The New Behaviorism (Draft)

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Abstract

This edition is almost completely rewritten and about twice as long as the first. I cover two new social issues and also devote more space to the philosophy of cognitivism and the science behind theoretical behaviorism. B. F. Skinner figures less prominently in this edition than the last, but his work is a theme that still runs through many chapters – because his influence has been so great, and his writings raise so many provocative issues that are identified with behaviorism.
The book is in four parts. The first part (Chapters 1, and 2) is a brief history of behaviorism. The second part (Chapters 3-12) is the longest. It discusses the experimental methods and theory associated with Skinnerian behaviorism and the single-subject method (Chapters 3 and 4), Skinner’s views on theory, the parallel between learning and evolution, and the theoretical relations between behavioral psychology and ‘rational-choice’ economics (Chapters 5-8). In Chapter 4, I have a longish discussion of choice behavior and, a laboratory phenomenon that has played an important part in the development of behaviorist theory. This section ends with a discussion of the new consensus on a Darwinian, selection/variation approach to learning, the limitations of Skinner’s utopian ideas and finally Skinner’s idiosyncratic view of mental life (Chapter 9-12). Two chapters deal with Skinner’s still-influential proposal to ‘design a culture.’ The popularity of behavioral economics, exemplified by books like Nudge , public policy related to things like smoking and obesity, and the continuing efforts, especially in Europe and the UK, to diminish the role of punishment in the legal system, all reflect the influence of Skinner’s ideas. Skinner, like many ‘scientific imperialists’ today, believed that science provides the ends as well as the means for enlightened social policy. So it’s OK to use science to trick the citizenry as long as it gets them to do the right thing. I examine all this in Chapters 10 and 11.
The third part expands the discussion of theoretical behaviorism that I began earlier in connection with choice and timing. I describe what it is, how it deals with some new learning phenomena and with phenomena of consciousness, in humans and in animals. (Chapters 13-16). Part 4 is a beginning attempt to analyze three major areas of society  the legal system, health care and teaching  from a behavioristic viewpoint.

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Staddon

John E. R. Staddon

James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience

Until my retirement in 2007, my laboratory did experimental research on learning and adaptive behavior, mostly with animals: pigeons, rats, fish, parakeets.  We were particularly interested in timing and memory, feeding regulation, habituation and the ways in which pigeons and rats adapt to reward schedules. The aim  is to arrive at simple models for learning that can help to identify the underlying neural mechanisms. I continue to do theoretical and historical work on the power law in psychophysics, operant learning, timing and memory, habituation and feeding regulation.  I have applied some of these ideas to economics and financial markets and social issues such as traffic control (Distracting Miss Daisy, The Atlantic, 2008; Death by Stop Sign) and smoking (Unlucky Strike, Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking, with David Hockney, UBP, 2013).  A second edition of Adaptive Behavior and Learning (Cambridge UP) was published in 2016. Most recently I have published Scientific Method: How Science Works, Fails to Work, and Pretends to Work. published by Routledge in December, 2017, Unlucky Strike Second Edition, and Science in an age of unreason (Regnery, 2022). 


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