Self Control

If personal freedom is a fiction, then how can a person exercise self-control? Skinner would say that, just as people can alter the variables in another person's environment, so they can manipulate the variables within their own environment and thus exercise some measure of self-control. The contingencies of self-control, however, do not reside within the individual and cannot be freely chosen. When people control their own behavior, they do so by manipulating the same variables that they would use in controlling someone else's behavior, and ultimately these variables lie outside themselves.

Skinner and Margaret Vaughan (Skinner & Vauglian, 1983) have discussed several techniques that people can use to exercise self-control without resorthig to free choice. First, they can use physical aids such as tools, machines, and financial resources to alter their environment. For example, a person may take extra money when going shopping to give herself the option of impulse buyhig. Second, people can change their environment, thereby increasing the probability of the desired behavior. For example, a student wanting to concentrate on his studies can turn off a distracting television set. Third, people can arrange their environment so that they can escape from an aversive stimulus only by produchig the proper response. For example, a woman can set an alarm clock so that the aversive sound can be stopped only by getting out of bed to shut off the alarm.

Fourth, people can take drugs, especially alcohol, as a means of self-control. For example, a man may ingest tranquilizers to make his behavior more placid. Fifth, people can simply do something else in order to avoid behaving in an undesirable fashion. For example, an obsessive woman may count repetitious patterns in wallpaper to avoid thinking about previous experiences that would create guilt. In these examples, the substitute behaviors are negatively reinforcing because they allow a person to avoid unpleasant behaviors or thoughts.

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