Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Adventures with B. F. Skinner

I was doing a little refresher on B. F. Skinner for my philosophy project and found myself laughing out loud at the Wesley Seminary booth during some down time.

Here's some of the more hilarious snippets from that great source of all truth, Wikipedia:

"Project Pigeon... centered on dividing the nose cone of a missile into three compartments, and encasing a pigeon in each. The compartments for each had a video image of what was in front of them, and the pigeons would peck toward the object, thereby directing the missile. Skinner complained 'our problem was no one would take us seriously.' The point is perhaps best explained in terms of human psychology (i.e., few people would trust a pigeon to guide a missile no matter how reliable it proved)."

I have no idea if this is true or someone having fun with Wikipedia, but I certainly enjoyed it. Here's another:

"One of Skinner's experiments examined the formation of superstition in one of his favorite experimental animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon 'at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior.' He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions.

"'One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.'

"Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their "rituals" and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:

"'The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one's fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one's luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing—or, more strictly speaking, did something else.'"


No comments: