The New Art of Teaching and Training
Praised and damned, damned and praised… Whatever you think about behaviorism, one thing clear. It is going to be around for a long, long time because it captures an essential truth.
Behaviorism owes more to B. F. Skinner than anyone else. Skinner created a famous box in which an animal, typically a rat or pigeon, would push a lever or peck a key. Based on what the experimenter wanted, the animal's behavior was either reinforced or punished, and the desired results followed.
Skinner then generalized his findings to human beings. His findings proved useful, even invaluable, in such areas as industrial safety, coping with autism, parenting children, and teaching students.
His findings are equally useful to the gambling industry in determining how to separate the greatest number of people from the greatest amount of money. "A pigeon pecking at a key, and a woman playing a slot machine, are a lot alike," says Tamara Mitchell.
Behaviorists typically cite only the good side, glossing over the moral issues involved. As Wayne Mitchell says, "Behavioral techniques can be used for the highest aims. They can also be used to get the girl in bed, or to fool the guy into marrying you. It all comes down to character."
Karen Pryor is both a behavioral scientist and a pioneering dolphin trainer. Her book Don't Shoot The Dog is a clear introduction to behaviorism.
The author gives many examples showing how reinforcement techniques apply to human and animal behavior.
(A book which applies behavior analysis to parenting is The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham.)
Two letters showing the positive use of behavioral principles.
Two letters showing the negative use of behavioral principles.
From Don't Shoot The Dog
--"This book is about how to train anyone--human or animal, young or old, oneself or others--to do anything that can and should be done. How to get the cat off the kitchen table or your grandmother to stop nagging you… How to improve your tennis stroke, your golf game, your math skills, your memory. All by using the principles of training with reinforcement."
--"There are eight methods of getting rid of a behavior. Only eight. It doesn't matter if it's a long-term behavior such as a messy roommate or short-term problem such as kids making too much noise in the car; anything you do about it is going to be a variation of one of the eight methods."
--"Method 2: Punishment. (Everybody's favorite, in spite of the fact that it almost never really works.)"
--"Method 8: Change the motivation. (This is the fundamental and most kindly method of all.)"