Monday, October 10, 2011

The punishment procedure and its undesirable consequences

Within the framework of the B.F. Skinner`s Operant Conditioning model, any unpleasant experience ranging from an unexpected cold shower to a beating, you name it, is considered punishment, stimulus that follow behavior and weaken the future probability of such behavior.  Punishment involves presenting aversive stimuli (physical, verbal punishment) or withdrawing reinforcing stimuli (deprivation of privileges or isolation from people).

Punishment as a method to control behavior should be avoided due to its major side effect:  people learn to avoid and escape from sources of punisment.  But if it is necessary to use it to control a behavior too intense or too frequent, punishment must be used humanely.  Otherwise is utterly immoral.

Escape is when people get away from a punishing stimulus: leave a room or a house, close a telephone call.
Avoidance is when people do not get close to a punishing stimulus: do not attend certain places or take some telephone calls, children do not want to go to school, adults get sick in order not to go to the job.

Much of the problem behavior both children and adults show, has come from punishment treatment by other people or from a hostile environment.  Punishment causes frustration, and aggresiveness is quicker and most
common response to frustration.

Francisco Josè Arnàiz says about this topic:  "Dollard and with him many authors define aggression as an instinctive reaction to any frustration. This explains at length the presence and virulence of the phenomenon of aggression and violence in modern society, supersaturated with frustrations. Personal, professional, political, social and economic frustrations:

Frustrations over the current unemployment and underemployment, the erratic behavior of public authorities,
the inequality of fundamental opportunities, the absence of clear rules of play, the competitiveness, the subterranean discriminations, the perversion of the judicial practice, the lack of defined criteria, the absence of ethical principles equally mandatory, the confusion of ideas, the success of rogues, the ridicule of the honest and clean, the precariousness of basic social services, the mismatch between labor compensation and the real cost of living, the emergence of criminal ways to get large sums of money, the triumplant injustice, the lack of understanding between parents and children, the prevailed lack of solidarity." (free translation)

It should not come as a suprise the amount of violence in the current social life utterly controlled by punishment procedures.  Please read on this same blog the article Walden Two, an Utopian community imagined by B.F. Skinner, where punishment is never used.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The influence of Biology on Psychology

I had stressed before the influence of Biology on Psychology, but not with the synthesis power R.S. Peters can do it; and since this is such an important stage in the history and development of Psychology as a science, I have a third excerpt invited:

"The influence of biology has proved to be the farther-reaching influence sustained by psychology, besides the philosophical, religious and medical traditions that had mainly conditioned its development.  But that influence did not show with all intensity until the end of XIXth Century and the beginnings of the XXth one, when those who knew Darwinian biology began to study man in the same way they studied the animal, and using for the human conduct the same type of explanatory hypothesis.  There was, however, a time of transition, before the different psychology schools of XXth Century appeared; during that time, the biologic approach did not have a radical influence on the old traditions of the psychology of "ideas" but, rather, corrected them.  Psychology continue being essentially introspective.  We must wait until the beginnings of XXth Century to see reflected in different "schools" the concrete result, for Psychology, of the Darwinian statement that men are, after all, animals, and that the same kind of problem can be considered with regard to men as with regard to animals." (p. 464)

Free translation from:
Historia de la Psicologìa by G.S.Brett
Editorial Paidòs, Buenos Aires
Edited and abridged by R.S.Peters

considered with regard to men as with regard to animals.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Qualitative and quantitative scientific methods

Until recently it was difficult to obtain funding for research that was based on qualitative methods, because there was the erroneous belief they could not make any useful contribution to science.  This R.S. Peters excerpt explains very well the importance of these methods.

"The main function of the measurements in science is surely to facilitate the test of the hypothesis by expressing   them in more exact form.  The quantitative techniques allow science people to respond in more precise form to the problems posed by less refined qualitative methods.  But it little matters to do measurements, unless the goal of those techniques is the test of fertile hypothesis.  Measurement by itself does not produce fertile hypothesis, laboratories or research subsidies either.  In physical sciences, an enormous amount of qualitative analysis, not only precedes to the use of quantitative techniques, but it also provides postulares about the physical world, which are incorporated to the measurement techniques.  The qualitative experiences of daily life provided Galileo the necessary foundation to undertake the quantitative study of a big variety of problems. The contribution to the progress of psychological theory by men like Freud and McDougall, who did not worry about premature attempts of measurement, was more substantial than the one of those who were obsessed by the need to collect quantifiable data.  Science progress depends as much of the development of fictitious postulates as of the exact techniques to prove them. To embark in this last one, without having developed the previous thing, would be like buying a harvester to use it in the North Pole."   (p.402)

