Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Behaviorism in Context

Let me explain what I mean when I call myself a Behaviorist. No, it’s not about blank slatism, or being able to completely manipulate anyone at will. It’s about not taking what people say at face value.

See this tweet:

No, no. Just, no. Please, somebody just close all the psychology faculties. Or close the whole universities while they’re at it. But this is completely wrong. Nonsensical, really. “People believe that…” doesn’t make sense. Look at this closely. It assumes that people have stuff inside their heads (“ideas”) and that that stuff inside their heads has some causative effect in how they behave. This is an utterly wrong way of thinking about this.

I mean, you don’t know what’s going on inside people’s heads. You just don’t. Look at this study in particular. They ask people about their own eating behavior and that of others. The answer to that question is not the “ideas” in the people’s heads. I mean, just look at the setting closely. You have:

1. Some college students
Being asked some question by:
2. A professor or grad student
About their own behavior.

And surprise, surprise, they make themselves look good and make others look not so good. Why would they do that? Well… maybe they want to make themselves look good. Because they want to appear high-status because that’s what people do.

Imagine this other setting: you are in Berkeley, and leftist thugs are running a Maoist style struggle session. They grab unpopular kid, who they think might be a Trump supporter, and they ask her what she thinks about heir own and the leftist eating habits.

What do you think she’s going to say? If she doesn’t want to get beat up with bats until she’s unconscious and gets half her rib broken, she’ll say her eating habits suck and that those of others are awesome. Why? Because she wants to survive. That’s also something that people do.

If you want to know what drives people’s behavior, you have to look at… people’s behavior. What they actually do. Not just ask them questions. Questions are social behavior which follows social rules. It’s all about context.

Modern social science still works on the rationalist paradigm, that people have “ideas” and that they “reason” about them. That is just a descendant of the Christian emphasis on “faith”, i.e. that some people have “faith” in their “hearts”, which makes them better people. Of course that was just a subterfuge to run a loyalty assessment on people. Making a good show of the “faith” in your “heart” was a very good costly signal to show your loyalty to the Christian team. Politics runs on this sort of misleading rituals. They work very well. I’ll loudly proclaim my loyalty to Kek and prostrate in front of its image whenever needed. The more people think it’s stupid the better a signal it will be.

But science should be about how things actually work. And the way things work is that you must look at what people do, not what they say. Or more accurately, you should understand what people “say” as a kind of “do”. If all those “scientists” got out of their parochial WEIRD world they’d actually understand that.

 

Advertisements

39 responses to “Behaviorism in Context

  1. Pingback: Behaviorism in Context | @the_arv

  2. Karl February 2, 2017 at 14:48

    Yes, but I assume that at least some scientists understand that, but they too signal and so that understanding is not part of the public knowledge.

    Do you honestly think Degen believes what he wrote?

    • spandrell February 2, 2017 at 14:57

      I see no indication of that. And I’ve meet a lot of scientists.

      • Karl February 2, 2017 at 16:57

        Well, there are biologists who will happily talk about their work on the behaviour of mammals, but refuse to comment on the behaviour of humans. Nonetheless, they do have an opinion on the reasons of human behaviour, And they have an opinion on sociologists which is by and large not flattering. In that the biologists are not that different from chemists or physicists, but they might have a better founded reason for their poor opinion.

        • iFruit February 4, 2017 at 14:50

          Yes, even the part of psychology faculties that shouldn’t be shut down (evolutionary psychology, or, a more sincere name, sociobiology) indulges in hypocrisy and often says about “animals” what it has found and thinks and knows about “humans”, trying to reduce social and career costs for the scholars.

          They’ll even start by saying “Unlike humans, [put other animal name here] aren’t driven by [put moralistic illusion here]” often.

          Then you have the Jordan Petersons who’ll say: hey, it happens for lobsters and for humans, really, it’s the same.

          I read the study’s abstract and they openly talk of unrealistic optimism, self-deception and social desirability bias, though. It doesn’t look like a piece of illusion-full psychobabble.

