Social Control

Individuals act to form social groups because such behavior tends to be reinforcing. Groups, hi turn, exercise control over their members by formulating written or unwritten laws, rules, and customs that have physical existence beyond the lives of individuals. The laws of a nation, the rules of an organization, and the customs of a culture transcend any one individuals means of countercontrol and serve as powerful controlling variables hi the lives of individual members.

A somewhat humorous example of both unconscious behavior and social control involved Skinner and Erich Fromm, one of Skinner's harshest critics. At a professional meeting attended by both men, Fromm argued that people are not pigeons and cannot be controlled through operant conditioning techniques. While seated across a table from Fromm and while listening to this tirade, Skinner decided to reinforce Fromm s arm-waving behavior. He passed a note to one of his friends that read: '"Watch Fromm s left hand. I am going to shape a chopping motion"' (Skinner, 1983, p. 151). Whenever Fromm raised his left hand, Skinner would look directly at him. If Fromm's left arm came down hi a chopping motion, Skinner would smile and nod approvingly. If Fromm held his arm relatively still, Skinner would look away or appear to be bored with Fromm's talk. After 5 minutes of such selective reinforcement, Fromm unknowingly began to flail his arm so vigorously that his wristwatch kept slipping over his hand.

Like Erich Fromm, each of us is controlled by a variety of social forces and techniques, but all these can be grouped under the following headings: (1) operant conditioning, (2) describing contingencies, (3) deprivation and satiation, and (4) physical restraint (Skinner, 1953).

Society exercises control over its members through the four prhicipal methods of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and the two techniques of punishment (adding an aversive stimulus and removing a positive one).

A second technique of social control is to describe to a person the contingencies of reinforcement. Describhig contingencies involves language, usually verbal, to inform people of the consequences of their not-yet-emitted behavior. Many examples of describing contingencies are available, especially threats and promises. A more subtle means of social control is advertising, designed to manipulate people to purchase certain products. In none of these examples will the attempt at control be perfectly successful, yet each of them increases the likelihood that the desired response will be emitted.

Third, behavior can be controlled either by depriving people or by satiating them with rehiforcers. Again, even though deprivation and satiation are internal states, the control orighiates with the environment. People deprived of food are more likely to eat; those satiated are less likely to eat even when delicious food is available.

Finally, people can be controlled through physical restraints, such as holding children back from a deep ravine or putting law breakers hi prison. Physical restraint acts to counter the effects of conditioning, and it results in behavior contrary to that which would have been emitted had the person not been restrained.

Some people might say that physical restrahit is a means of denying an individual's freedom. However, Skhuier (1971) held that behavior has nothing to do with personal freedom but is shaped by the contingencies of survival, the effects of rein-

Feist-Feist: Theories of I IV. Dispositional Theories I 15. Skinner: Behavioral I I <£> The McGraw-Hill

Personality, Sixth Edition Analysis Companies, 2005

Chapter 15 Skinner: Behavioral Analysis

Physical restraint is one means of social control.

Chapter 15 Skinner: Behavioral Analysis forcement, and the contingencies of the social environment. Therefore, the act of physically restraining a person does no more to negate freedom than does any other technique of control, including self-control.

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