5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2013
In 1958 I discovered this book while I was studying for a degree in psychology. It was a completely different approach from what I was being taught. At the time I could not convince my fellow students or lecturers that it was more convincing and applicable than their syllabus.
Since then as a Counselling and Occupational Psychologist, I was increasingly convinced by what Skinner wrote and in this and subsequent books, where he expanded and illustrated the validity and applicability of the guidelines set out in this book. Recently, I bought a new copy from Amazon because my copy had fallen apart though constant use.
Psychology is the science that tries to identify the factors that influence and guide our thoughts, feelings and actions. In this book Skinner sets out clearly with numerous examples the principle that, if desired actions are positively reinforced, then these actions are more likely to be repeated in the future. On the other hand, if undesired actions are negatively reinforced they are less likely to occur. Negative reinforcement means undesired actions are ignored and other actions that help the person escape are positively reinforced. This approach is completely opposite to punishment which tries to forcibly stop undesired action. So if a child misbehaves the normal response is to tell them off, threaten them with punishment or punish them. Did that work when we were children or with our children?
Instead of punishment Skinner suggests we stop reinforcing undesirable behaviour by ignoring our child and waiting until they do something right. Then give them the positive reinforcement of praising them and giving them more of your time and suggesting what they could do to get positive reinforcement from other people or themselves. Our child will soon, consciously or not, learns to act in ways which get positively reinforced. .
Between 1953 when this book was published and 1993 when he died, Skinner was himself repeatedly positively reinforced by the growing acceptance of his principles and their successful application to teaching children and adults more quickly and effectively and helping individuals overcome their emotional, mental and social problems
Since he wrote this book, a rival approach called Cognitive Psychology claims that internal thoughts and feelings explain our external actions - speech writing, gestures and movements. Skinner has repeatedly pointed out that the supposed internal “mental way stations” are “explanatory fictions” because they explain nothing. In contrast, argues Skinner, all of our current actions, whether external or internal, speaking writing, gesturing or moving are best explained by factors created when in the past these actions were reinforced. We continually generate new actions, which are reinforced and, in turn, become factors that influence and guide our future actions.
I strongly recommend this book. Read it and decide if his principles of positive and negative reinforcements give you useful and helpful guidelines on understanding yourself and others. . .
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2007
1/3 of this book covers basic conditioning as seen in all animals, including humans. Much of this was established experimentally with rats and pigeons but the discussion here is in terms of humans. There are no diagrams or pictures in this section, which can get rather dry.
The remaining 2/3 of the book covers topics associated more with humans such as thinking, private events, the self, institutions and culture. Skinner refers to institutions such as the government, religions, psychotherapy, economic groups and education as "controlling agencies". His scientific approach of these agencies overlaps the artistic rendering of addictive systems by the very different William Burroughs in "Naked Lunch", but between the two of them one can get a good sense of how one's actions are conditioned.
For millenia, for lack of scientific application, speculative systems have been dominate. The Greeks were masters of such systemization, which culminated in "The Enneads" by Plotinus, an amazingly unified and satisfying work consisting almost exclusively of explanatory fictions. Such comfort systems seem to have a strong hold on people. Much of modern psychology is not an advance on "The Enneads". Look at how much of cognitive psychology is speculative, lacking in any experimental confirmation.
There is a great opportunity here for you. At this time, half a century after this book's publication, behaviorism is not well supported. To be sure, there are practicing behaviorists and some excellent progress in the application of behavioral analysis. But behaviorism seems to be heavily resisted, as Skinner himself recognized. This book has excited me. Read it and if it indeed excites you, even as a layperson, see what you can do to apply it and to educate others about it. The opportunity is that there is still a lot to learn about how to apply it in our everyday life. This stuff is too important not to embrace...well, see what you think.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2009
Acknowledged as the most influential psychologist ever, Skinner stands in Social Science as Darwin stands in Biology and Newton stands in Physics.
Being the most recent, Skinner is inevitable the most controversial. It may be century before mankind can abandon its cherished false beliefs and apply Skinner's findings as we now apply those of Newton and Darwin.
Essential reading for anyone seriously seeking to understand humans
on 13 July 2015
Brilliantly written discourse on the objective approach to human affairs for both specialists and interested readers. B.F.Skinner offers his honest account while remarking his limitations in a thoroughly scientific enquiry of human behaviour, without avoiding controversy. This book is a comprehensive and broad manual to functional analysis at the individual, group and societal levels. Possibly seen as an unconventional approach, environmental determinism and operant behaviour draws explanation on solid observation and evidence and invites the reader to challenge status quo beliefs about behaviour and its causes. Current findings from neuroscience neuropsychology support predictions that Skinner proposed herein that were unavailable at the date of authorship.