Skinner’s Ideas of Culture Based on Human Behavior


Many theorists have created a society and culture based on human behavior, and there have even been attempts to reproduce their ideas in practice. They are making the world a better place with techniques like these many worried behaviorists in the 20th century. Thank to Skinner’s Walden Two and other works, much progress has been made in addressing ethical issues. Technological learning, based on Skinner’s writings on artistic design, is a cornerstone in this area.

Explicitly and artificially created communities have spread relatively recently since many political, philosophical, and social aspects of building communities, such as the islands of the South Sea and Arcadia among the Greeks, have existed since ancient times. Religious rules were established in monastic communities. However, in the future, all communities will become part of larger government structures. Further developments were carried out by Thomas More and Francis Bacon in their utopian descriptions, but in this work, aspects of the organization of Skinner’s community are considered in more detail (Basualdo & Laddaga, 2009). Skinner carried out the most detailed work in this area, which is why the advantages of cultural design approaches are viewed through the prism of his work.

Skinner’s Ideas

This paper will analyze Skinner’s ideas on cultural design. In this case, aspects of punishment and reward, power, education, parenting, job allocation, and government determination will be considered. Referring to the book Walden Two, Skinner postulated the foundations and principles of the organization of any society: any way of life is not inevitable; what one does not like can be changed; any change must be achieved without power; everybody needs to solve their problems themselves; and simplification of needs leads to more straightforward happiness (Skinner, 2005). These principles not only oppose a possible unhappy future but also create the basis for future generations. However, critics immediately catch Skinner rejecting reason and freedom, which are the foundations of social justice (Altus & Morris, 2009). The application of the Walden Two style to modern life caused rejection by many, although the criticism was too literal, missing the fundamental meanings.

The scientific background lies in the fact that this society is exceptionally experimental in everything that happens, including traditions and foundations. In addition, each habit must be considered with an eye to possible improvement (Skinner, 2005). The community is organized by classifying people by occupation; there are four of them in the general hierarchy. This information will allow, just from Skinner’s point of view, to assess the benefits of these sciences in the design of culture. Skinner’s presuppositions also included views oriented towards naturalism, which means self-regulation of the processes of nature. According to Skinner, a society in dynamics and people, as its constituent, constantly participate in the process of self-organization, not only from a social point of view but also from a biological and ecological point of view. Skinner accepts reason and freedom in building society; instead, the highest goal of cognition is replaced by the quality of behavior in a specific context (Altus & Morris, 2009). Freedom, in his understanding, is only a set of behavioral possibilities which is aimed at a positive result. It led to criticism of the practices of this book since Skinner was declared a manipulator. However, the catch here lies in the understanding of freedom and control – according to Skinner, behavior is always under control, and it is dehumanizing in the usual understanding of society (Skinner, 2005). However, Skinner ultimately echoed the American Dream, striving to create a more prosperous, happier society.

Many point ideas have found their reflection in many areas of society, going beyond the scope of this book. Although the idea of ​​creating such a society was considered utopian, some of its constituent parts are still being applied in reality. First, medicine and health education have adopted, especially in a pandemic, the avoidance of large crowds and the isolation of children as the most vulnerable groups. Although they are undoubtedly beneficial practices for physical health, ensuring a healthy lifestyle and nutritious nutrition for everyone carries more complex resource allocation issues (Goddard, 2014). Chronic diseases and their occurrence are due to improper behavior, and this is partly true. These observations have even led to the creation of behavioral medicine.

Secondly, mental health was included in the book no less than physical health. Creating flexible schedules, providing open hobby opportunities for everyone, group activities, and privacy opportunities – are all also used in modern society. Skinner’s reinforcement techniques allow people to get rid of various phobias and other mental illnesses (Goddard, 2014). However, while many refer to Skinner as an individualist, he introduced concepts such as community health and ecosystem health (Altus & Morris, 2009). The first term presupposes eliminating any titles, equal distribution of resources, collective parenting of children, and public participation in work. The description of this kind of parenting has borne fruit in creating many techniques based on group games, growing up with peers, and increasing communicative interaction from a very early age.

Achieving an equitable distribution of resources in the face of scarcity is a complex economic challenge, but in this case, Skinner explains this factor in terms of ecosystem health. As described later, Skinner preferred to use positive reinforcement instead of punishment, the reward most successfully applied in this aspect. Placing trash bins in crowded places, incentive prizes, and lotteries for participants in environmental events are just a few of the actions that are now being taken to protect the environment. However, Skinner proposed introducing ecological behavior into a way of life, into operant behavior, so that the conservation of resources and energy would be daily for everyone and not for a handful of interested people.

