Sunday, May 25, 2008

who makes the goddamn rules, anyhow???

much of behavior analysis is concerned with the impact of environmental events on the behavior of individual organisms. for humans in highly industrialized countries, most of the contact we have with the environment is with the social environment. as such, we are under the control of social stimuli.

no argument with any of this.

the question, however is where do the social-environmental stimuli come from? in many cases, these stimuli are intentionally promulgated and diffused within the social environment because of their effect on groups of humans; for both, they serve as SD's and reinforcers. for the group disseminating the stimuli, they are reinforcers for continued dissemination of stimuli as they provide reinforcement in the form of money. for the group making contact with the stimuli, they serves as renforcers because they, themselves are reinforcing -- they are "goods" as Skinner says. these two interlocking contingencies maintain the behavioral repertoires that comprise the system. the outcome of the system is what is problematic (global warming, loss of resources, inequality, etc.).

the issue that is frequently overlooked is the notion of stocking the social environment with stimuli. advertisers and marketers do considerable work to determine which reinforcers are most preferred by the buying public. why? to keep the public buying so that they can continue to profit from the behavior. who stocks the environment with reinforcers? how do they do that?

on another level, when it comes to rule-governed behavior, the question is not only how people follow rules, but who makes the rules? in smaller groups, the rules might be self-generating and stem from contact with both physical and social environments. in highly industrialized societies, the rules stem from these same dynamics, but much of the time are less concerned with species-specific behavioral outcomes like survival, and much more concerned with systemic behavioral outcomes, like continued purchasing of products and services.

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