Free translation from:
G.S. Brett, Historia de la Psicologìa
Editorial Paidòs, Buenos Aires
Edited and abridged by R.S. Peters

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A captivating definition of science

Spanish is my first language.  I prefer to blog in English because it substantially places me within reach of more people over the world.  So, most of the books I own are in Spanish.  Today I dared to translate into English some captivating words that were written originally in English, but since I was not able to find on the web the original writing, and want to share it because, both in form and content, are superb ideas, great thoughts expressed with beauty and originality, I decided to translate this excerpt from my book in Spanish.  Hope that some day I am able to read these words in its original writing, which must be much more captivating:

"We tend to consider science like a "body of knowledge" that began to be accumulated when man discovered the scientific method.  That is a superstition.  It is more in agreement with the history of thought to describe science like a set of myths about the world which have not yet been proven false.

For the methodologist, the crucial stage arrives when conscious attempts are made to test the accounts provided by tradition, speculative curiosity or practical needs.

To demonstrate to a man that his account is false implies, commonly, to present oneself a better account.  Science consists of conscious attempts to refute other people`s accounts and the presentation of better accounts to replace them. The history of science is the history of the accounts whose partial falseness or correctness has been demonstrated."     R.S. Peters

Free translation from:
Brett, G.S.  Historia de la Psicologìa (History of  Psychology, edited/abridged by R.S. Peters)
Editorial Paidòs, Buenos Aires

Monday, June 27, 2011

Outstanding Scientific Women in last 100 years (4)

Lise Meitner was born to a jewish family in Vienna, Austria (1878) and died in Cambridge, England (1968); due to Austrian restrictions on female education, she only could enter the University of Vienna in 1901.  Ludwig Boltzman, who thought that physics is a battle for ultimate truth, was her teacher.

When the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Otto Hahn in 1944 for the discovery of nuclear fission ("for his discovery of the fission of heavy nuclei") the Academy overlooked Lise Meitner, who worked with him in the discovery and gave the first theoretical explanation of the fission process.  They collaborated for 30 years at the Berlin`s Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry, where each of them headed a section, she studied the physics and he the chemistry of racioactive substances. The proof of fission required both the physical insight of Meitner and her nephew physicist Otto Frisch, and the chemical findings of Hahn and Strassmann. In 1966, Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann were awarded the U.S. Fermi Prize

After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, she had to emigrate and went to Stockholm, where she continued working.  She later retired to Cambridge, England, where she died in 1968.  In 1997 was announced that element 109 would be named meitnerium (Mt) in her honor. Many consider her the most significant woman scientist of the XXth century.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Cognitive Revolution

An important thinking shift on Psychology science happened during the 60`of XXth Century.  Many researchers became interested on what goes on in the mind; this was a change after Behaviorism emphasis on direct observation of behavior.  This new scope of mind thought that complex cognitive processes such as language and thinking could not receive satisfactory explanations in terms of the stimulus-response relations of the Behaviorism model, which led to the field known as Cognitive Psychology.

Cognitive researchers began with the study of learning and soon became established as the study of information processing associated with mental activities, such as attention, perception, memory, problem solving.  They did not return to the introspective methods used by Wundt on XIX Century, but designed another methods for testing their ideas about mental processes.  Experimental methods were adapted to study  internal processes, not directly observed.

Cognitive Psychology can be considered as part of the cognition sciences that include, too, linguistics and AI (Artificial Intelligence).  The brain receives information from the senses ( sight, hearing, etc.), and then this information is processed, similar to a computer.  It is studied the function of the mind (what it does) and the process (how it does it).

Eventually, in order to be able to help people in everyday life, the Cognitive approach started investigating on social cognition:  how those cognitive processes were used by the human beings to understand social situations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Outstanding Scientific Women in last 100 years (3)

Barbara McClintock, American scientist (1902-1992), was born in Hartford, Connecticut; she was the youngest of three daughters in a middle-class family.  She enrolled at the School of Agriculture in Cornell University, where the tuition was free, graduated in 1923, and in 1927 received her PhD.

For the time being it was very difficult for women to get permanent work in universities and she survived on several short-term research fellowships at various universities.  In 1931, she was the first woman postdoctoral fellow to work at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech); it was necessary that the Board of Trustees
granted her special permission, even she was paying her own salary from her fellowship.

After several uninteresting positions, she resigned the last one in 1941; then she heard about a research institute at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island, where as much as 60 geneticists were working.  After some years her position there was made permanent and was given the freedom to follow her own lines of research.

