Other links are for information. They're optional unless you are invited to "click here" or to view an embedded video.
- Read chapter 10 (some more) and 12 (the main topic of this lecture module).
- Read this page. Click the link to video. Also click the link to the story about BF Skinner's daughter.
- Then go to the Discussion board, and find the section for this chapter. Read the first post. Follow the instructions. Post your reply by the discussion deadline.
I love this cartoon.
It's probably a bad sign -- psychology-geek humor. Kept it for years and only recently rediscovered it. Yet I just think it's the perfect thing for this topic (note that Chapter 10 also starts with a dog story, something a bit less obscure and absurd). Well, as you'll see, we may start with dogs, but we'll end with a cat. In between, though, I want to talk a bit about some of what's touched on in this chapter and the related parts of Chapter 10. We'll get to see another big-name psychologist, BF Skinner. I'll also touch on the problem at the center of this chapter -- nicotine dependence -- and get you ready for the discussion assignment. It's a set of questions that will test your knowledge of the text; this is meant to fill it out a bit with some interesting video and (hopefully) a few chuckles.
You may have noticed at the end of the prior video (you can view it again here) Zimbardo mentioned a psychologist who's largely been relegated to the history books: EL Thorndike. He was onto something (note the summary on page 180 -- about as much Thorndike as your'e likely to need for a long while). However, his work was ultimately eclipsed by BF Skinner, who picked up Occam's Razor (remember that?) and trimmed out everything that was unnecessary. Gone were the talk of things like satisfiers and annoyers. What remained was revolutionary. Click here for the video and see for yourself.
Skinner was quite controversial in his day. On one hand, during the middle of the 20th century, empirical psychology captured the popular imagination. It promised to address thorny problems and was seen as part of the marvelous progress available through science. But Skinner also inspired more than a little fear because of his insistence that psychology's earlier preoccupations -- our subjective experience -- was unconnected to what mattered. Notice how he handles this issue in the video. He lived a long and fruitful life and essentially stuck to his convictions until the end (he died in 1990). Along the way, his critics were unrelenting, going so far as to fabricate myths. One cruel story suggested that he raised his daughter in a "Skinner box."
In fact, being a practical (if somewhat unconventional) fellow, Skinner reasoned that it would be cheaper and easier for his infant child, Deborah, if she slept in a crib that was enclosed and climate-controlled. Cheaper than heating the whole room (Skinner's entire career was at Harvard, in often chilly Cambridge, MA). Avoided the need for blankets and pillows or the worry about injury between the rungs of a conventional crib. For his daughter's refutation of these nasty rumors, click here (required: and note the photo of her in the "Heir conditioner," yuk yuk yuk).
Pages 180-188 give a good, concise introduction to operant-conditioning terminology and theory. Study this closely. Note, in particular, the table on 186, which lays out the distinction between reinforcement and punishment. I mentioned, last time, that this work has permeated our culture. That's particularly true with operant-conditioning theory. We're actually very accustomed to thinking in these terms, generally. So keep that in mind as you work with the material and give yourself the chance to work on it carefully so you really learn the lingo.
This is also one of the first times we'll face an issue of obvious controversy, namely, the use of corporal punishment with children. I am pretty careful in the advice-dispensing department, especially around child-rearing practices. I've taught about them (in courses on Social Development and Social Psychology). The cross-cultural variations are fascinating. Most cultures have deeply held beliefs about what is best. This extends to the practice of -- let's call it spanking for short. The text's treatment of the matter (186-187) is more or less current and, without a big tangent, about as much as I'd want to get into the topic. But I'll stop short of offering an opinion or advice on the matter.
Oh, but when we're talking about smoking, a whole different story. Killed my dad, my grandmother, and isn't helping my sister (who, my mother sadly notes, has her mother's hacking cough). So, I'm pretty adamant about it (don't smoke, please!) but also recognize how incredibly difficult it is for most people to quit.
UVM has several researchers who look at this issue from various angles. Smoking-cessation research is a massive domain. It attracts a wide range of theoretical perspectives and intervention strategies. One thing to underline, in the chapter's research, is this. Because quitting is so hard, any strategy that shows promise is very big news. In large-scale, information-based programs, just getting 3 to 5 percent of smokers to quit is considered a big deal. Also, as smoking rates go down (due to many factors, including the cost -- because of taxes -- and the fact that there are fewer places it's permitted) then the remaining smokers tend to be more nicotine-dependent. That group has long been the hardest to treat, and the least likely to quit for good.
There are current controversies about the best approach to helping people quit. If you're real interested in the matter, a course in Health Psychology would probably be of interest (though it's quite popular and hard to get a seat in it).