3. Behavioral Control

The preceding quote from Skinner’s book on Verbal behavior (1957) brings us, finally, to the issue of behavior control.  Clearly the assumption that all behavior is lawful does imply the possibility of behavior control.  All that is necessary is to manipulate those conditions that influence or result in a change of behavior.  This is exactly what Skinner and his followers have pursued: behavioral control.  Skinner himself has declared:

Several years ago I spent a pleasant summer writing a novel called Walden Two.  One of the characters, Frazier, said many things which I was not yet ready to say myself.  Among them was this:

I have only one important characteristic, Burris: I’m stubborn.  I’ve had only one idea in my life— a true idée fixe. . . to put it as bluntly as possible, the idea of having my own way.  “Control” expresses it, I think.  The control of human behavior, Burris.  In my early experimental days it was a frenzied, selfish desire to dominate.  I remember the rage I used to feel when a prediction went awry.  I could have shouted at the subjects of my experiments, “Behave, damn you, behave as you ought!”  Eventually I realized that the subjects were always right.  They always behaved as they ought.  It was I who was wrong.  I had made a bad prediction.

(In fairness to Frazier and the rest of myself, I want to add his next remark: “And what a strange discovery for a would-be tyrant, that the only effective technique of control is unselfish.”  Frazier means, of course, positive reinforcement (1956, p. 233).

Behavior control is no longer Skinner’s dream as he expressed it in his utopian novel, Walden Two (1948/1962).  Empirical research has repeatedly demonstrated the effectiveness of the functional analysis of behavior as the basis for a technology of behavioral control (Krasner & Ullmann, 1965; Ullmann & Krasner, 1965; Bandura, 1969; Ayllon & Azrin, 1968; O’Leary & Wilson, 1975; Bergin & Garfield, 1971; Rimm & Masters, 1974; Golfried & Davison, 1976).

The functional or experimental analysis of behavior advocated by Skinner and his followers has had many and varied areas of application, for example: personality theory (Lundin, 1969/1974), self-instruction (Holland & Skinner, 1961), the study of drugs and behavior in psychopharmacology (Boren, 1961, 1966; Blough, 1957), psychopathology (Ullmann& Krasner, 1969/1975), schedules of reinforcement (Ferster & Skinner, 1957; Ayllon & Azrin, 1965), and missile flight control (Skinner, 1960).  In addition, the reader is referred to Honig (1960) for a collection of papers detailing other areas of research and application of operant technology, which includes topics ranging from child behavior and development (Bijou & Baer, 1966) to the use of operant methods in space technology (Rohles, 1966).  Skinner’s own most important research can be consulted through his Cumulative record: A selection of papers (1959/1972).


© 1976 Angel Enrique Pacheco, Ph.D., C.Psych.  All Rights Reserved.



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