In 1945 she was the first woman to be elected president of the Genetics Society of America; in 1983, at 81 years old, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work on cytogenetics of maize:    seventh woman to receive it in science.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Outstanding Scientific Women in last 100 years (2)

Rosalind Franklin, British Biophysicist (1920-1958), was trained as a physical chemist and microbiologist and made an important contribution to science: using X-ray crystallography, her work led to the discovery of the structure of DNA, that is, that this molecule consists of an intertwined double helix of atoms.  Her "Photo 51" gave colleagues Watson and Crick the needed evidence to confirm the double helix structure of atoms, which they published in Nature on April 1953, with little acknowledgement to Rosalind`s contribution, gaining a Nobel prize in Medicine in 1962.  This exclusion is considered an example of sexism in the scientific research world.

She was born in London in 1920, studied natural science at Newnham College, Cambridge, and died at 38 years old of ovarian cancer, probably due to high exposure to X-rays in her laboratory work.

 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, British Chemist (1910-1994), studied chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, where she obtained a first class degree in 1932, then did PhD at Cambridge.  Some years later she returned to Oxford, continued her work on the structure of insulin and published her findings in Nature in 1935.  She worked on the structure of penicilline and vitamine B12 and in 1964 was awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry "for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances"

First woman to be awarded the Royal Society`s Order of Merit, highest honour; first woman to be appointed (1970) as Chancellor of the University of Bristol.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Outstanding Scientific Women in last 100 years (1)

Francoise Barrè-Sinoussi, French, Virologist (1947-) 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine, jointly with Luc Montagnier, for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); worked on characterising and isolating HIV; collaborated with molecular biologists on identifying the genome sequence of the virus; from this work was established the link between HIV and AIDS.

Marie Curie, Polish-born French, Physicist and Chemist (1867-1934)  Marie Sklodowska is the only person to be awarded a Nobel prize in two different sciences:  in 1903 in Physics, jointly with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity; and in1911 in chemistry for isolating radium in the state of the pure salt, and characterizing it as a new element.

She discovered that thorium is radioactive and then demonstrated the existence of two new radioactive elements:  radium and polonium.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The human being is a biopsychosocial system. The three components of this system work as an integrated whole.  Biologically, man adapts to survive like an individual and a member of the species. At the psychological level, he struggles to develop and to maintain self-esteem, a sense of identity and effectiveness, interpersonal relations. At the social level, he learns to tolerate the frustrations imposed by society and to accept delays in the gratificaciòn of his desires and needs. And he must do all this simultaneously.

There are dinamic relations of interaction among the three components of the system and, according to the contemporary notion that an optimum health state does not only consist of the absence of disease, but rather in a condition of reasonably pleasant biopsychosocial well-being, the set of experts to take care of the prevention and maintenance of this well-being should be of a multidisciplinary nature. Biologists, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, dieticians, are some of the professionals of the Health Sciences whose disciplines directly affect the good biopsychosocial adaptation of the human being.

That biopsychosocial well-being could be a good operational definition for that elusive feeling known as "happiness"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Walden Two

Walden Two, only novel written by American Psychologist B.F. Skinner, Harvard University Professor for many years, got the title after the experience lived by the American Philosopher Henry David Thoreau during two years in a forest called Walden, in Massachusetts, alone and completely retired of social life, to live in contact with nature. On the other hand, Walden Two is a fictional community, separated from the rest of the world, where life is lived in agreement with ethical and psychological principles. In both cases exists a rejection of industrial civilization and its effects on humankind.

Frazier, the character who created the ideology of Walden Two in the novel, says to a friend: "The distance between the technical power of the man and the wisdom whereupon he uses it, it visibly increases year after year… To restrain science until the wisdom and the responsibility of the man are able to take the reins, is not solution. As threatning as it seems, as crazy as it appears to the contemplative soul, science must go ahead. But we must rise  the man to the same level. When we have developed a science of conduct as powerful as the atomic science, you`ll be able to see a considerable difference"

What makes me remember the words of Zenon, main character of the novel The Abyss by Marguerite
Yourcenar:  "The world is big … May it please to the One who perchance Is, to expand human heart to
life's full measure"

Friday, April 1, 2011


Behaviorism is a learning theory that focuses on objectively observable behaviors: what can be seen, heard, measured, weighed; since mental processes, such as thinking and feeling,  are so difficult to register, they relied on objective behavior, that can be described scientifically.

The russian researcher Ivan Pavlov was main precursor with his investigations on classical conditioning, which is one of the ways of learning.

Pavlov was investigating the digestion of the dogs and observed that they salivated when food was presented, and later began salivating in the presence of the lab aid who fed them; salivating in presence of the food was an unconditioned response, but in the presence of the lab aid was a learned, conditioned response, that became associated with the food.

American John B. Watson was the first psychologist who called himself behaviorist and centered his research on observable behaviors; American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted research on operant conditioning, which is another way of learning, more complex than the classical conditioning, more frequent, more human.
In this form of learning, behaviors are maintained by its consequences, basically reinforcement, punishment
and extinction.

