Academic journal article The Psychological Record

NOT A BLACK BOX: A REVIEW OF RUTHERFORD'S BEYOND THE BOX: B. F. SKINNER'S TECHNOLOGY OF BEHAVIOR FROM LABORATORY TO LIFE, 1950s-1970s

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

NOT A BLACK BOX: A REVIEW OF RUTHERFORD'S BEYOND THE BOX: B. F. SKINNER'S TECHNOLOGY OF BEHAVIOR FROM LABORATORY TO LIFE, 1950s-1970s

Article excerpt

RUTHERFORD, A. (2009) (1)

Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner's Technology of Behavior From Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s

Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press

pp. xi-210, paperback, ISBN: 978-0-8020-9618-0

Alexandra Rutherford is a rare professional: She earned her doctoral degree at York University's History and Theory of Psychology program and Clinical Psychology program, and she specializes in B. F. Skinner and behavior analysis (e.g., Rutherford, n.d., 2000, 2003). She combines her training, interests, and scholarship in Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner's Technology of Behavior From Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s (2009). (2)

Her book is a history of early applied behavior analysis (formerly, behavior modification), focused on the technology of behavior and organized around six topics. In broad outline, they are as follows: (a) the contributions of Skinner to improving human life (e.g., the baby tender, the teaching machine); (b) the early operant research of Charles Ferster (e.g., children with autism), Ogden Lindsley (e.g., psychiatric patients), and Sidney Bijou (typically developing children); (c) the efforts of Teodoro Ayllon and Nathan Azrin on a token economy in a psychiatric institution (Anna State Hospital); (d) the related efforts in criminal justice by Harold Cohen and James Filipczak (Contingencies Applicable to Special Education), by Carl Clements, John McKee, and Michael Milan (e.g., Experimental Manpower Laboratory for Corrections), by Scott Geller, and by Norman Carlson, Roy Gerard, and Albert Scheckenback (Special Treatment and Rehabilitative Training program); (e) the self-help work of Charles Ferster, of Richard Stuart and Barbara Davis (controlled eating), of Robert Alberti and Michael Emmons (assertive behavior), of Gary Martin and Joseph Pear, and of David Watson and Roland Tharp (self-control, in general); and (f) the creation of real-world Walden Two communities by Kathleen Kinkade (Twin Oaks) and Juan Robinson (Los Horcones). Rutherford describes the professional relations among these people; the popular, political, and legal reactions to and consequences of their work; and the cultural support (or lack thereof) for this work. As she notes, the book is not about Skinner, except the first chapter.

Beyond the Box will set the occasion for many discussions, for instance, in graduate seminars on behavior analysis and the history and systems of psychology. In the spirit of a seminar, I avoid an exhaustive "book report" and comment on four topics of particular relevance. The first is central to Rutherford's book--the importance of the original box; the second and third, topics inspired by her chapter on self-help--common sense and the countercultural quality of environmental control; and the fourth, a topic uniquely appropriate to a book on history--Rutherford's historiography. As suggested, this essay is not a traditional book review; rather, it is an extended reflection on the result of Rutherford's impressive scholarship. I begin with a discussion of the importance of the box to Skinner and behavior analysis.

The Box

The box in Beyond the Box is not the organism as "black box" but the Skinner box or operant chamber, Skinner's invention for studying the behavior of nonhuman animals, such as rats. Rutherford describes the operant chamber, explains its significance to Skinner, and discusses the early work of behavior analysts who adapted it to humans. On the chamber's significance, she remarks, "Ultimately, Skinner showed with this work that response rates could be determined reliably and precisely by the schedule of reinforcement used to generate them. He showed that animal behavior could be precisely controlled by its consequences" (p. 16). Although Beyond the Box is about applied behavior analysis, the title and theme of the book indicate that the operant chamber is critical to Rutherford's analysis. As Rutherford explains, "I outline how Skinner's experiments with rats and pigeons in small operant chambers inspired experiments with human subjects in an ever-expanding Skinner box until, finally, the box itself disappeared" (p. …

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