BF Skinner was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. He developed methods for controlling people, and he was hated by many ordinary Americans for doing this,
Skinner's political writings emphasized his hopes that an effective and human science of behavioral control – a technology of human behavior – could help with problems as yet unsolved and often aggravated by advances in technology such as the atomic bomb. Indeed, one of Skinner's goals was to prevent humanity from destroying itself. He saw political activity as the use of aversive or non-aversive means to control a population. Skinner favored the use of positive reinforcement as a means of control, citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel Emile: or, On Education as an example of literature that "did not fear the power of positive reinforcement."
In the late 1960s and early '70s, Skinner wrote several works applying his behavioral theories to society, including Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971). He drew fire for seemingly implying that humans had no free will or individual consciousness. Noam Chomsky was among Skinner's critics. In 1974, Skinner tried to set the record straight regarding any misinterpretations of his work with About Behaviorism.
An aversive stimulus is the opposite of a reinforcing stimulus, something we might find unpleasant or painful. This leads to another principle of operant conditioning--A behavior followed by an aversive stimulus results in a decreased probability of the behavior occurring in the future.
This both defines an aversive stimulus and describes the form of conditioning known as punishment. If you shock a rat for doing x, it’ll do a lot less of x. If you spank Johnny for throwing his toys he will probably throw his toys less and less.
On the other hand, if you remove an already active aversive stimulus after a rat or Johnny performs a certain behavior, you are doing negative reinforcement. If you turn off the electricity when the rat stands on his hind legs, he’ll do a lot more standing. If you stop your perpetually nagging when I finally take out the garbage, I’ll be more likely to take out the garbage. You could say it “feels so good” when the aversive stimulus stops, that this serves as a reinforcer. Another operant conditioning principle--Behavior followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.
Skinner's behavioral theory was largely set forth in his first book, Behavior of Organisms. Here he gave a systematic description of the manner in which environmental variables control behavior. He distinguished two sorts of behavior—respondent and operant—which are controlled in different ways. Respondentbehaviors are elicited by stimuli, and may be modified through respondent conditioning, which is often called "Pavlovian conditioning" or "classical conditioning", in which a neutral stimulus is paired with an eliciting stimulus. Operant behaviors, in contrast, are "emitted", meaning that initially they are not induced by any particular stimulus. They are strengthened through operant conditioning, sometimes called "instrumental conditioning", in which the occurrence of a response yields a reinforcer. Respondent behaviors might be measured by their latency or strength, operant behaviors by their rate. Both of these sorts of behavior had already been studied experimentally, for example, respondents by Pavlov, and operants by Thorndike. Skinner's account differed in some ways from earlier ones, and was one of the first accounts to bring them under one roof.
The idea that behavior is strengthened or weakened by its consequences raises several questions. Among the most important are these: (1) Operant responses are strengthened by reinforcement, but where do they come from in the first place? (2) Once it is in the organism's repertoire, how is a response directed or controlled? (3) How can very complex and seemingly novel behaviors be explained?[clarification needed]