But human mind is too complex and it was somehow necessary to deal with many processes that are not directly observable, opened, but rather covered (feelings, emotions, thinking); behaviorist therapy works very well with kids and today is used with adults, too, in combination with other techniques.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The four founders of Psychology

"In 1877, Charles Darwin, the biologist who later put forward the theory of evolution, was doing the first scientific infant-observation study, observing and writing about his son's behaviours and emotions in descriptive psychological terms."  (Open U.)

Darwin was objectively describing and writing down what he was observing about the behaviour of his son; he was annotating all he could observe about one specific behavior, duration, hour, what had happened before, what happened later, all possible information relating one specific event, that`s a scientific infant-observation study.

"Wilhelm Wundt  methods included use of the scientific experimental method, introspection (asking people to think about and report on their inner feelings and experiences), and ethnography (observations of human culture)."  (Open U.)

Introspection proved not to be a very reliable method for making researchs, so today is just part of the history in the evolution of the Psychological science.  But at least Wundt was objectively writing down everything that was reported to him, it meant an effort.

"William James, an American professor trained in philosophy, medicine and physiology, who published the influential Principles of Psychology in 1890, also advocated a multi-method approach that included introspection and observation."    (Open U.)

"Sigmund Freud, the first psychoanalyst, was a medical doctor and research physiologist who opened his psychology consulting room in Vienna in 1886. Freud, working at the same time as Wundt and James, pioneered a method that involved listening closely to people's personal accounts of their symptoms, emotions, and their lives more generally, asking insightful questions and attending to the particulars of language use and unconscious phenomena."  (Open U.)

Sigmund Freud wrote many interesting books, created Psychoanalysis, a kind of therapy still used nowadays by trained therapists, and had a great deal of new ideas; some of them have evolved with further researchs, others have lost credibility.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dr. Wilhelm Wundt

Psychology is as much a social science as a natural science; humans are most intelligent animals of the planet Earth, that s why they command the others.  This is our clasification within the Animal Kingdom:

Species:H. sapiens
Subspecies:H. s. sapiens
Trinomial name
Homo sapiens sapiens

Since birth humans begin to learn and to relate to other persons, creating bonds through social interaccion; then Psychology is, too, a social science, as well as a natural science.

The content of Psychology are not opinions or common-sense explanations but research-based knowledge.  Everybody is entitled to have opinions about humankind, but they are not scientific and, hence, can not be in a Psychology book.  This is the cicle of enquiry for any science, including Psychology:

"There are four elements in the cycle of enquiry:

  1. Psychological research starts with the framing of appropriate, answerable questions.
  2. The answers to these questions are claims. These claims have to be clearly identified so that they can be thoroughly assessed.
  3. Assessing claims requires the amassing of information called data. The word ‘data’ is a plural word for the building blocks that make up the evidence that is presented in support of a claim.
  4. The evidence then has to be interpreted and evaluated. The process of evaluation often generates new questions to be addressed as well as providing support for, or disconfirmation of, the original claims."    (Open University)

    The origins of Psychology are Philosopy, Biology, Physiology, and the date that has been accepted for its own beginning as a separate science is 1879, when german doctor Wilhelm Wundt opened the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany:

    So, Dr. Wundt is considered one of the founders of the new science; the other three are Dr. William James, American; Charles Darwin, British naturalist researcher; and Dr. Sigmund Freud, Austrian.    (Open University)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus demonstrated mathematically that Earth was not static at the center of the universe, but rather revolved around the Sun, which was called the Heliocentric Model; years later Galileo Galilei built the first telescope and provided the empirical evidence to Copernicus theory, which was not politically correct for the time being.  Catholic Church forced him to recant his theory, and it is said he whispered very low "Eppur si muove", "And yet it moves".

Stephen Hawking says, "Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science."

"Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology, which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe.[2]

Copernicus' epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published just before his death in 1543, is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution. His heliocentric model, with the Sun at the center of the universe, demonstrated that the observed motions of celestial objects can be explained without putting Earth at rest in the center of the universe. His work stimulated further scientific investigations, becoming a landmark in the history of science that is often referred to as theCopernican Revolution."

So, these two Renaissance men, Polish Copernicus and Italian Galilei, carried out the beginning of modern science and scientific revolution.

¿Why Copernika?

Because I am so interested in science; I am in Psychology and the main goal of this blog is to share with you everything I will be learning in an online course on XXIth Century Psychology.  This course is important for me because I stopped working on Psychology many years ago, even I always became interested on Psychology news; now this interest will be focused through a formal online course.  I will share it with you, explaining it with everyday words and will answer your questions relating it.