B. F. Skinner (the behaviorist) contends that all human behavior is controlled by rewards and/or punishments.  Therefore, he claims everything we do is to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. ...

B. F. Skinner (the behaviorist) contends that all human behavior is controlled by rewards and/or punishments.  Therefore, he claims everything we do is to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.  This means humans have no "free will" or "choices."  Further, Skinner contends that we are simply and always controlled by the rewards/punishments in our environment.

Excluding biological processes (breathing, sleeping, etc. ) name three behaviors you have ever "chosen" that were done without reward or punishment.  Justify your response for each selected behavior.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While behaviorists like B. F. Skinner hold that people learn to associate physical behaviors with rewards and others with punishment, they tend to minimize the effect on mental processes. Nevertheless, they do consider many mental processes to be externally conditioned behaviors. In contrast to this behavioral approach, humanistic psychology focuses on the inner lives, goals, and hopes of people. It rejects the notion held by behavioral psychologists that behavior is determined primarily by forces beyond people's control.

In this area of humanistic psychology, as it is termed, the focus is on the inner lives, goals, and hopes of people. These are self-driven urges and behaviors, rather than outside sources. For instance, artists, inventors, and scientists are often involved with their crafts or inventions and are very self-motivated even when they repeatedly fail because they are convinced that they can create what they hope to do, arrive at a solution to a problem, or discover a critical breakthrough in science. One example of an artist who was self-driven is Vincent van Gogh. Despite only selling one of his paintings, van Gogh continued to paint. He died never having known his talent was recognized so highly.

In another example, some people have been known to have anonymously donated something as crucial as a kidney to a stranger. Their action is purely altruistic and seeks no reward.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main issue with answering this question is that one encounters a paradox when one attempts to define the nature of rewards. This is an issue that philosophers as early as Immanuel Kant addressed in the area of ethics when considering whether any act is truly altruistic or whether we should argue that "altruistic" acts such as giving away money bring the giver pleasure and thus are not purely "altruistic."

When I go to the grocery store over the holidays, there is an option of donating extra money to feed poor families. I make a habit of doing this. On one hand, I could argue that giving money to feed to poor is purely altruistic with no external reward. On the other hand, I could also argue that feeling that I have done something positive for others actually gives me more emotional satisfaction than picking up a latte on the way home from the store. There is actually evidence that people who donate to charity are happier than those who do not.

Many other behaviors that can be thought of as forms of self-actualization, such as creating art, nurturing friendships, and engaging in spiritual practices, lack external rewards and punishments but may bring emotional satisfaction. Thus, while Skinner's model of behavioral psychology works well for training mice, a broader understanding of rewards, which includes emotional satisfaction, is needed to account for human behavior.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Skinner believed that behaviors are reinforced by rewards, including positive and negative reinforcement. However, some behaviors aren't reinforced by positive reinforcement or the removal of negative reinforcements. There are some self-sacrificing or altruistic behaviors, for example, in which the person does not expect a reward and might even experience punishment. An example is sharing your food with a hungry person who you will never see again. You don't expect a reward or recognition for that behavior, but you do it anyway. You don't experience any external rewards, and you might even suffer as a result of going hungry. Another example is providing help to a hurt animal along the side of the road. In this example, you might arrive late to your destination or even brave the elements to help the animal, which causes you to suffer. A final example is giving money to a charity (without wanting the recognition that results). You might have less money to spend on yourself as a result, which is punishing, but you do it anyway. In each case, there might be no recognition or reward; instead, you are motivated by a sense of altruism rather than a desire to be rewarded or to avoid punishment.