The Behavior of Controllers

By Okouchi, Hiroto | The Psychological Record, March 2015 | Go to article overview

The Behavior of Controllers


Okouchi, Hiroto, The Psychological Record


Some individuals are delegated to manipulate the conditions affecting other individuals. The former and the latter, respectively, may be called controllers and controllees. Skinner (1953, p. 314) described that the controller's relation to the controllee might be characterized as that of governor to governed, priest to communicant, therapist to patient, employer to employee, and teacher to pupil. The behavior of controllers may be considered to have contributed to shape, maintain, and extinguish human social behaviors by arranging contingencies of antecedents and consequences of the behavior of controllees (cf. Skinner, 1953, pp. 333-449).

Considerable research analyzing the influence of contingencies on the behavior of individuals has provided the systematic knowledge of how contingencies control behavior (e.g., Ferster & Skinner, 1957; Lattal, 1991; Zeiler, 1977), which has culminated in applied behavior analysis (e.g., Alberto & Troutman, 1999). This may imply that now we know how the controller should arrange the contingencies for controlling the behavior of controllees. By contrast, surprisingly, little is known how the controllers do arrange the contingencies. Exploring the behavior of controllers would be critical for the comprehensive understanding of human behavior.

As a preliminary step for such exploration, the present experiment measured undergraduates' responses that produced consequences to other undergraduates. Pressing a key by one member of each pair, referred to as an instructor, provided another member of each pair, a learner, with points exchangeable for money, whereas pressing another key by the instructor resulted in the learner's point loss. On the other hand, touching a square shown on a computer touch screen by the learner provided the instructor with points. Except that increasing and decreasing points were determined by key pressing of the instructor, conditions for the learner were identical to those of the standard human operant experiments (e.g., Pietras, Brandt, & Searcy, 2010; Weiner, 1962).

The present first question was whether the instructor reinforced the learner's response. As contingencies occurring between many dyads of controllers and controllees (Skinner, 1971, pp. 169-170), the present contingency is that of a mutual reinforcement under which a response by an individual yields a reinforcer delivered to another person, and vice versa (Ulrich & Mountjoy, 1972). Previous results obtained from the mutual reinforcement (Boren, 1966; Okouchi, 2012; Sidowski, 1957; Sidowski, Wyckoff, & Tabory, 1956), however, provide no prediction, because they were not compared with any control conditions. In the present experiment, by contrast, rates of touching a square by learners were compared with those by yoked-control participants to whom points were increased or decreased independently from their performance.

The second question was how the instructor provided consequences to the learner's response. A stimulus is aversive if its removal and presentation, respectively, function as reinforcement and punishment (Catania, 1991). The use of aversive consequences has not been recommended (e.g., Alberto & Troutman, 1999, p. 308), but is still prevalent (e.g., "Poll: 6,721 teachers hit pupils last year," 2013). Therefore, whether the instructor preferred aversive consequences was interesting in the applied context. Positive reinforcers recommended in applied literature (e.g., Alberto & Troutman, 1999, pp. 264-268) can strengthen a response when they followed the response dependently and immediately (e.g., Lattal, 2013). Thus, whether the instructor gave points immediately and only after the learner responded also attracted our interest.

Method

Participants

Ten male and 53 female undergraduates recruited from educational psychology classes at Osaka Kyoiku University participated. They were 19 to 31 years old, and none had experience with operant conditioning experiments. …

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