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Complex Processes And Social Behavior

Social Behavior

The child's participation in the parental and community social system depends upon the emergence of many new performances and behavioral processes, particularly generalized rein-forcers and the maintenance of behavior in long chains. The generalized reinforcer appears to have special relevance for social institutions, as it is the main process by which the community can bring to bear the reinforcement practices of many individuals upon the behavior of one. For example, money as a generalized reinforcer derives its reinforcing properties because it is an occasion on which numerous performances may be reinforced in respect to many individuals in the community. The consequences of money are not only the very important ones of being able to purchase goods and services but also the many social behaviors which become possible depending upon one's ability to spend money. Aversive control, except perhaps in extreme forms of corporal punishment, is primarily a social phenomenon which cannot be applied very extensively or effectively until the child acquires considerable behavior under the control of many reinforcers. Before reinforcements can be discontinued, as in criticism, frowning, ostracism, or incarceration, there must be a repertoire reinforcement of which depends on the presence of these stimuli before their removal can be an effective aversive stimulus. With each development of a new set of performances under the control of new reinforcers, the possibility of aversive and, hence, social control becomes greater.

Successive Approximation Of The Child's Behavior By The Community

The social practices of the parent and other aspects of the child's community are crucially important in developing the very complex repertoires that finally emerge in the adult. Complex performances which are normally developed in the average adult could not be achieved directly. These occur by a long process of successive approximation by which the community will first reinforce very minimal forms of behavior. It would be very difficult to specify a procedure for carrying out the very gradual increase in the complexity of the behavior that is required to develop a complex repertoire, but it is perfectly clear that this, in fact, does occur in the normal growth and development. The very young infant will have an effect on the parent for very minimal forms of behavior. Most parents soon come to attend to the most incomprehensible grunts or garbled sounds. But the general tendency is to favor an approximation in the direction of the community practice. At any stage of the child's development, the form of his behavior that more closely approximates the community practice has a higher probability of reinforcement than a less adequate form, although the community still continues to accept the less adequate form. As the child grows older, the community refuses to return to the earlier forms. For example, the child who could produce milk from a parent by saying "ga" at the age of two and a half years can no longer do so at the age of four. The control by the environment over the child's behavior similarly is progressively restricted. The community, in general, allows considerable license with a very young child in terms of reinforcing his behavior regardless of its relevance to any important deprivations in the listener. As the child grows older, however, the child's community demands more careful attention to the relevant deprivations in the listener. Thus, the early behavior of the child is kept at a maximum strength by providing virtually no condition under which it goes unreinforced. The later control by specific audiences in terms of the relevance of the child's behavior to the particular listener occurs as the audience requires more and begins to extinguish (not reinforce) a response when it is of insufficient interest to the listener. In general, the process is a continuous one in which the parents never revert back to reinforcement of an earlier form. A common form of censure is, "Don't act like a baby!" Any temporary interruption in the child's behavioral development may have cumulative debilitating effects if the community does not relax its reinforcing practices to accept the less minimal forms. The behavior of the adults in the community comes under relatively close control of the physical size of the child. This occurs because the child's size is a stimulus critically correlated with what forms of the child's behavior will be reinforced. The effect of parental verbal behavior on a child varies by large orders of magnitude as the child matures. As a result, a child whose repertoire has not enlarged at a normal rate will be potentially susceptible to further weakening of its repertoire when the community no longer reinforces the child's behavior because it is inappropriate to its age. If the "temporary" arrest in the child's development results in a great enough disparity between his existing repertoire and the community practices in respect to the children of his physical development, the normal conditions of progressive approximation of the adult repertoire may never be achieved again.

