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Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century [Hardcover]

Lauren Slater
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 April 2004
Through nine examples of ingenious experiments by some of psychology's most innovative thinkers, Lauren Slater explores the progress of the science of the mind in the 20th century. The experiments are narrated as stories: full of plot, wit and personality.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; 1 edition (2 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393050955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050950
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.3 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 220,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


It is precisely [Slater's] intimate confessional approach that is able to reveal the poetry latent in the sterile laboratory.... A powerful and even inspiring meditation on the strengths and weaknesses hidden in our nature. --Eric Wargo" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Lauren Slater is the author of Welcome to My Country, Prozac Diary and Love Works Like This, and has written articles and contributed pieces to the New York Times, Harper's, Elle and Nerve. Her essays are widely anthologized and she is a frequent guest on US radio shows, including 'The People's Pharmacy' on NPR. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I did my first psychological experiment when I was fourteen years old. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Readers beware 27 Mar 2004
Readers should be aware that some people interviewed in this book, including prominent psychologists, have written formal letters of complaint to the President of Norton (publishers of the US edition), stating that parts of the purported conversations are defamatory inventions. Other knowledgeable psychologists have stated that important elements in Slater's descriptions of important psychological experiments are erroneous. Even before I read these complaints by a number of prominent psychologists, I had reason to doubt the veracity of the author. From lengthy extracts in the Guardian newspaper in January, and lengthy excerpts from the book on BBC Radio 4 "Book at Bedtime" (five quarter-hour readings from different chapters), I formed the opinion that some of the author's accounts of her experiences, including passages in the alleged conversations she had with current psychologists, were very unlikely to be true. Likewise the detailed account of her first attempt at replicating Rosenhan's experiment concerning the diagnosis of someone who only pretended to have symptoms of severe mental illness seems to me to be largely a product of her imagination. I suggest that people impressed by enthusiastic reviews of the book, such as some of those posted here, should keep an open mind until they have had an opportunity to see the evidence adduced by critics of Slater's book.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial reevaluations vividly presented 7 July 2004
By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is a remarkable book not only for its content, but for the way it is written. What Lauren Slater does extremely well is (1) provide a context for the experiments and personalize them; (2) insinuate herself into the narrative in meaningful ways; and (3) write the kind of prose that is vivid and psychologically engaging. She has the gift of the novelist, and she is not satisfied with the conventional surface of things.
But there is an edge to Slater's prose. She dwells on the horrific: the lobotomies, the monkeys being abused for the experimenter's purposes, the living rats with their brains exposed... She does/doesn't believe that the means of animal experimentation justifies the ends of neurological knowledge. This dialectic that she holds in her mind, now favoring the value of experimental psychology, now questioning it, may leave the reader dissatisfied and confused. Where DOES Lauren Slater stand? She says she stands "with this book" for which there is no conclusion, even though she writes a concluding chapter with that title.
So it is not so strange that among these "great psychological experiments" she finds nothing like solid ground. Instead she waffles between experimenter and experiment, between one interpretation and another. And while she addresses the experiments themselves and the controversies they raised, more significantly she addresses the experimenters themselves, challenges them with sharp and sometimes impertinent questions; and when the experimenters are not available, she finds relatives or friends and fires loaded questions at them. Slater wants to find the truth, if possible, and to be fair; but often what she finds is that she doesn't know what the truth is, and that life is oh, so complex.
This is refreshing and of course disconcerting.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pecking pigeons and false memories 10 Mar 2004
I too had intended to read a chapter of this book and then come back to it later, but ended up reading the whole thing, then re-reading the whole thing, then a fortnight later dipping into it and thinking it over.
The experiments are interesting, whether or not you are interested in psychology, because what they are about is attempting to understand human beings. Some of them you may be familiar with - most people have heard of Milgram's experiment where unknowing dupes were prepared to deliver what they believed were potentially fatal electric shocks to another participant in an experiment, just because they were asked to, but the author also finds some less well-known and equally interesting experiments.
What she does particularly well, is plunge herself into the issues involved. She doesn't just read about the boxes that Skinner put his trained pigeons into, she goes and looks at them. She doesn't just accept the common-knowledge that Skinner's daughter who he raised on the disciplines of positive reinforcement (in a special playpen he dubbed 'heir conditioner) killed herself, she goes out and talks to his other daughter, who says that this is all nonsense, that her father was misunderstood.
If you think for a second that this is going to be dry or technical, it is not. Every chapter in this book will make you think in a slightly different way about something you've never considered before - I wish I could say that about even 5 % of the novels that are out there at the moment.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A psychological journey for all of us 25 Feb 2004
I bought this book and planned on reading one chapter and then alternating with a book of fiction. Instead, i started this book and finished it in a day and plan on reading it again. Slater's descriptions of past psychological experiments in laymen terms and collection of current views on their outcomes is gripping and intelligent reading. After every chapter i couldn't help but apply the principles to myself to see where i stood. What makes this book so gripping, is the author's ability to make the past so personal and relevant to everyone. Slater is extremely generous in sharing of herself as a guinea pig for us to learn through and question ourselves. This is the best book i have read in a long time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Recommended for anyone doing psychology at any level
Published 6 days ago by Ailsa Mackay
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
delivered fast, item as advertised.
Published 1 month ago by Monika
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
So good I could not put it down! And in good condition too. Really thrilled with it. Many thanks. Jan
Published 8 months ago by jan mcculloch
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating revisit of psychology experiments from the past
If you have studied psychology at a time when psychology experiments were all the rage, or even since then, you will enjoy this book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by SallyAnn
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing read
i reaaly think this book is amazing its a great read if your into that sort of thing would highly recommend to anyone of intrest.. Read more
Published 9 months ago by josh
1.0 out of 5 stars @trash #trash
misinformation of the worst order
as a work of fiction - maybe.

20 words needed? Read more
Published 15 months ago by Rubidium
4.0 out of 5 stars Thank you Slater
I learnt more about psychology in this book that I did from a 3 year degree in the subject. A great read for psychology students and people new to subject. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Joshua Pittman
5.0 out of 5 stars skinners box
arrived on time in good time for my son 's discussion class.
in good quality and would recommend this to all doing psychology.
Published 21 months ago by sim
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, great service
Really interesting book which came with a few days of ordering. Really pleased with the service and am still enjoying this fascinating book!
Published on 8 May 2012 by FE Lecturer
5.0 out of 5 stars Experiments in context
I bought this brilliant book as a primer before starting a psychology degree. It is easy to read, giving overviews of a number of important psychological experiments, whilst... Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2011 by Wil Elque
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