therapeutic, or even political situa- tions in which economic rewards and pun- ishments would not normally be appropri- ate. Once a problem of behavior control has been phrased in these terms, we may then try to discover the most effective ' schedule of reinforcements. . . . In the public view, I suspect, all this talk about controlling behavior comes across as unpleasant, if not actually threat— ening. Freud has already established in the public mind a general belief that all behav- ior is motivated. The current message says that psychologists now know how to use this motivation to control what people will do. When they hear this. of course, our sci- entific colleagues are likely to accuse us of pseudoscientific claims; less scientific seg- ments of the public are likely to resent what they perceive as a threat to their per- sonal freedom. Neither reaction is com- pletely just, but neither is completely un- justifiable. . I believe these critics see an important truth, one that a myopic concentration on techniques of behavior control may cause us to overlook. At best, control is but one component in any program for personal improvement or social reform. Changing behavior is pointless in the absence of any coherent plan for how it should be _ changed. It is our plan for using control that the public wants to know about. Too ' often, I fear, psychologists have implied that acceptable uses for behavior control are either self-evident or can be safely left to the wisdom and benevolence of power- ful men. Psychologists must not surrender the planning function so easily. Humane applications of behavior control must be based on intelligent diagnosis of the per- sonal and social problems we are trying to solve. Psychology has at least as much, probably more, to contribute to the diag- nosis of personal and social problems as it has to the control of behavior. Regardless of whether we have actually achieved new scientific techniques of be- havior control that are effective with hu— man beings, and regardless of whether con- trol is of any value in the absence of diag- nosis and planning for its use, the simple ,fact that so many psychologists keep talk- ing about control is having an effect on ' public psychology. The average citizen is predisposed to believe it. Control has been the practical payoff from the other sciences. Control must be what psychologists are ‘ after, too. Moreover, since science is no— toriously successful, behavior control must be inevitable. Thus the layman forms an impression that control is the name of the road we are traveling, and that the experts are simply quibbling about how far down that road we have managed to go. . . . Behavior control could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If people general- 1y should come to believe in the scientific control of behavior, proponents of coercive social programs would surely exploit that belief by dressing their proposals in scien- tific costumes. If our new public conception of human nature is that man's behavior can be scientifically controlled by those in posi- tions of power, governments will quickly conform to that conception. Thus, when I try to discern what direction our psycho- logical revolution has been taking, some as- pects of it disturb me deeply and lead me to question whether in the long run these developments will really prbmote human welfare. This is a serious charge. If there is any truth to it, we should ask whether any other approaches are open to us. Personally, I believe there is a better way to advertise psychology and to relate it to social problems. Reinforcement is only one of many important ideas that we have to offer. Instead of repeating constant- ly that reinforcement leads to control, I would prefer to emphasize—that reinforce- ment can lead to satisfaction and compe- ' tence. And I would prefer to speak of un- derstanding and prediction as our major scientific goals. . . . It should be obvious by now that I have somewhere in the back of my mind two alternative images of what the popular conception of human nature might become under the impact of scientific advances in psychology. One of these images is unfor- tunate, even threatening; the other is vaguer, but full of promise. Let me try to make these ideas more concrete. . . . My two images are not very different from what McGregor (1960) once called Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X is the traditional theory which holds that be- cause people dislike work, they must be coerced, controlled, directed, and threat- ened with punishment before they will do it. People tolerate being directed, and many even prefer it, because they have lit- tle ambition and want to avoid responsibil- ity. McGregor’s alternative Theory Y, based on social science, holds that work is as natural as play or rest. External control and threats are not the onlymeans for in- spiring people to work. People will exer- cise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which they are com- mitted; their commitment is a function of the rewards associated with the achievement of their objectives. People can learn not only to accept but to seek responsibility. Imagination, ingenuity, and creativity are widely distributed in the population, al- though these intellectual potentialities are _ poorly utilized under the conditions of modern industrial life. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y evolved in the context of his studies of in- dustrial management. They are rival theo- ries held by industrial managers about how best to achieve their institutional goals. A somewhat broader view is needed if we are to talk about public psychology generally, and not merely the managerial manifesta- tions of public psychology. So let me am- plify McGregor’s distinction by referring to the ideas of Varela, a very remarkable en- gineer in Montevideo, Uruguay, who uses - scientific psychology in the solution of 'a wide range of personal and social problems. Varela (1970) contrasts two concep- tions of the social nature of man. Follow- ing Kuhn’s (1962) discussion of scientific revolutions, he refers to these two concep- tions as “paradigms.“ The first paradigm is a set of assumptions on which our social institutions are presently based. The sec- ond is a contrasting paradigm based on psy- chological research. Let me outline them for you very briefly. Our current social paradigm is charac- terized as follows: All men are created equal. Most behavior is motivated by eco- nomic competition, and conflict is inevi- table. One truth underlies all controversy, and unreasonableness is best countered by facts and logic. When something goes wrong, someone is to blame, and every ef- fort must be made to establish his guilt so that he can be punished. The guilty person is responsible for his own misbehavior and for his own rehabilitation. His teachers and supervisors are too busy to lac-Come experts in social science; their role is to devise solu- tions and see to it that their students or subordinates do what they are told. For comparison, Varela offers a para- digm based on psychological research: There are large individual differences among people, both in ability and person- ality. Human motivation is complex and - no one ever acts as he does for any single reason, but, in general, positive incentives are more'effective than threats or punish- 'ments. Conflict' is no more inevitable than disease and can be resolved or still better, prevented. Time and resources for resolv- ing social problems are strictly limited. When something goes wrong, how a person perceives the situation is more important to him than the “true facts," and he can- _ not reason about the situation until his ir- rational feelings have been toned down. Social problems are solved by correcting causes, not symptoms, and this can be done more effectively in groups than individually. Teachers and supervisors must be experts in social science because they are responsi ble for the cooperation and individual' im- provement of their students or subordinates. No doubt other psychologists would draw the picture somewhat differently. Without reviewing the psychological evi- dence on which such generalizations are based, of course, I cannot argue their valid- ity. But I think most of you will recognize the lines of research on which McGregor’s Theory Y and Varela's second paradigm are based. Moreover, these psychologically based paradigms'are incompatible in several respects with the prevailing ideology of our society. Here, then is the real challenge: How can we foster a social climate in which some such new public conception of man based on psychology can take root and flourish? In my opinion, this is the proper translation of our more familiar question about how psychology might contribute to the promotion of human welfare. I cannotpretend to have an answer to this question, even in its translated form, but I believe that part of the answer is that psychology must be practiced by nonpsy- chologists. Weare not physicians; the se- crets of our trade need not be reserved for highly trained specialists. Psychological facts should be passed out freely to all who need and can use them. And from success- ful applications of psychological principles the public may gain a better appreciation for the power of the new conception of man that is emerging from our science. If we take seriously the idea of a peace- _ ful revolution based on; a new conception of human nature, our scientific results will have to be instilled in the public conscious- ness in a practical and usable form so that what we know can be applied by ordinary people. There simply are not enough psy- ' chologists, even including nonprofessiom ale, to meet every need for psychological services. The people at large will have to be their own psychologists, and make their own applications of the principles that we establish. Of course, everyone practices psychol- ogy, just as everyone who cooks is a chem- ist, everyone who reads a clock is an as ' tronomer, everyone who drives a car is an engineer. 1 am not suggesting any radical departure when I say that nonpsycholo- gists must practice psychology. I am simply proposing that we should teach them to practice it better, to make use self-con- sciously of what we believe to be scientif- ically valid principles. ‘ Our responsibility is less to assume the role of experts and try to apply psychology ourselves than to give it away to the peOple who really need it—and that includes every- one. The practice of valid psychology by ‘ nonpsychologists will inevitably change people’s conception of themselves and what they can do. When we have accOn-i- plished that, we will really have caused'a psychological revolution. . . References Kuhn, T. The structure of scientific revolutions. __ Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. McGreg or, D. The human side ofenterpn'se. New York: MeGraw-Hill 1960. Vale-la, J. A. Introduction to social science tech- nology. New York: Academic Pres. 1970. ...
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