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.

What The Old Woman Said

June 28, 2009

Guy Lefrancois is a good writer. You can trust that anything he writes is worth your reading. As a case in point, this is a great introduction to learning theory. I’m re-reading it just for fun.

It’s that kind of book. You can use it to learn more about a specific theory or approach to learning. You can use it to research a particular theorist. Or you can read to get a general overview or review of all areas of learning.

If you are looking for an introduction to learning, this is a good place to start. It’s a generalist book. You won’t get in-depth coverage of overwhelming detail. You get clear explanations of the basic principles of learning.

The concepts are presented in quasi-historical order.  So you get to see some of the give and take that occurs as theories develop and mature. All in all, it is very well done.

I think the 5th edition has the best cover but any edition will serve you well.


Theories of Human Learning
What the Old Woman Said
Fifth Edition
Guy R Lefrancois

Chapter 1 Human Learning: Science and Theory
Chapter 2 Early Behaviorism: Pavlov, Watson and Guthrie
Chapter 3 The Effects of Behavior: Thorndike and Hull
Chapter 4 Operant Conditioning: Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism
Chapter 5 Evolutionary Psychology: Learning, Biology and the Brain
Chapter 6 A Transition To Modern Cognitivism: Hebb, Tolman, Gestaltists
Chapter 7 Three Cognitive Theories: Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky
Chapter 8 Neural Networks: The New Connectionism
Chapter 9 Learning and Remembering
Chapter 10 Motivation
Chapter 11 Social Learning: Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory
Chapter 12 Analysis, Synthesis and Integration