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sexual fantasies and to actually inflict damage on an enemy are two behaviors likely to be associated withpunishment. Even to covertly think about these behaviors may have punitive effects, but in dreams, thesebehaviors may be expressed symbolically and without any accompanying punishment.
Social BehaviorGroups do not behave; only individuals do. Individuals establish groups because they have been rewarded fordoing so. For example, individuals form clans so that they might be protected against animals, natural disasters,or enemy tribes. Individuals also form governments, establish churches, or become part of an unruly crowdbecause they are reinforced for that behavior.
Membership in a social group is not always reinforcing; yet, for at least three reasons, some people remain amember of a group. First, people may remain in a group that abuses them because some group members arereinforcing them; second, some people, especially children, may not possess the means to leave the group; andthird, reinforcement may occur on an intermittent schedule so that the abuse suffered by an individual isintermingled with occasional reward. If the positive reinforcement is strong enough, its effects will be morepowerful than those of punishment.
Control of Human BehaviorUltimately, an individual’s behavior is controlled by environmental contingencies. Those contingencies may havebeen erected by society, by another individual, or by oneself; but the environment, not free will, is responsible forbehavior.
Social ControlIndividuals act to form social groups because such behavior tends to be reinforcing. Groups, in turn, exercisecontrol over their members by formulating written or unwritten laws, rules, and customs that have physicalexistence beyond the lives of individuals. The laws of a nation, the rules of an organization, and the customs of aculture transcend any one individual’s means of countercontrol and serve as powerful controlling variables in thelives of individual members.
A somewhat humorous example of both unconscious behavior and social control involved Skinner and ErichFromm, one of Skinner’s harshest critics. At a professional meeting attended by both men, Fromm argued thatpeople are not pigeons and cannot be controlled through operant conditioning techniques. While seated across atable 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 choppingmotion’” (Skinner, 1983, p. 151). Whenever Fromm raised his left hand, Skinner would look directly at him. IfFromm’s left arm came down in a chopping motion, Skinner would smile and nod approvingly. If Fromm held hisarm relatively still, Skinner would look away or appear to be bored with Fromm’s talk. After 5 minutes of suchselective reinforcement, Fromm unknowingly began to flail his arm so vigorously that his wristwatch keptslipping over his hand.