  3. Chris B February 2, 2017 at 14:56

    You should research the origins of behaviourism. I have written a essay on it that I haven’t posted yet. A good start point for you would be to look at the origins of behaviouralism. This essay is quite informative: http://www.mv.helsinki.fi/home/berndtso/behavior.htm

    This from a man by the name of Berelson is quite clear:
    “”What happened to give rise to the term? The key event was the development of a Ford Foundation program in this field. The program was initially designated ‘individual behavior and human relations’ but it soon became known as the behavioral sciences program and, indeed, was officially called that within the foundation. It was the foundation’s administrative action, then, that led directly to the term and to the concept of this particular field of study.” (Berelson 1968: 42)”

    If you trace it back to the Ford Foundation (who the Berelson guy was working for) then you get to the “Report of the Study for the Ford Foundation on Policy and Program” where it becomes clear behaviourism is just…liberalism.

    Then you can notice behaviouralism predicts…nothing. I mean, think about it. You see a guy swinging his arms randomly in the distance. Behaviouralism states you should be able to understand his actions. But the actions depend on…context, culture, state of mind of the person etc. and worse, they are subject to… alteration rendering the observations worthless – as you note in this post.

  4. Orthodox February 2, 2017 at 16:35

    Priests and police know this very well.

  5. Steel T Post February 2, 2017 at 18:29

    The lulz from the Sokal Hoax are insufficient, and more lulz must ensue!

  6. Pingback: Behaviorism in Context | Reaction Times

  7. Daniel Chieh February 2, 2017 at 19:33

    There is congruence between self reported behavior and actual behavior, though, as marketing takes advantage of.

  8. Not a behaviorist February 3, 2017 at 05:56

    Let’s say “Sam believes that p”, where p could be:

    i) “Sam is the brightest person in the room”

    ii) “gravity pulls objects on the surface of the Earth towards the Earth’s center”

    iii) “there is a slice of pie in the refrigerator”

    The criticism in this post aims pretty squarely (and rightly) at beliefs of the sort in (i). These have to do with what we might call self-estimation, predicated on the views that there is a self (or conscious subject, or…) which has inner states, and these states are transparently obvious to said self. “Beliefs” of sort (i) can probably be sub-divided in lots of interesting ways to get at the basic point: that in certain very important ways people are by and large fooling themselves.

    What behaviorism doesn’t handle is cases like (ii) and (iii). If you are in the room with your friend Sam, and you’ve both watched Sam’s sister make a pie, cut it, and put it in the fridge, and then Sam says “I’d sure like some of that pie”, it’s no stretch to say that Sam believes there is pie in the fridge.

    Does this implicate the homuncular view of the subject? Probably not; it’s all ‘on the surface’ after all. We haven’t posited any inner rumblings going on within Sam’s mind, whether that’s ideas bouncing around the *res cogitans* or meat-stuff equivalents in his skull. What we have done is point out something that can be verified by Sam’s actions. One trouble with full-bore logical behaviorism is that it has to claim that the *meaning* of Sam’s believing that there’s pie in the fridge just is the array Sam’s dispositions to act. A cluster of dispositions can’t *cause* Sam to grab a slice of pie from the kitchen; but then we can’t make much sense of Sam’s actions on the basis of dispositions alone.

    This may not seem obvious in the rather trivial pie case, but it matters a great deal in cases like (ii), where we have to take into consideration that the very thesis of this post — that “people generally aren’t acting on the basis of inner reasons” — is something that can’t plausibly be expressed as even complex dispositions to act. There’s more than a responsiveness to external stimuli at work there, if the expression of the very idea isn’t to slide into incoherence.

  9. Alrenous February 3, 2017 at 09:16

    By this definition I’m certainly not a behaviourist.

    But I’d like to add that normally folk don’t know what’s going on inside their own heads, let alone other folks’ heads.

  10. Etjon Basha February 3, 2017 at 14:05

    Economists have this cool concept of “revealed preference” which is just what you’re looking for here and would save the need to call up the behaviorist label.

  11. Jefferson February 3, 2017 at 19:40

    I don’t have anything particular to add to this; I agree with everything you’ve said in the post.

    That said, knowledge is only valuable if it informs action. Social signalling is an action, but it seems that we have an opportunity to do a bit more with this knowledge. Is the proscription still mere exit?

  12. Rhetocrates February 4, 2017 at 18:54

    Have you read Lev Navrozov’s “Autobiography of Lev Navrozov”? I just realized that I think of his work as the basis/genesis of yours, but that I picked up that idea independently.

    Navrozov is a Soviet functionary (and closet dissident) writing in the 60s and 70s; smack in the midst of his biting analysis of Soviet internal and external politics (including the self-described ‘democracies’ of the West) he develops the architecture of ‘verbal intelligence’ vs ‘behavioural intelligence.’ Namely people will say one thing because it’s advantageous to say it, and they’ll strongly believe it because strongly believing it is the best way to convince others that you strongly believe it (which is necessary for survival), but nevertheless otherwise behaving in a manner entirely different, all while believing that their behaviours and their words are in no way inconsistent.

