Who’s In My Head?

The Skinner Box

                        Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to control someone’s thoughts or actions?  Are you as skeptical as I am when you see a hypnotist turn a normal panel of subjects into a live action “Old McDonald’s Farm”? 

                          Well, I can tell you without flinching that we are being manipulated on a daily basis.  It may not come in the form of a barn yard sing-a-long, but it strikes the subconscious, like a bullet, and you suddenly have a feeling, or an urge, as though you as an individual had to do something.  Have you ever noticed how every pizza commercial shows an image of a single slice being gently pulled away from a freshly baked pie?  Doesn’t It bring back fond memories of…yesterday, or the day before when you ordered your last pizza?  Advertising like this attacks the consumer on a variety of levels. One. It’s pizza, and we all know a little something about that.  Two.  The texture of cheese on the pallet is a unique experience, and by capturing the melting molten cheese it is tapping into you tastes memory.  Seeing steam rise off of the product is another way of reminding you of the smell.  After watching a pizza commercial you are left with an empty satisfaction like you just relived a past experience, but you want to have that experience again, right now.

                          Without focusing too much on the advertising industry, I want to break away, and arrive at some of the science behind mind control.

                           We all know Psychology is a huge field of study, where a clinical psychologist knows little to nothing about what a behavioral psychologist does, and vice versa.  I can assure you the clinical types are the least of your worries, so the next time you have to go to the shrink, just remember, they probably don’t do tests on rats between patients.

                             B.F. Skinner was an amazing behavioral Psychologist.  In my opinion his discoveries are as consequential as say Einstein’s Theory of relativity.  Skinner did a series of experiments using rats, and pigeons.  He was able to get a recurring response with random or fixed intervals of praise in a device called an Operant conditioning chamber, or Skinner box.  When a pigeon was placed in this box, it was given food sometimes at regular intervals and sometimes at irregular intervals.  In both cases the pigeons would perform tasks without being commanded to do so.  For instance some pigeons would perform the same series of movements over and over again until they received their prize, thinking that the ritual they were practicing actually had some reward. 

                                Two conditions had to occur in this situation.  One the subject had to desire something and in this case the pigeon desired food, because it put into the box without having any food prior to the experiment.  The second condition was that the reward had to come within a certain period of time, but could still be random.   What this proves is that a ratio of positive and negative reinforcement is necessary in keeping the attention of the subject.  This is very important when considering mind control.

                               This discovery may sound pretty simple, and in actuality it is very simple, but the implications are amazing.  Basically this device shows that animals have a tendency to do ritualistic things even though those rituals have no real effect on the outcome.  A great example that comes to mind is how ancient societies sometimes prayed or gave offerings to a Deity to bring rain or a good harvest, and if it rained then their prayers were answered, and if it didn’t they hadn’t prayed enough. 

                               A bit before Skinners prime another key scientist by the name of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov discovered a pattern in behavior conditioning.  He discovered that a dog will salivate when you produce a bowl of food.  He then found that if every time you are about to show the dog the food, you strike a bell the dog will start to associate the sound of the bell with the food that follows and in turn the dog will salivate before seeing the food.  So what we learn here is that by creating a ritual before a reward, the ritual becomes a factor in the reaction of the subject.   He noticed that even if he didn’t produce the food after the bell, the dog would still salivate.  This became an early study of negative and positive reinforcement.

                               Okay, so what’s my point?  Given the simplicity behind the studies I have mentioned, reproducing them is rather easy, and can be done at home with the family for fun.  Still, they have had a profound impact on today’s society. 

                               Think about how a slot machine works.  The first mind control device is that the user has to have the desire to win, (ahem, I think everyone wants to hit the jackpot, duh.) Then you have the noise association.  If you win 1 chip or 100 chips it still makes the same distinct noise, and gives you the same positive feeling, indicative of Pavlov’s research.  Then in skinners research we see that you will continue to pull the handle even if you are losing just so long as you win a predetermined ratio.  There is no such thing as a loose slot machine; they are ALL designed to take more than they give. 

                               You see this type of mind control in everyday life.  When you buy this $2000 dollar TV you mail in a copy of your purchase order, and you get $100 dollars back.  To the consumer this sounds better than saying the TV is $1900 dollars, because with a rebate you get something in return.  When you sign up for a 2 year contract with a cell phone provider you get an $800 dollar phone for $200 dollars.  When you buy three large 4 topping pizzas you get the 4th one free.  Buy a new vehicle for $0 dollars down, and 0% interest for the first year.  Great, but you should be paying as much as you can in that first year before the interest gets you.  People don’t see these obvious attempts to gain your appeal, and ultimately your financial support.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been watching TV with my wife, and she will turn to me and say “I want,” and practically recite the previous commercial without realizing it.  They get into your subconscious, and tell you, “buy this”, or “do that”.  Who really needs a sham wow, it’s a freaking rag!  Who needs a Topsy Trurvey?  Let the farmers do the growing.  Who needs a watch anymore?  Who needs a Magik Jack?  Apparently everyone does, because the commercials tell you that’s what you need.  Psychology plays a huge role in our consumer tendencies. 

                               Be aware of the Skinner box, and the salivation bell, because these are very real mechanisms which make it possible to control people.  Don’t be naïve, and don’t take my word for it, do your own research.  Just be sure China-Mart isn’t building a franchise in your head.

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