Skinner is a radical behaviorist and determinist who proposed that human behavior is controlled by objective observable factors such as environmental conditions and genetic factors. He suggested that human behavior can be classified into two types: respondents and operants. Respondents are behaviors that caused by environmental stimulus while operants are behaviors that act on the environment. He asserted that both respondents and operants are totally controlled by the environment. The main difference of these two kinds of behaviors is the nature of the control. Respondent is elicited by an environmental stimulus while operant occurs before the environmental stimulus. The environmental consequences which due to operants will control the behaviors that follows. There are three major ways that the environmental consequences can control behaviors: reinforcement, punishment and extinction.
Skinner defined inner state such as feelings and emotions as a predisposition to act which means affecting the probability of occurrence in certain behaviors. He claimed that inner state is the effects of genetic make-up and personal experiences rather than the cause of behaviors.
Thinking and Decision Making
Skinner perceived thinking as a kind of behavior which is also affected by our own past experiences and through other’s instructions. A kind of thinking that Skinner mentioned is “decision making” which is closely related to making choices. Skinner asserted that free choices do not exist. Our past experiences, behaviors and behavioral consequences control the decisions or choices that we make.
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According to Skinner (1971), “Freedom is a matter of contingencies of reinforcement, not of the feelings the contingencies generate” (p. 38). He defined freedom as a behavioral process but nothing related to the state of mind. He believes that freedom can be partly experienced when we could avoid or escape from aversive elements of the environment. However, we still can’t free ourselves from the environment.
Although Skinner emphasized that behaviors are entirely controlled, our determined behaviors can modify the physical and social environments which exert different effects on our behavior, thus controlling ourselves indirectly.
He believed that the behavior which causes aversive consequences can be controlled by negative reinforcement such as avoiding or escaping from the situation in order to reduce the probability of being punished.
The Perspective from Rogers
Rogers took the “humanistic phenomenology” approach (Nye, p. 98) to understand human development.
Rogers believed that self-actualization, which includes personal growth and realization of basic potentialities, exists in human. He suggested that we should not set any absolute limit to the level of actualization as our full potential is always an unknown based on our present knowledge.
Inner Human Experiencing
To study human behavior, Roger emphasized the importance of inner human experiencing. This refers to evaluating ourselves subjectively such as our thoughts and feelings and trying to understand others empathetically.
The “Self Theory”
The subjective awareness of ourselves and the surrounding environment are the most important determinants of behaviors. The objective reality of the environment is not an important factor that determines behaviors. This means that the realistic self-concept develops a perception of the external reality and the circumstance in which we find ourselves, thus affecting behaviors.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Rogers suggested that positive regards are innate needs of humans, which include love, acceptance and respect. These needs are usually fulfilled by others who are in intimate relationships with us. Unconditional positive regards mean these needs can be fulfilled simply because we, as humans, are worthy. When these needs are not given unconditionally, especially in childhood, then there is a higher possibility for unfavorable characteristics to be developed. On the contrary, conditioned positive regards refer to regards that are only given when we meet others’ expectations.
The key differences in viewing human development between Skinner and Rogers
Views on Human Nature
In Roger’s approach, he assumed that we naturally have an actualizing tendency and are “growth-motivated persons” (Nye, p. 135). On the other hand, Skinner viewed humans as “environmentally controlled persons” (Nye, p. 135) who are being predisposed and manipulated since birth to become products of the environment.
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Views on Personality Development
Regarding personality development, Skinner stressed that it depends primarily on the outcomes that our behaviors have. We all have different personalities which make us as unique persons because there are differences in our reinforcement histories. The stronger the history of positive reinforcement is, the more likely for us to well-develop a favorable personality. Differently, Roger believed that humans have the potential to maintain an ever-upward spiraling in development if we are exposed to unconditional positive regards.
Views on Human Behavior
Although Rogers admitted that there is an influence of the environment on human behaviors, he stressed that the subjective, inner feelings and experiences play the most significant role in determining behaviors. In contrast, Skinner insisted that our behaviors are merely controlled by genetic and environmental factors but not any of our inner states. He believed that we are controlled by the environment in three major ways: reinforcement, extinction and punishment.
Views on Freedom
When it comes to freedom, Rogers perceived it as something inner, subjective and existential. As long as the openness and responsiveness to the totality of our experiencing are developed within us, we could experience a sense of freedom and choose the way we behave. On the other hand, Skinner argued that freedom is nothing related to the state of mind. Humans are not free to decide our own fates but are determined by the environment.
My commentary on Rogers and Skinner Perspectives
I prefer Rogers over Skinner perspective on human development. I think that Skinner over-emphasized on behavior control which is dehumanizing and might indirectly mislead the society to treat persons as objects or machines which to be manipulated.
I tried to imagine how my life would have become if Rogers perspective didn’t ever existed and my personal beliefs were all based on Skinners approach. All of my behaviors and experiences were predetermined and being controlled which I did not have any choices at all. I couldn’t experience the sense of satisfaction from what I endeavored to achieve since i would believe that favorable environment was the only reason which contributed to my success. It would be discouraging and my life would have less meaning. On the other hand, Rogers perspective makes me feel optimistic towards life by believing that the potential for growth and actualization reside within myself. Despite things are falling apart in times of adversity, I still live with hope and strongly believe that I am equipped with the power to overcome difficulties and live a better life in the future.
Rogers perspective enhanced my self-understanding especially through the concept of unconditional positive regards. According to my own personal experiences, I strongly agree with Rogers that unconditional positive regards are prominent to the development of a healthy, fully functioning person. In my childhood, I had learnt that love and acceptance could only be gained with the condition that I was well-behaved, independent and expressed with favorable feelings and emotions. As a result, I have been experiencing psychological discomforts over the years with the feeling of being “broken”. I mean there is a large discrepancy between my actual and ideal self which Rogers called it as “incongruence” (Nye, 2000, p. 110).
Moreover, I appreciated Rogers who had taken an inclusive approach to study human development which involves objective, subjective and empathic perspectives. He paid great attention to the inner state of human while at the same time didn’t deny that the environment affects how we behave.
All, in all, I think both perspectives have its interest to offer and undoubtedly allowed me to enhance self-understanding, the behaviors of others as well as the effects of the physical and social environment. Although the understanding of theories on human development is important, I believe that we should keep in mind not to overlook each individual’s unique personality and experiences nor over-generalize individuals by imposing these theories on them.
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