Superposition Hypothesis


SUPERSTITIONS AND SUPERSTITIOUS EFFECTS. The American psychologist Burr-hus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990) explored the phenomena of superstitious behavior, superstitious control, and superstitious reinforcement. In the superstition effect, which is the result of "accidental" conditioning, a response from the individual or organism just happens to occur immediately prior to a reinforcement that is really contingent on a fixed period of time elapsing or some other noncon-tingent or unrelated-to-response factor; the rate of that response in such "accidental" conditioning, however, increases in the future for that given stimulus situation or environment. Also, in other terms, "adventitious" or "accidental" reinforcement may occur where conditioning of an organism's operant response takes place without the response being specified by the researcher. Thus, in this context, superstitious reinforcement refers to the presence of reinforcing stimuli that follow a response only by happenstance, but seems to the individual to be the natural consequences of his/her response or behavior. In human behavior, superstitious control may be observed wherein one has the mistaken notion of influ encing environmental outcomes - via various "faith-healing," "magical-thinking," or "animistic" practices and behaviors (such as genuflecting, saying prayers, or singing chants) that are designed to protect the self or others, and to alter the environment in some optimal fashion (e.g., it is possible that the "rain dances" and other "magical" practices of certain American Indian tribes originated in this way: a dance was performed initially at some random time and it just happened to rain after/during the dance; there was no functional relationship between the two events, but "accidental contingencies" were established that served to maintain the behavior in the future). In defense of superstitious control behavior, some psychologists maintain that it serves a positive psychological function in that it may limit or eliminate the development of "learned helplessness" and its debilitating effects. See also LEARNED HELPLESSNESS EFFECT; SKINNER'S DESCRIPTIVE BEHAVIOR/ OPERANT CONDITIONING THEORY. REFERENCES

Skinner, B. F. (1948). "Superstition" in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168-172. Skinner, B. F., & Morse, W. A. (1957). A second type of superstition in the pigeon. American Journal of Psychology, 70, 308-311. Jahoda, G. (1969). The psychology of superstition. London: Lane.

Brain Blaster

Brain Blaster

Have you ever been envious of people who seem to have no end of clever ideas, who are able to think quickly in any situation, or who seem to have flawless memories? Could it be that they're just born smarter or quicker than the rest of us? Or are there some secrets that they might know that we don't?

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