The distribution of work, like resources, was carried out with a category of general equality. Wealth is an indispensable factor in any dystopian theory or history. However, Skinner does not have wealth; there is only freedom from poverty, which is achieved by common labor (Skinner, 2002). Applied analysis of wealth behavior is an ongoing ethical issue that regulates society about civil rights. Although the direct solution to the financial and resource problems of society is a significant and challenging work in today’s world, where, in addition to scarcity, there are problems of unavailability of medical services, unemployment, and financial lack of employment, many of Skinner’s achievements in matters of public health and wisdom have found their application in the life of society and led to better economic solutions.

Skinner identifies wisdom with the result of science – knowledge that, in his ideal society, is available to everyone at every stage of life. The experimental field of science is always publicly available, and all its results are used for the benefit of society (Skinner, 2005). Consequently, Skinner created many learning machines to eliminate social ignorance and programmed behaviors that are still used today. This systematic reverse has successfully applied Skinner’s ideas to education and training, especially vocational training (Altus & Morris, 2009). In addition, the book almost immediately reveals the main idea of ​​the author – control over the environment allows controlling behavior. When a school is shown in Walden Two, it can be seen how the environment strictly controls children’s behavior while setting them up in a positive way. An even more serious approach to the environment in the nursery, where children from one to three years old live – control even extend to temperature, humidity, and sleeping arrangements, which are regulated according to susceptibility to disease or for educational purposes.

However, the questions of power and who can control it and engage in experiments to improve society – remain open. Government is the driving force of society for Marxists, while Skinner relies only on economics and the category of happiness (Gable, 1999). It turns out that the government body is the mechanism that lies somewhere above human nature as a whole since society must self-regulate. Human nature opposes this “government” by undergoing the constant education that occupies the entire leisure of the residents of Walden Two.

The behavioral practices that were supposed to become the foundation of Skinner’s society contribute to the survival of humanity and the controlling variables that determine them. Changing these variables makes it possible to manage society in an exclusively positive but experimental way. Skinner’s radical behaviorism argues that behavioral science is also a science of values, the basic premise of which is to deny the ontological difference between facts and values ​​(de Melo, 2015). Skinner did not find the answer to precisely what these should be values, but he defined one of them as a personal good, positively correlated with the good of the general culture. In part, Skinner put Darwinian meaning in the function of education.

The Benefits of the Science and Technology of Human Behavior

This technology has several distinct advantages. It has found its way into teaching to help develop self-discipline, creativity, and problem solving (Altus & Morris, 2009). The development of categories such as wisdom in such communities has helped reduce any manifestations of discrimination and improve the health of society and the ecosystem. However, applying this technology to the entire society is rather doubtful due to many ethical issues and problems. In addition, critical issues of the complexity of assigning a hierarchy and allocating decision-makers remain unanswered. Although technology is not devoid of values, Skinner’s mechanisms for regulating these values are not defined.

Education and culture are highly interconnected. In this regard, the achievements of behaviorism used in applied behavior analysis and learning can be used in culture design. Culture is a set of operant behavior, the essence of which presupposes the influence of the results of past behavior on future behavior. It reflects the primary function of education, emphasizing its importance. Education is a unique cultural environment. Its peculiarity lies in that it arose and exists as a unique mechanism for reproducing and maintaining culture with predetermined parameters. While culture also has spontaneously acting mechanisms of its functioning, often with unpredictable consequences, which result from behavior and response to stimuli according to Skinner’s teachings.


Instead of aversive behavior control, Skinner recommended positive reinforcement as the most effective eliminating unwanted behavior. He argued that since positive reinforcing stimuli do not produce adverse side effects associated with aversive stimuli, they are more suitable for shaping human behavior. For example, convicted criminals are held in unbearable conditions in many penal institutions (evidence of this is the numerous prison riots in the United States over the past several years). Most attempts to rehabilitate criminals have failed, which confirms the high rate of recidivism or repeated violations of the law. Using Skinner’s approach, the prison environment could be managed to reinforce behavior resembling law-abiding citizens positively.

Using rewards instead of punishments requires the same amount of power. Subtle and complex relationships are much easier to regulate with the help of the basics of operant behavior – in the case of a positive manifestation, a person will again strive for such behavior. Indeed, it has been proven that behavior can be maintained at a high level in the case of such reinforcements (Skinner, 1999). It also raises the question of the value of money, which replaced the value of the original craft. However, this kind of reinforcement control with vital generosity does not produce the fruits that culture should strive for. The search for the boundary and the potential violation of equality are those conflict situations that do not yet have the necessary solution in matters of cultural design.

The second factor to consider when designing culture is Skinner’s idea, taken from his book Walden Two. A logical extension of the principle of reinforcement is that behavior reinforced in one situation is very likely to repeat itself when the body is confronted with other situations that resemble it. If this were not the case, then our behavioral set would be so severely limited and chaotic that we, perhaps, waking up in the morning, would think for a long time about how to react appropriately to each new situation. In Skinner’s theory, the tendency of reinforced behavior to extend to many such positions is called stimulus generalization. This phenomenon is easy to observe in everyday life. For example, a child praised for refined good manners at home will generalize this behavior in inappropriate situations, and outside the home, such a child does not need to be taught how to behave decently in a new situation. Stimulus generalization can also be the result of an unpleasant life experience. This generalization of incentives should be critical (or experimental), with an eye to positive impact.

Also, an important question for which Skinner did not find an answer is who will be empowered to accelerate the practice of positive dynamics-oriented operant behavior. Consequently, a vicious circle emerges in that the commissioner himself is subject to absolute control, and even if there is no doubt about his benevolence, he begins to control society. Plus, benevolence is not the determining factor. In this regard, one of the important factors should be that everyone involved in designing a culture should be himself a representative of this culture.


Skinner suggests that behavior technology is possible and that it can be used to solve current human problems. Physical and biological technology, not his view, does not represent such a perspective in solving social issues such as overpopulation or war. However, the development of this technology was complicated by the well-established concept of an autonomous person who can act independently of the environment. It was believed that earlier, before the development of sciences, he was free and worthy. However, freedom in Skinner’s concept is a highly conditional category, because according to his teachings, a person cannot free himself from control (Skinner, 2002). As stated above, the control achievable by punishment is highly unsatisfactory. According to Skinner, the technology of behavior should be regulated by control based on positive experience, which, through critical thinking, seeks to improve the life of man and humanity, not excluding experiments. The concepts of consciousness, motives, and cognition are artificial and are not causes of behavior. Therefore, the environment needs to be changed, which will change both the control and behavior of a person.

As a result, at first glance, it may seem that the technology is simple. However, the well-established traditions of society impede its use precisely because of the erroneously formed categories of freedom and dignity due to the widespread control with the help of punishments. Skinner’s current problem is that freedom is now illusory and is a choice between different control systems (Skinner, 1999). In this case, culture looks like the engine of humanity, which determines the motives of its survival and comfortable coexistence. Culture must regulate the consequences of behavior, in other words, the totality of operant behavior, as indicated above. In other words, if a person steals something from another person, the thief benefits himself, but this fact of theft is not a boon for culture. In this regard, values ​​are introduced that must be determined within the framework of the technology of behavior and culture of a particular society.

These values ​​lay the foundation for culture, which shapes art and other people-to-people activities that help cement societies together. Reinforcement with punishment forms a unique culture that can unite a mass of people against power – this is precisely what is happening in the modern world. Reorienting the values ​​on which both culture and freedom are based will take a long time, and therefore building small experimental societies can bring the science of cultural design much faster to the answers it needs.

Such values can just be achieved by society through the path of experimentation. It is worth noting that building such a society from scratch is impossible since it is built from an ethically neutral society in Skinner’s idealized model. The established norms of morality can and should regulate the technology of behavior, but first, it is required to nullify or change the attitude towards freedom and untie its definition, tied to punishment.

It may seem that the analysis of these categories, like freedom and culture in this context, is devoid of any emotions and feelings, the irrational side of the issue. Skinner does not focus on the various elevated feelings, defining operant behavior and human well-being through positive reinforcement. Sports, music, games, and art, which are generally responsible for evoking certain emotions in a person, are seen as opportunities for pastimes when there is no need for more critical activities for the prosperity of society (Skinner, 1999). Skinner has often been criticized for this issue (Abernathy, 2009). However, a set of such activities can lead to the development of skills necessary for the development of society, as well as to improve the reinforcement of the behavior of community involvement. Consequently, this activity can contribute to the development of science, which is why an unscientific approach creates risks for repeating the mistakes of today’s society.

Likely, the lack of a clear definition of the role of emotions is the paradox of happiness. The individual perception of this category as a whole and a goal is too vague for each person and is often defined as the repetition and absence of positive and negative reinforcements, respectively (Skinner, 1999). However, more lofty goals that people can blindly believe in are shattered by unexpected obstacles. In this regard, Skinner’s approach, devoid of sentimentality and romanticism, has more relevance and relevance to eternal questions. This methodology does not lead to unambiguous answers to the definition of happiness and its source, but it gives an essential point of view, with the help of which these categories in the context of society were rarely looked at.


Skinner did not consider it necessary to consider the internal forces or motivational states as a causal factor in behavior. Instead, he focused on the relationship between specific environmental phenomena and overt behavior. Further, he thought that personality is nothing more than certain behavior forms acquired through operant learning. Whether or not this line of reasoning is added to overarching personality theory, Skinner profoundly influenced our understanding of human learning problems.

The design of culture should be based on society itself, which will create positive dynamics, taking into account the fact that the good of culture always stands above the good of a person. Learning is used as the engine and determinant of the culture being created, using as a technology the eradication of punishment, the construction of a new layer of values, and a departure from the usual understanding of freedom and dignity, tied at the moment to punishment.


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