Monday, March 03, 2014

This Column Will Change Your Life: B. F. Skinner and Self-Management

According to rumour, the psychologist BF Skinner was a sinister fellow, hellbent on manipulating others. The worst story was that he raised his own daughter in a dark box, like the ones he trained rats in, rendering her psychotic; years later, she shot herself in the head in a bowling alley in Billings, Montana. This tale was popularised in a 2004 book, but it lost credibility when Deborah Skinner Buzan – neither psychotic nor dead, but understandably cross – surfaced to explain that the "box" was just a homemade crib, warm and open-topped. She'd never even been to Billings, Montana, much less shot herself there. (It's the sort of thing you'd remember.) The truth about Skinner, whose 110th anniversary is this year, is that he was a skilled manipulator of himself. And in a world where we're ever more subject to manipulation by commercial forces, we could stand to learn some of his tricks, since if anyone's going to manipulate us, it might as well be us. In a paper entitled Skinner As Self-Manager, his colleague Robert Epstein explains Skinner's singular ability to see his own life as one big mass of variables, some of which could be altered by tweaking others. more

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