Karen Pryor

November 3, 2009

You’re going to love this book!

If you have animals, know animals or are an animal yourself, this book is for you. It gives you the theory of Skinner in an easy to read and understand format.

Karen Pryor was among the first to train dolphins. She describes her use of reinforcement to elephants, whales, dolphins, dogs, and people. Combine this with a good book on clicker training and you’ll be able to modify the behavior of many, including yourself.

Giving rewards for specific behavior works wonders. It’s why you show up for work. It’s why whales jump into the air on cue. And it’s how to get your kids to sit still.

There are limits to reinforcement training but no downside. The limit are that you don’t control the rewards for others, some behavior is self-rewarded, and not everything is a contract. But giving rewards is natural, works well, increases the likelihood of good behavior, and can be applied to many species in lots of settings. It has none of the negatives of punishment. It’s how you prefer to be treated.

Here’s an affiliate link to the book (which means I get paid a bit if you order it here). But wherever you order it, get it. It’s a good book.

Cloniger’s Personality

November 2, 2009

Theories of Personality: Understanding Persons (5th Edition) The book is Theories of Personality: Understanding Persons. Aside from the awkward title, it’s not a bad book. I don’t mind being a person but I think the multiple is people. I applauder the attempt to be gender neutral; I hate this particular implementation.

The fifth edition was published in 2008 but that’s no problem. Textbooks on personality don’t really need to be updated yearly. And you’ll find this book widely used.

Overall, it’s a good choice. The writing is clear. The illustrations aren’t exceptional but they are well done. If you like pull-quotes, you’ll love it. Personally, I could do with a few less. The hardcover and weight of paper tell you it meets Pearson’s high-quality standards. It’s the kind of book you should buy and keep. It’s not a throwaway.

The order of presentation is straightforward. You start with Freud. She puts Jung with Freud and before Adler (which is chronologically wrong) but I suppose she’s highlighting the shift Adler is making toward more social explanations of personality.

So it’s Freud-Jung. Then Adler, Erikson, Horney and object relations. This second cluster doesn’t include Anna Freud (Sigmund’s youngest daughter) or her ongoing fight with Melanie Klein (one of the founders of object relations. And that’s pretty consistent with the presentation: the theories are well-described but there’s no insight to the people who formed them. It’s all business and no fun.

The third unit is on trait theory. It’s well done but starts with Allport’s modern trait theory, and not ancient trait theory. The fourth unit of learning theories is also well done but limits itself to Skinner. Pavlov’s dogs didn’t make the cut. She does show how Dollard & Miller combined learning theory and Freudian thought. They essentially explained Freud by running rats through mazes.

The fifth unit includes Miscel, Bandura and Kelly. It’s sort of miscellaneous pairing . And calling them Cognitive Social Theory doesn’t help because none of them thought of themselves as being cognitive theorists. And those who do (Beck and Ellis) weren’t freatured.

The last unit is called Humanistic. It includes Rogers and Maslow. And the presentation is fine. Unfortunately, Buddhism also receives a chapter.

Now, I like Buddhism. Although I was drop-shipped to America, I was created in China. So I have some affinity for Asian things. And I like presenting a wide range of ideas. But if you’re going to include specific religious-philosophical views, I think you need to go all the way. You should include Hindi, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic psychology. There is also atheism, paganism, shamanism, animism, and other “isms.” Traditional African religion has broad views of personality too. All in all, don’t buy the book for this feature unless you have a particular affinity for Zen.

Philosophy & Psychology

November 2, 2009

Psychology is a science which finds its roots in philosophy. As a science, it uses theories, models and hypotheses to describe its findings. As a part of philosophy, psychology investigates many of the same issues as the early thinkers.

Every theory of psychology makes statements based on its own assumptions. These assumptions can be categorized on such dimensions as mind-body, subjective-objective, micro-molar and passive-active. Using these assumptions, each theory describes and explains how and why people behave as they do. Theories should be: clear, useful, have the smallest number of assumptions possible, summarize facts, be internally consistent, and have a heuristic function.

Theories often are so large that they can’t be tested all at once, and some only can be tested by inference. Indeed, strictly speaking theories are not tested at all. Theories are composed of constructs (ideas) which must be translated into measurable variables. These variables are organized as a model, and it is the model which is tested. Theories may contain postulates, laws, principles and beliefs, but models always have hypothesis.

Psychology was begun by individuals who were greatly influenced by their culture and times. It began as a personal affair, became a regional cluster of similar thinking people, and then developed into an international entity. It went from personal hobbies to systems of psychology.

Although early philosophers focused on cosmological questions, there was a transition to discussions of the mind and internal processes. During the Hellenic Period (600-322 BC), great individual thinkers emerged, including Thales, Phythagaras, Democritus, Hippocrites, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Borrowing from Empedocles, Hippocrates believed there are four basic elements: earth, air, fire, and water. He extended this analysis to the body by proposing four basic humors (bodily fluids): phlegan (earth), blood (air), yellow bile (fire) and black bile (water). Using these four fluids, Hippocrates identified four personality temperaments sanguine: (cheerful, based on blood), choletic (like the fire of yellow bile), phlegmatic (slow and full of phlegm), and melancholic (sad as a result of black bile).

Aristotle,a student of Plato, proposed a metaphysics where form and matter are inseparable in this world. Matter cannot exist without form, although form could exist without matter. In his writings (De Antima), Aristotle proposes that the psyche has a hierarchy of functions. The lowest level is vegetative, and is found in all plants and animals. Sensing and perceiving is a function of psyche found only in animals and people. This sensing process allows us to absorb the form of an object without absorbing its matter. Each sense was through a different media (taste through the flesh, smell through air and water, etc.). According to Aristotle, the sense which coordinates the information received from the other senses is called the common sense. Aristotle maintained that people are driven into action by appetite and needs but that they ultimately are self-directed by moral decisions and wishes (looking to the future). People alone are able to recollect (recall information), reason (tell right from wrong), and use mental laws of association (i.e., similarity, contiguity, and opposites).

After the death of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Period began and influence of Greek philosophy spread. This period included Epicurus, Pyrrho of Ellis, and Zeno. The philosophy of the skeptics and the stoics can still be found today.

The Hellenistic Period gave way to the influence of Christianity. For the first 300 years of its existence, Christianity was a small, isolated religion. Although persecuted by Nero, Domitian, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian (in 303 AD) became its protector, and by 395 AD, Christianity was the state religion of Rome. With an emphasis on the existence of a God who are personally concerned with human affairs, Christianity maintained every person has an eternal spirit which functions independent from the rest of nature.

Although not a Christian, Plotinus’ neo-Platoian approach presented the soul as an eternal, immaterial entity which thinks, perceives, and is separate from the body. Augustine was raised in a philosophically-mixed family (his mother was a Christian, his father was not). Converting to Christianity as an adult, Augustine advocated meditative introspection, denunciation of the flesh, and the importance of self understanding. Since true knowledge comes from God, examining the world is of limited value. For Augustine, the soul is composed of memory, understanding and will. Sometimes called the first of the Christian philosophers, Augustine’s views dominated western Europe for nearly 1000 years.

As civil wars increased, the Roman empire separated into western and eastern segments, and into contrasting philosophies. The West entered the Dark Ages, and the East embraced the teachings of Mohammed.

By the 11th century, the feudalism of western Europe had established three social classes: clergy, aristocracy, and peasants. The aristocracy owned the land which was worked by peasants in exchange for protection. As the population in the Middle Ages grew, peasants developed more skill and craftsmen guilds. This new social class of craftsmen/merchants was the basis of robust economy and marked the emergence of universities such as Oxford (1167), Cambridge (1209) and the University of Naples (1224).

The changing social order was accompanied by a philosophical shift. There was a re-emergence of classical Greek philosophy, modified by Christian thought. Combining Aristotle concepts and Christian doctrine, Thomas Aquinas proposed that each person is a specialized animal who possesses a soul. Body and soul are different but together in the same package.

For more on how philosophy and psychology work together, check out the free video series: If You Know Nothing About Psych

Guided Tour Of Statistics

November 1, 2009

Think of yourself as being on holiday and me as your tour guide. I’ve taken several areas of psychology and made “tours” of them.

Each tour is divided into 10 “days.” Each day is particular topic. Think of it as taking a 10 week course and we meet only once a week (10 days).

I’ve been a professor for many years. So I made each tour a university-level course in psychology…but more fun. There are no grades. I provide quizzes, tests and pretests for your charting your own progress but they are only for your information.

My free course will help you get through a “real” class. Or it can simply help you obtain your personal education.

Check out this course on statistics: