Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

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by Lauren Slater
     
 

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Through ten examples of ingenious experiments by some of psychology's most innovative thinkers, Lauren Slater traces the evolution of the century's most pressing concerns—free will, authoritarianism, conformity, and morality.

Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's

Overview

Through ten examples of ingenious experiments by some of psychology's most innovative thinkers, Lauren Slater traces the evolution of the century's most pressing concerns—free will, authoritarianism, conformity, and morality.

Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been narrated as stories, chock-full of plot, wit, personality, and theme.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Opening Skinner's Box is a very readable, if highly personal, account of what we know, and don't know, about human nature, and of the ethical issues raised by our efforts to find out more. — Peter Singer
The Washington Post
The message of Opening Skinner's Box seems pretty clear, though it may not be the one the author intended. Like Slater's narrative voice, the stories are interesting.

But they go much further than she may have intended, opening doors, not necessarily into knowledge, but into deeply strange eccentricities on the part of these scientists -- eccentricities that sometimes verge, themselves, on the insane. — Carolyn See

Publishers Weekly
Psychologist Slater's account of 10 of the most influential-and controversial-experimental forays into the mind's inner workings is neither clinical nor dispassionate. Slater (Lying, a Metaphorical Memoir) is a relentlessly inquisitive eccentric somewhat in the mold of Janet Malcolm, and her examinations of such (in)famous experiments as Stanley Milgram's "electric shock" obedience studies and Harry Harlow's "wire monkey" attachment researches are defiantly personal, even intimate. Slater takes the often bleak news about the predictability and malleability of human behavior revealed by such theorists as B.F. Skinner deeply to heart, and her book is as much urgent reassessment as historical re-creation. The brilliant chapter on David Rosenhan's experiment, in which volunteers presented vague symptoms at psychiatric facilities and were immediately admitted, proving that the diagnosis of "mental illness" is a largely contextual affair, is the most flamboyant and revealing example of Slater's method. She is not only frank about her own experiences as a patient in psychiatric institutions but-as she does elsewhere-she reproduces the experiment personally. That Slater-after an average office visit of less than a quarter-hour-is prescribed a variety of drugs rather than being locked up does show a change in clinical methodology, but confirms Rosenhan's thesis. This combination of expert scientific and historical context, tough-minded reporting and daringly subjective re-creation serves to illuminate and humanize a sometimes arcane subject. If this leads to occasionally florid prose, and a chapter on "repressed memory" scourge Elizabeth Loftus in which Slater's ambivalence shades toward outright hostility, this is still one of the most informative and readable recent books on psychology. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Slater (Prozac Diary; Love Works Like This) returns with this exploration of the continuing moral and social implications of nine important psychological experiments-a really great idea for a book. She includes B.F. Skinner's work on operant conditioning, Stanley Milgram's study of obedience to authority, Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance, Harry Frederick Harlow's primates, and Elizabeth Loftus on false memory syndrome. All of these experiments continue to inspire current psychologists, and all have profound implications for our views of free will, conformity, and morality. Unfortunately, the execution of this book is not up to the idea. Slater is a clinical psychologist who views individual personality as the deciding factor in most situations, which is ironic since most of the experiments she covers have refuted this position. She doesn't seem to understand that social and biological psychologists are not particularly interested in individual differences-their agenda is based on improving the world by devising environments that encourage positive behavior. Plenty needs to be said about this, but, unfortunately, Slater spends too much of her time speculating about the experimenters' childhoods and personalities (two of her interviewees are described as "hysterical") to engage the topics. For large subject collections only. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/03.]-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Vivid, insightful account of the experiments that changed the field of psychology in the last century. Slater, who is both psychologist and superb storyteller (Love Works Like This, 2002, etc.), has by no means abandoned the memoir genre here. She is very much a part of these stories, personally visiting with experimenters and sizing them up, reacting to their looks, behavior, and personalities, chatting with their children, picking their colleagues' brains, assessing the significance of their work and relating it to her own experience, even at times conducting her own similar experiments. Her opening section, about B.F. Skinner's work on operant conditioning, takes her on a search for the daughter Skinner supposedly raised in one of his famous boxes. She doesn't find the girl, but does report on a hilarious interview with a thorny colleague who refutes Skinner's findings by talking to her from underneath his desk to demonstrate that he possesses free will. Other experiments deal with obedience to authority (i.e., the willingness of individuals to follow instructions to inflict pain on another person); people's behavior in a group crisis when there is no authority in charge; the actions people take when their deepest beliefs are disconfirmed (e.g., when the world doesn't come to an end on a predicted date). After looking at a 1970s experiment in which sane individuals posed as insane to test the ability of psychiatrists to distinguish between the two states, Slater carried her research to the limit, presenting herself to a number of mental institutions as a person hearing voices so that she could observe the psychiatrists' reactions. She also examines experiments exploring love,addiction, and memory, as well as forms of psychosurgery. Throughout, Slater places each experiment in historical context, relates its findings to subsequent work, and reveals how the labs of experimental psychology reflect life in the real world. Astonishing stories full of quirky personalities, told with wit and warmth.
Peter Singer - New York Times Book Review
“​A very readable, if highly personal, account of what we know, and don't know, about human nature, and of the ethical issues raised by our efforts to find out more.”
David Sedaris - Entertainment Weekly
“I've been riveted by her witty explorations of everything from lying to Prozac.”
Joy Press - Village Voice
“​Worth reading for the provocative questions it asks and for the way it lingers over the fragile, human side of psychology.”
Erik Strand - Psychology Today
“Slater creates for the reader a sense of intimacy with scientists and their subjects.”
Eric Wargo - Washington Times
“It is precisely [Slater's] intimate confessional approach that is able to reveal the poetry latent in the sterile laboratory.... A powerful and even inspiring meditation on the strengths and weaknesses hidden in our nature.”
Elle
“Irresistible storytelling.”
Psychology Today
“Slater creates for the reader a sense of intimacy with scientists and their subjects.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393347470
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
04/08/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
281,003
File size:
513 KB

Meet the Author

Lauren Slater is a psychologist and writer. She is the author of Opening Skinner's Box and Blue Beyond Blue, among other books. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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Opening Skinner's Box 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never been more excited to read about psychology in my life. This was truly a phen. book- I love the moral background and questions she leaves you with at the end of each chapter
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was helpful for my daughter's english literature class.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I paid for this book. I regret that commitment. I'd thought that it would be an introduction to a topic i have an interest in but know little about and although there seem to be facts in there, its difficult to believe or get to grips with them because of the author's perplexingly random outbreaks of mills and boon-esque description and supposition. As a complete novice to psychology i'd appreciate an approach that wasn't overly empirical but this book was like a kid's ramblings. It seemed flimsily based on fact and was irritating. I suspect the author's guilty of bias, whimsy and sloppiness. The bad grammar and malapropisms throughout the book also suggest that her editors have indulged her narcissism. I am shocked at how strongly I feel about this book. It is truly awful and should not have been published.