The Development Of The Control By Individuals Outside Of The Family

As the normal child matures and acquires a larger behavioral repertoire in the home, he becomes exposed to ever widening areas of potential reinforcement for repertoires in other environments which could potentially sustain his current repertoire and generate new behaviors. This shift of control from the family to the rest of the social world usually occurs very gradually, beginning with an occasional visitor and extending to the child's actual physical departure from the home, as for example, in attending school. The child brings the repertoires developed at home to his initial exposure to the new environments. Two factors will govern the initial behavior in the new environment: (1) the disruptive effect of novel stimuli and the rate of adaption to them; (2) the extent of generalization from situations in which the behavior was originally developed. If the specific occasions present during the original development of the behavior control the behavior very closely, these original performances may possibly be completely unavailable to the child in his new environment. When the child's performance is very closely tied to the conditions under which it was originally generated and maintained, the emission of this behavior in a new environment depends upon the rate at which adaptation to the novel stimuli occurs and the extent to which the new environment adjusts its contingencies of reinforcement so as to make contact with the child's existing repertoire. These transitions undoubtedly occur smoothly because of the gradual rate at which new environments are introduced to the child. Also, the actual contingencies of reinforcement are very loosely specified, so that almost any behavior of the child is potentially effective in producing reinforcing effects in the new environment. Under unusual conditions, however, a sudden shift in the child's environment can reduce the likelihood of his behavior very radically. Sudden shifts in stimulating conditions can produce a complete absence of behavior just as surely as extinction can. For example, the pigeon that does not peck in the red because of the history of nonreinforcement on this occasion is completely without behavior. The history of reinforcement in the green color will not necessarily favor the emission of the behavior in the red color; in fact, it may hinder it. If the child is old enough so that the reinforcing environment will not reinforce the simple available forms of behavior occurring in a repertoire weakened by a shift in controlling stimuli, a potentially pathologic condition exists. The originally developed repertoire is not available because of the radical change in the environment, and the reinforcing contingencies of the new environment do not make contact with the child's existing repertoire. As a result, there is little possibility of re-establishing by successive approximation a new repertoire equivalent to the original one. Meanwhile, as the child grows older and the community requires more and more complex behavior from him, there is even less chance of reinstating a strong repertoire.

The reinforcers supporting the child's behavior shift gradually to the environment outside of the home. This shift occurs first as the child plays with other children. Then it occurs as the various institutions of society, the church, governmental agencies, boy scouts, local clubs, or gangs, acquire control. Hobbies develop, such as collecting stamps, building models, hiking, hunting, fishing, swimming, and various other sports and activities. Direct reinforcers of a less social nature emerge, mediated less by other individuals as, for example, by books, movies, or television.

Transfer Of Values From The Social Environment To The Child

In the application of general principles of behavioral control to the development of complex repertoires during the child's maturational development, a major question is: How does the child come to conform to the social institutions of the community? Initially, the child's behavior is largely under the control of specific and current deprivation. If the child is hungry, he demands food. If a part of the body itches, he scratches it. If playing with genitals results in pleasurable stimulation, he handles his genitals. If an object is reinforcing, the child reaches for it. On the other hand, if a given form of behavior ceases to be reinforcing, the child's performance ceases. Eventually, the child acquires behavior which is less under the control of its current deprivation and more under the control of generalized reinforcement by the parental and social community. Verbal responses, such as "It's raining out" or "The mailman is coming," benefit the listener more than the speaker, and illustrate the progressive development of new repertoires relevant to the social institutions and practices of the community. Although we speak of social institutions, any possible effects on the behavior of the maturing child must come from the reinforcing and punishing practices of the individual members comprising the social group or carrying out the practices which define the social institutions. The effect on the maturing child must always be through some individual who specifically reinforces one response rather than another, who punishes various types of performance selectively, or extinguishes segments of the child's repertoire. The generalized reinforcer is the major means by which the child comes under the control of those aspects of familial and community life we refer to as social values and institutions. The generalized reinforcer is a powerful conditioned reinforcer because it tends to maintain behavior regardless of the child's current level of deprivation. However, it is also the major means of bringing the child's behavior under the control of the ultimate consequences of its effect on the community rather than its immediate effect relevant to current deprivations. Through the generalized reinforcer, the community builds longer and longer chains of behavior in which responses are reinforced, shaped, and maintained by a conditioned reinforcement. This reinforcement derives its effect by deferred consequences, involving much later reinforcement of important repertoires relevant to a wide range of deprivations in the child.

The child's socialization may be defined as a behavioral process in which his behavior comes to conform to the social practices of the community. But although this is an extremely complex process, it is not a completely mysterious one in which the child somehow magically comes to sense the requirements of the familial or extra-familial social groups. The social practices of the community inevitably represent the reinforcing practices of the individuals comprising the particular social groups. The feeling one would have in going to a formal dance without a tie is not a mysterious force which the community exerts. It represents an explicit set of practices to which the individual becomes exposed either directly or because of experiences with other similar community practices. Men's social conformity in dress comes about by a consistent practice by the community - its reactions to the individual's behavior depending on his manner of dress. Most audiences would respond with verbal punishment or even mild ostracism if the deviations from the usual customs of dress were large enough. The average automobile probably represents a conformity to social practice as a means of dealing with the physical world by faster locomotion. The salesman, for example, finds a new shiny automobile an occasion on which many responses, e.g., selling, have a higher probability of reinforcement. The young man who is courting a girl is a similar case. Most forms of community approval ultimately rest on actual practices or potential practices of the individuals comprising the group.


Additional topics

Human Behavior