Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century (英語) ハードカバー – 2004/2
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Through nine examples of ingenious experiments by some of psychology's most innovative thinkers, Lauren Slater explores the progress of the science of the mind in the 20th century. The experiments are narrated as stories: full of plot, wit and personality.
'Remarkably stimulating ... Opening Skinner's Box is an endless delight' Mail on Sunday 'Makes for fascinating reading, helped along by Slater's charm and resourcefulness' Sunday Telegraph 'The experiments Slater describes are fascinating in their own right, but made more so by the rich social and personal context in which Slater places them' Daily Mail 'An unusual and compelling personal journey combining the emotional and the scientific ... a warm narrative flow achieved through a mixture of research, intuition, anecdote, reconstruction and engagingly haphazard interviews' Time Out --このテキストは、ペーパーバック版に関連付けられています。商品の説明をすべて表示する
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Anyone going through a psychology program has been taught about the history of psychology, which includes an evaluation of different approches, such as behaviorism, and also includes the ethical issues of earlier experiments like Milgram's. We also know that prominent psychologists are very "human" and often very flawed individuals. However, Slater's portrayals of the people she interviewed for this book are unsympathetic to the point of being cruel.
For example, Skinner's aging and mourning daughter is "a little too passionate about dear old dad."
The use of an electric defibrilator to attempt to revive Stanley Milgram during a heart attack was compared to his "shock" experiments, while his body is described as "flailing like a fish's."
Harry Harlow's wife died of breast cancer, and is described as "turning a saffron yellow, her mouth pulled back in a masked grimace, her teeth peculiarly sharp looking, monkey teeth, mad." This was evidently, to bring in a "monkey" image to his wife's illness and premature death.
Sometimes, Slater is merely annoying, as when she says she "hoped" that Harry Harlow held his wife's hand in the doctor's office, or says she "imagines" that Rosenhan was "smug" while trying to get himself committed to a mental hospital.
Other times she's just weird, as when she confesses to taking a bite of a 10 year-old piece of chocolate, left half-eaten by Skinner.
There are a few interesting pieces, such as when Slater attempts to replicate Rosenhan's study. She went to mental health centers/hospitals saying she heard "thud." She was treated well, diagnosed as mildly psychotic or depressed, and given a prescription. That would seem to be a good description of current practice and is an interesting update on Rosenhan's work.
She also found some individuals who participated in the Milgram studies, and describes the trauma some continue to experience.
But, getting this interesting material means reading through an annoying and personalized writing style. Slater is at least as flawed and unpleasant as the "big" names (and their families and colleagues) she delights in skewering.
And it was intriguing. Slater debunks the myth that B.F. Skinner raised his first child in a "box" in order to conduct an elaborate behavior experiment on her. The box turns out to have been a high-tech playpen designed and built by the doting father that Skinner apparently was. Another famous experiment which revealed that most people would torture another if encouraged by a benign authority figure was especially chilling in light of the Abu Ghraib torture by American guards.
However, I came away with the distinct impression that Slater is a nut. Slater seemed especially enthusiastic about recreating an experiment in which normal people pretended to be demented enough to enter a mental hospital, then reverted to normal behavior and waited to see how long it would be before they would be discharged. Slater checked into some eight different hospitals. She also took some of the anti-psychotic meds she was prescribed rather than tossing them.
She reveals that she was unable to recreate the experiment strictly, because under the original conditions, the pseudo-patients would be truthful after being admitted, but Slater actually had a mental hospital stay in her past, so she lied. And I simply didn't believe that bit about biting the ten-year-old chocolate bar in the Skinner House at first. As I read more of the book and learned more about Slater, it wasn't so unbelievable any more.
Anyway, Opening Skinner's Box is definitely an unusual book. It poses many thoughtful questions about the nature of humanness. It is well-written, but I can't vouch for how well-researched it is or how factual. It is extremely interesting and thought-provoking, and more than a little creepy.
A reader can forgive and overlook minor mistakes, but when facts cited are flat-out wrong and incredibly easy to disprove, the overall credibility of the book crumbles.
A simple example is the author's assumption that, because she (the author) failed to contact B.F. Skinner's daughter Deborah, Deborah must be of questionable psychological status - undoubtedly attributable to the time she spent in a climate-controlled crib built by her father. In the author's words: "I did not come across any data that could convince me of her [Deborah's] metal status." I have not come across any data that could convince me that author Lauren Slater is not schizophrenic and married to Bigfoot, but that doesn't mean it's fact. The author repeatedly insults the intelligence of her readers - we are certainly aware that information one doesn't "come across" does not qualify as data.