    One of his examples being how people would proclaim how lovely a Worker’s Paradise the Soviet Union is, but move Heaven and Earth to avoid being sent off to a collective farm. Or our well-beloved modern example of people waxing rhapsodic on the benefits of diversity while living in all-White neighborhoods.

    • spandrell February 4, 2017 at 19:30

      No, I wasn’t aware of the man. Thanks, I’ll check him out. It does seem we agree.

    • iFruit February 6, 2017 at 12:09

      https://jonrappoport.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/fake-news-actors-robots-androids-television-creations/

      Every person not prone to be conditioned who has had the chance to observe enough humans and interactions between humans in the last 2 or 3 millennia “agrees”.

      The only news is: a scientific age will see the world through its lenses and scientifize it.
      It’s as if from “Homer”, Torah more or less collective authors) and the Pre-Socratics to now the same things have been observed, but they have been put in different terms: the same story, told by many narrators using a different language and partly different mental categories.

      So, Rhetoctates, they’ll

      1) Say
      2) Do
      3) Think/Believe

      what’s more advantageous for them. And of course it can be only rarely that the 3 things aren’t different from one another :)

  13. aleksanderpwnz February 8, 2017 at 09:44

    So, there are definitely potential confounding factors here (like you point out), and the method employed (asking questions directly about their ideas) may not be the best to achieve whatever they want to know. Still: doesn’t it seem reasonable that people do “believe that their own eating behavior is motivated by better reasons than that of others”, and that this has real world effects? As in for example, continuing to eat unhealthy food without doing basic research even though they see the people around them becoming obese? And couldn’t these ideas possibly be the reason the researchers got this result?

    Again, the methods used may have been hopelessly inefficient with innumerable potential confounding factors, and I don’t like this kind of research in general either. But it looks like you’re arguing that this kind of study can’t (in theory?) produce anything of value, for some kind of metaphysical reason. I don’t think I get it.

    • Karl February 8, 2017 at 12:36

      People always believe that they have good reasons for whatever they are doing. The brain evolved for making those reasons up, aka rationalizing.

    • spandrell February 8, 2017 at 12:38

      The thing is that those real world effects aren’t caused by the beliefs. There is an underlying cause of both. And this kind of research by definition is unable to uncover that.

      • aleksanderpwnz February 9, 2017 at 00:42

        No, only if the real world effects and the beliefs are completely uncorrelated. Again, there are MANY potential confounding factors, but the beliefs and the real world effects are unlikely to be completely uncorrelated (or, well, I guess the research you linked to found that they were uncorrelated in this instance, which is supposed to be surprising, but which you find obvious. But you would presumably have denounced the research no matter what the results were.).

        Are your beliefs completely uncorrelated with your real world actions? Can I learn nothing about your real world actions by asking you about your beliefs?

        • spandrell February 9, 2017 at 08:28

          No, only if the real world effects and the beliefs are completely uncorrelated.

          Huh? What are you talking about?

          It’s funny that you accuse me of being biased against this when you’re nitpicking everything I say without any evidence just for the fun of it. I say you stop bothering. I will.

          • aleksanderpwnz February 11, 2017 at 21:16

            I’m saying that “this kind of research is by definition unable to uncover” the underlying cause of real world effects, only if the data they are gathering are completely unrelated to the real world effects. If they are even slightly correlated, the researchers can use statistical methods to learn about the underlying cause. This seems obvious to me, but you seem to be saying something else in your post, and when I ask you directly you keep holding your ground. So I’m not sure what do make of this post.

            But I’m not forcing you to answer my comments :) Please do just carry on.

  14. Thales February 8, 2017 at 21:17

    Believe in the context of Behaviorism simply means to act in a manner consistent with — it’s a purely superficial statement. We can say that a mother bear believes in the safety of her young based on the animal’s behavior without implication as to what the creature might be thinking.

  15. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2017/02/05) - Social Matter

  16. lalit February 9, 2017 at 06:59

    Don’t look now, but it seems like Moldbug has influence with Bannon and Trump’s white house
    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/steve-bannon-books-reading-list-214745

  17. Pingback: Dunbar Feminism | Bloody shovel

  18. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2017/02/21 | Free Northerner

Please comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s