BEHAVIOR MOD AND THE MANAGED SOCIETY by Robert L. Geiser

BEHAVIOR MOD AND THE MANAGED SOCIETY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Informal, balanced, morally alert, and enlivened by humor, this critical survey of applied behaviorist psychology disentangles some panicky misconceptions about behavioral conditioning and separates its potential benefits from its limitations and dangers. ""Behavior mod,"" the ""scientific"" shaping of human behavior by ""positive and negative reinforcement"" (formerly known as reward and punishment), does indeed spring from the thinking of notorious behaviorist B. F. Skinner, the determinist Utopian who wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity. But Geiser makes it clear that Skinner has been unfairly blamed for some of the authoritarian distortions of behavior mod--psychosurgery, drugs, electrical brain stimulation, and the sophisticated technology of punishment. Despite the limitations of his theory--which omits mind, emotion, and imagination from the repertory of human motivation--Skinner himself is humane, stresses positive reinforcement, and has valuably directed attention to the environment as a maker of man. However, Geiser shows how easily narrow-minded technicians and champions of the status quo can and do abuse or pervert ""behavior mod"" techniques to maintain control in mental hospitals, prisons, and schools. He details the modest successes, undesirable side effects, and intrinsic absurdities of a lab-animal science applied to human beings in the real world, and cites court cases that have set legal precedents for the control of behavior mod. Finally, he raises the moral issue of who will control the controllers, and commends ""contingency contracting,"" or self-designed, self-reward programs, the one offshoot of behavior mod with built-in respect for the integrity of the individual.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1976
Publisher: Beacon