A reader is much better off to form his or her own opinion by reading Skinner's work (most is available free online), or the work of his critics who have actually researched the subject (Noam Chomsky, of course, is the first that comes to mind.)
But there is an edge to Slater's prose. She dwells on the horrific: the lobotomies, the monkeys being abused for the experimenter's purposes, the living rats with their brains exposed... She does/doesn't believe that the means of animal experimentation justifies the ends of neurological knowledge. This dialectic that she holds in her mind, now favoring the value of experimental psychology, now questioning it, may leave the reader dissatisfied and confused. Where DOES Lauren Slater stand? She says she stands "with this book" for which there is no conclusion, even though she writes a concluding chapter with that title.
So it is not so strange that among these "great psychological experiments" she finds nothing like solid ground. Instead she waffles between experimenter and experiment, between one interpretation and another. And while she addresses the experiments themselves and the controversies they raised, more significantly she addresses the experimenters themselves, challenges them with sharp and sometimes impertinent questions; and when the experimenters are not available, she finds relatives or friends and fires loaded questions at them. Slater wants to find the truth, if possible, and to be fair; but often what she finds is that she doesn't know what the truth is, and that life is oh, so complex.
This is refreshing and of course disconcerting. She began with an attitude of deep distrust, for example, toward B. F. Skinner, the man who had put his daughter in a box, the man who apparently cared more for experiment and establishing behaviorism than he did for human beings, a man whose conclusions could pave the way to a new and more horrible fascist state. But Slater plunges in and finds that his daughters loved him and that the one who supposedly committed suicide is alive and well. Slater even realizes, after being confronted by Julia Skinner Vargas, one of the daughters she interviewed by telephone, that she, Slater, hadn't read Skinner's magnum opus, Beyond Freedom and Dignity--had instead, like most of us, myself included, known it only by reputation, bad reputation.
So Slater reads the book and when she is through she compares Skinner to a "green" Al Gore and speculates that "maybe" Skinner "was the first feminist psychologist." Quite a turnaround.
But this is characteristic of Slater's approach. Become engaged. Keep an open and flexible mind. Dare to believe what others are afraid to believe. Turn on a dime. And this is right for this book since many of the experimenters did exactly that: they sought to show where the conventional wisdom was wrong; and they sought to turn psychology on its head.
The first piece I read (opening the book at random) was "On Being Sane in Insane Places." This is about how in the early 1970s, Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan and eight collaborators showed up at nine different mental hospital around the country and told the shrinks they were hearing voices. The voices said one word: "Thud." They were committed even though otherwise they acted normally. Their stay was from fifty-two to seven days each.
This experiment created a sensation and a scandal in the psychiatric community and caused a complete overall in the DSM II (we have DSM IV today). The diagnostic language was rewritten so that the definitions became measurable, and the volume grew by two hundred pages.
Slater decided to replicate the experiment. She went to mental hospitals and said she heard a voice that said, "Thud." What she got were prescriptions for antipsychotics and antidepressants.
There are ten chapters and a conclusion. "Obscura," the second chapter deals with Stanley Milgram's infamous electric shock experiment which showed that ordinary people would, guided by the authority of the experimenter, administer what they thought were possibly lethal shocks to fellow human beings. Another chapter looks at Leon Festinger's experiment with infiltrating a doom's day cult and seeing what happens when doom does not arrive at the appointed hour. What happens is "cognitive dissonance"--which I would call "elaborate rationalization."
Still another chapter is devoted to the famous "Lost in the Mall" repressed memory experiment by Elizabeth Loftus which demonstrated how subject to suggestion are our memories. Loftus who, along with Katherine Ketcham, wrote The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1994), showed how a false memory of being lost in the mall as child could be suggested to people and how they would not only come to believe it, but would confabulate all sorts of "remembered" detail around an event that never happened.
This is a book that may make some practicing psychologists uneasy. (And they may write nasty reviews.) Certainly Slater does not play to their feelings. Quite the opposite. Toward the end she asks: "At what point does experimental psychology and clinical psychology meet? Apparently at no point. I interviewed twelve licensed practicing psychologists...and none of them even knew most of these experiments, never mind used them in their work." (p. 253)
And Slater is not enchanted with the new psychopharmacology. She argues that Prozac, Zoloft, and other psychoactive drugs may have long term effects worse than lobotomies. In fact the point of Chapter 10: "Chipped" is to tell the story of a man who benefitted from a cingulotomy (the modern, streamlined lobotomy) after electroshock therapy and after "more than twenty-three...psychiatric medications" had failed him.
The walnuts pictured on the cover come from this statement about the brain on page 249: "there is still something holy about that three-pound wrinkled walnut with a sheen."
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