Operant Psychology As Factory Psychology

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Publication Date

Fall 1978

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This paper attempts to draw detailed parallels between the characterization and control of behavior in terms of the principles of operant psychology and the characterization and control of behavior in the modern, factory work place. It is argued that while behavior in the workplace now seems to conform to operant principles, it did not in an earlier time, prior to the development of industrial capitalism. It is further argued that the fit between operant theory and modern work is so close in part because operant principles, in the form of the scientific management movement, made modern work what it is. It is suggested that laboratory demonstrations of the "overjustification effect" may be analogous to the changes in the nature of work which resulted from the application of operant principles. We conclude that successful applications of operant theory do not necessarily confirm the theory. Rather, applications of operant principles to social institutions may transform those institutions so that they conform to operant principles.

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