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Psychology in Action

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Skinner believes that all "important" behaviors, both human and infrahuman, are based upon the principle of operant conditioning. Behavior is controlled by its outcomes; the "amount" of the outcome is less important than the contingency relationship--if A occurs, then B is sure to follow. Through an experimental analysis of the outcomes that work best, a community can be set up that incorporates these relationships into its structure. One of Skinner's guiding principles is that reward is better than punishment, and he thinks that people can create communities which "naturally" allow desired behaviors to occur and be rewarded. Skinner wrote the first edition of this book shortly after World War II, in the mid-1940s, but its publication generated very little interest. It was only after the decade of the 60s, when there was so much rebellion against the status quo in American society, that campus residents (both faculty and students) began to view communal ideas favorably. Interest in communal living peaked in the 1970s and has waned somewhat since that time. If one is going to have a permanent community, it has to provide the correct environment for future generations, namely, the children. Skinner (in agreement with Watson) did not think that the family was an ideal place for child rearing. Most mothers did not have sufficient scientific knowledge for the task, and even if they did, the demands on their time from other areas was so great that they could not do a good job. He believed, as did Watson, that there is danger in a strong parent-child relationship which may interfere with the development of independence. Feelings of jealously and insecurity are more likely to occur in an intense relationship in which only one or two adults are trying to meet all the emotional needs of a child. Child rearing is a shared communal task with infants segregated from the parents at birth and tended in groups by child care experts. The parents are free to come in as they please (if they don't come in too much), but they are asked not to overindulge their children or single them out for special favors. The children are shielded from both physical discomforts and the vagaries of "unplanned" interactions with less-knowledgeable adults. Training is regulated by one primary rule--a child has to learn to tolerate frustration. This is accomplished through the principle of shaping. In the typical upbringing by non- experts, children are exposed to frustration on a random basis; there is no effort to give it in graded doses. Undoubtedly, some children are able to survive this regime, but not all can do so. Adversity is a natural event in life, but when it occurs willy-nilly, children do not develop the necessary tolerance, and negative emotions such as anger, fear, and jealousy emerge.
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