FROM PIGEONS TO PEOPLE: A Look at Behavior Shaping by Elizabeth Hall

FROM PIGEONS TO PEOPLE: A Look at Behavior Shaping

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As the author indicates, this is a primer on behavior modification, tracing its history from Pavlov and Watson through Skinner to the proliferating experiments on talking chimps, teenage delinquents, prisoners, students, workers and weak willed dieters. Frequently misused and increasingly unavoidable terms such as operant conditioning, extinction, negative reinforcement (not the same as punishment), aversive conditioning, modeling and alternate response are explained with admirable clarity, and there is even a section on self-conditioning which is about as likely to succeed as other more aggressively boosted self-help guides. The author is not as honest however about the book's second function, which despite her promise of an objective examination of ""the warnings and the promises"" seems to be an apology for the controversial system. Though we tend to agree that public schools are in the business of changing behavior whether they do it effectively (i.e. with bemod) or not, we can't accept her bland assurance that ""when a behavior shaper talks about punishment he is not talking about Alex, the clockwork orange""--and we find her distinction between a dictatorship where bemod is dangerous and a democratic society like ours, where subjects remain free to countercontrol, naive at best. However Hall, who edits Psychology Today and wrote the sensible Why We Do What We Do (1973), can be thanked for a straight, simple introduction to a subject readers are bound to meet again.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1975
Page count: 130pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin