Friday, November 30, 2012

The Stimulus Proposition: George Homans (Blog #4)

This person began making videos under the name WhatYouOughtToKnow.  He probably started off with one video, concerning gay marriage.  After receiving a lot of views, he decided to repeat his action by making more videos.  He considered the reward would be popularity   He began to generalize his videos by making them on different topics, such as gay marriage, hiccups, and even facebook personas. He discriminated by making videos on other subjects that would be considered not as important as gay marriage or liberals vs. conservatives.  He branched out so he could gain more subscribers and more fame. 

In the book, Elementary Forms of Social Behavior, by George Homans, he wrote about a list of propositions.  One of them was called the stimulus proposition.  In this proposition, the significant aspect is pointing out the outcome of an action and the circumstances attending it.  The outcomes of the action are interpreted through voluntary or operant behavior.  The circumstances are referred to as the stimuli.  What’s unique about the stimulus proposition is that it is represented in a quasi-statistical form.  Homans used a great example concerning a fisherman fishing in a dark pool.  If a fisherman caught a fish in a dark pool, there is a probability that he will do so again.  “This proposition assumes that an individual has the cognitive capacity to discriminate among stimuli and generalize from one stimulus-context to another” (Rhoads 1991: Pp. 208).   The stimulus proposition proposes that when an individual receives a reward after performing a certain action, that individual will perform that same action again.  If there is a success in performing a certain action, the present stimuli will repeat the stimuli from the past.  In the stimulus proposition, Homans also discussed the “psychological questions of stimulus generalization and stimulus discrimination as these processes may occur in the actor” (Skidmore 1975: Pp. 21). Going back to the previous example by Homans, the fisherman’s action can be generalized.  After catching fish in the dark pool, he may want to try other forms or techniques of fishing to make him a better fisherman in all aspects of fishing.  However, since he was good at catching something as a sport, he may want to try other related sports.  The fisherman can practice hunting or anything else wildlife related. To be more specific, the fisherman can probably try diffident types of fishing rods or different types of bait to be more successful when catching fish. However, as the fisherman tries different ways of fishing, his stimuli then becomes discriminated.  “The argument runs to the effect that as the actor himself more finely discriminates situations, so the rewarding properties of them are more closely discriminated” (Skidmore 1975: Pp. 21). In other words, when the fisherman starts to generalize other forms of fishing, and maybe trying other related sports, the stimuli, that controls his behavior, begins to be much discriminated. Instead of focusing on his previous technique, catching fish in the dark pool, he tends to find other techniques in order to strengthen his performance.  By strengthening his performances he hopes to gain more rewards, in this case, catching more fish. “An individual’s expectation is determined by the rewards and punishments he did in fact receive or saw others receive in similar circumstances” (Rhoads 1991: Pp. 210).  The fisherman’s main goal is to receive rewards.  He wants to catch more fish.  There is a relationship between the stimulus and the action, concerning the reward.  According to Homans, if the stimulus takes too long, following the action, the individual will not make a connection.  In other words, if the fisherman doesn't realize that after catching a fish in the dark pool means that if he repeated doing so would give him the possibility of catching more fish, he would not receive long-term rewards.  He won’t go back to the dark pool; instead, he will go somewhere else where he might not catch any fish. When it comes to the rewards, the better it is, the individual will might become more sensitive to the stimuli.  It all depends on the value of the benefit.  Catching a small herring would be different form catching a swordfish, wither form the same dark pool or catching it from another area. I agree with Homans stimulus proposition.  It is true that when someone does something that gives them a reward they are more likely to do the exact same thing again.  However, they might also try other strategies to gain higher valued rewards.  Here’s a simpler example.  As a student, if I received a high average on a test after studying every day, it would provoke me to repeat the action by studying every day. However, the stimulus that makes me want to study constantly can also be discriminated. Instead of studying every day, I could use other methods of studying.  I could study twice a week or use different techniques when studying.  If all I did was read the textbook, this time, I could use flashcards and form study groups with friends. These different methods are generalized from the former method I once used to study from.  All I basically want, all in all, is to receive a reward. The reward is getting a high average on my test.  All I have to do is repeat the same steps I've originally done that got me a high score in the first place. 

Rhoades, John K. 1991.  Critical Issues in Social Theory. USA: The Pennsylvania State University
Skidmore, W. L. 1975. Sociology's Models of Man: The Relationships of Models of Man to    
         Sociological Explanation in Three Sociological Theories. New York, New York: Gordon &   
          Breach Science Publishers, Inc.

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