Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Animal Behavior: George Homans (Blog #3)

This is photo of my work on my laptop and my favorite cereal.  If I finish my work, I promised that I'd reward myself with a big bowl of Cheerios.  The operant is me finishing my work.  The operant is being reinforced by the fact that I want the bowl of cereal.  The reinforcer is the cereal.  Therefore, the more I study, maybe next time I'll add strawberries or nuts to my cereal for extra flavor.  That is how the operant is reinforced.  Therefore, I had gone through an operant conditioning. 

            George Homans wrote a book called Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms in 1961.  In the second chapter of his book, before he could explain his theory of social behavior, he wrote about animal behavior.  Before he explained his theory on social behavior as humans, he wanted to explicate animal behavior as individuals. More specifically, he wanted to detail on the action of voluntary behavior, or operant behavior.  Voluntary behavior is when an individual does something with the “will” to do so.  Involuntary behavior is what individuals do without consciously thinking about it.  For example, blinking the eye or scratching when there is an itch.  People do not think about their actions, they just do them.  Homans stressed that “individual animal behaviors are the simplest unit of all behaviors, and thus, basic propositions about individual animal behavior are generally applicable to all behaviors” (Choi 2004: Pp. 154). Individual animal behavior is the building block of understanding behavior as a whole.  Whether it is interactional behavior or the behavior shared with a loved one, individual animal behavior interprets these and other behaviors as well.  To start off by understanding individual animal behavior, Homans wrote about how we need to understand operant behavior first.  He used an example, the one used by B.F. Skinner, an experimental psychologist. In the experiment, they used a pigeon as the tested subject.  In this experiment, Homans was able to conclude the experimentation of operant conditioning.  The pigeon’s constant behavior is the “peck.”  The pigeon’s location is in an isolated cage in a laboratory.  The involuntary behavior of the pigeon is to “peck.”  During the experiment, a red target is noticed by the pigeon and it starts to “peck” repeatedly at the target.  Not only did the pigeon “peck” at any specific spot in the cage, it repeatedly “pecked” solely at the red target.  Therefore, according to Skinner, “the pigeon’s behavior in pecking the target is an operant; the operant has been reinforced; grain is the reinforcer; and the pigeon has undergone operant conditioning” (Homans 1961; Pp. 18). In other words, it is clear to comprehend that the pigeon only “pecked” at the target, because apparently he was rewarded when doing so.  So when we are rewarded something, we do the same task over and over, just for the rewards.  For example, if a child cleans his room every day, his parents give him ice cream.  So his reward is ice cream every time he cleans his room.  The child cleaning his room would be the operant. The operant, being the child cleaning his room, is reinforced.  Meaning, he is conscious that cleaning his room, probably better than every time he does, will give him an extra bonus.  Maybe his parents will add marshmallows or cherries to the ice cream, for cleaning the ceiling fan, including the floor. That is how the operant is reinforced.  The ice cream would be the reinforcer.  Therefore, the child has gone through operant conditioning.  George Homans focus on Skinner’s experiment brings up another important point.  He found it important that “the first principles should be invented or borrowed from other sciences” (Choi 2004: Pp. 154).  He called this process “induction.”  The first principles are considered the basic propositions of individual animal behavior.  The first principles that were borrowed would be the experiment of the pigeon from Skinner.  However, Homans was not for the “induction” process.  For this reason, he was acknowledged as a Platonist.  A Platonist is a term named from the Greek philosopher, Plato.  Basically, a Platonist is someone who believes in the principle of Platonic realism.  Homans found “induction” to be very vague when it came to trying to understand it.  He found there was no concrete explanation when trying to understand the “induction” process, when there is no guarantee of an “empirical referent in the empirical world” (Choi 2004: Pp. 154).  The “induction” process represents the enactment of creation. In the performance of creation, there is no set of laws or rules to act in the procedure. Everything is done with no explanation, and yet, the individual is guaranteed success. Homans disagrees with the process because there is no logic within it.  He prefers to witness an explanation of the act of creation.  He does not see any logic in the act of creation which guarantees success, without any explanation. These ties into individual animal behavior.  Homans believed that the first principles were derived from individual animal behavior.  However, the introduction of the “induction” process, which correlated with the behavior, is not what he favored.

Choi, Jongryul. 2004. Postmodern American Sociology: A Response To The Aesthetic Challenge.
                Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.
Homans, George . 1961. "Animal Behavior." Pp. 17-30 in Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms
                London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 

No comments:

Post a Comment