Happiness & Scientific Psychology--jk

Selflessness, The Good, and Happiness--jk
Happiness & Scientific Psychology--jk
The Art of Loving: A Behaviorist Approach--jk
A Lesson on Love from Cats--jk
THE DECALOGUE: Greek Moral Philosophy Modernized--jk
THE GOOD LIFE--Greek Philosophers Teachings
No Free Lunches: The Role of the Stock Market--jk
Plato's Dream Fulfilled by Science--jk
The lessons from the previous essay, How Congress Works--jk
On Dying Atheist: A Doctor's Words


Happiness & Scientific Psychology


1      The final piece to the puzzle of how to be exceptional happy, it lies with scientific psychology and recognizing patterns of behavior.  Examples of patterns and the causal analysis form a basis for what follows and form a very profitable preparation; however, this essay can stand on its own.  The purpose of what follows is to promote the recognition of patterns of reinforcement that have an impact upon happiness, and by so recognizing to then figure out ways to positive modify those patterns.  


2                 Positive reinforcer stimulus or simply positive reinforcer is always defined in terms of subsequent frequency of the response which immediately follows it.  If it increases the frequency of the operant behavior, it is positive, and decreases a negative reinforcer.  The classic example is a pigeon pecking at a red light disc which will on a variable schedule release a pellet of food in the hopper below.  The food is the positive reinforcer because its presence causes the frequency of the pecking behavior to increase.  Conversely the loud blast from a horn would cause the frequency to decrease, the sound is a negative reinforcing stimuli or simply a negative reinforcer.  These are the formal definitions.  This is a very important concept, the consequence of what my cat does determines the future frequency of that behavior in the same and in different settings—and we are brother of the cat. 


3                 Let us translate this into units that you can easily use in analyzing behavior.  When the total effect of a stimulus is pleasurable, it increases the future frequency of behavior; and unpleasant if it diminishes the frequency—this is an operational definition.  If a pattern of behavior is more frequently repeated in a given setting following a reinforcer, then the total of both short-term and long-term positive reinforcers produce a more enjoyable state than if that reinforcer didn’t occur.  Of course, it is not enjoyment exactly, for reinforcers can be quite subtle, or they can entail the removal of an unpleasant stimulus.  Reinforcement is based upon wiring in the brain for there are pleasure and pain centers, and their activation can be quite mild as when reading an article on the lies of George Bush, or walking the dog.  The key point is that the selection process is a thing occurring deep within the brain in our subconscious—just as it does for the cat.

4                             Before going into examples, let us begin by visualizing man as

Aristotle put it, a rational animal.  Man is subject to the same combination of environmental and biological forces that shape my cat’s behavior.  This is the animal side of behavior: the effects of operant and respondent conditioning.  This is the side which gets you to eat pizza tonight, and how much pizza.  Man is more complex than the cat, and he has developed language with its analytic capabilities.  And though man applies a verbal analysis to this behavior couched in purposive/cognitive language, such analysis places far too much significance upon the rational side.  How much is the rational side responsible for the obese person pigging out on the pizza?  If man’s rational side is so powerful in directing the simple everyday things man does, then no man would be obese, do drugs in excess, etc.  Moreover, though man uses language to analyze such behavior, this very use of language has been shaped by a long history of training in the use of language and the responses of his audience.  The importance of thoughts in controlling for example the pigging out on pizza is overstated.  Obviously, something is running in the background that makes man do other than are rational side directs.  This is the animal part of our being:  these are the consequences of conditioning. 


5      Put very simply, there are two types of animal behavior, respondent and operant conditioning.  The respondent is the primitive sort of generation of behavior which is controlled more directly by our genes than that found in operant conditioning.  Salivating in the presence of food is a respondent response.  While the use of a fork to aid in eating, this is an example of operant conditioning.  One is quite difficult to modify, the other quite facile.  Operant behavior is strengthened or weakened by the events that follow the behavior; where as respondent behavior is controlled by its antecedents.  If the stimulus increases the frequency of operant, it is a positive reinforcer, and a negative reinforcer if the behavior’s frequency decreases.


6      There is a rational vector to behavior, and it can be shaped by our animal nature so that you analyze a clearly wrong behavior as right.  Thus verbally a man will deny the evidence for the health consequences of obesity, the psychological consequences, and then justify the overeating as a way that he deals with stress.  But if he through studies strengthen your rational portion of his human nature, there would be very little rationalization of wrong into right.  Moreover, he would figure out various things to do different so that he wouldn’t be obese.  The degree of control as to doing the right things is a reflection of rational training and thus a product of peer conditioning and education. 


Patterns of behavior

Positive Patterns:

7      If you placed a subjective happiness meter, like the applause meter used to gauge audience response, you could then rate certain thought process more pleasant than others.  For while driving down the freeway think about loving, passionate sex with your beloved would be at the top.  Thinking about how much you two love each other would be near the top.  Thinking about how if you were leader of this country and with political support that you could fix up our current mess would be below thoughts about your beloved, but still quite high up on the happiness meter.  Listening to Rush Limbo, talking on your cell-phone with your mother-in-law, and thinking about the schmuck at work who fails to pull his load, these would be near the bottom on the happy-thought meter.  In the upper third would be thoughts about how to improve performance and rewards at work, doing community services.  In the bottom third would be thoughts about a body-count movie, household chores, and taking your children to an animated Disney film.  The point is that the more time you spend thinking about the highly rated items the happier you will be during that period of time. 


8      This raises the issue, why don’t I choose those items near the top more often?  There are many causes, for example, how much a team you and your beloved are affects your ability to think passionate about that person.  As pointed out in Art of Loving the ratio of positive to negative reinforcers not only affects your attachment to your beloved but also, of course, your thoughts about that person.  In Selflessness, the Good, & Happiness I pointed out that a worldly perspective whereby the doing of good things is the first consideration, that this promotes cheerful thoughts.  In The Love of All Things I pointed out the how anger and hostility interferes with the overall production of positive feelings.  In that paper I also pointed out that the stimulation of anger (which relieves boredom) is a powerful reinforcer.  Tying this all together under the category of the good-life, your rational side now has an irrefutable complex analysis in support of why to be the nice, loving, and a service oriented person:  they are happier than a similarly situated person lacks an understanding of these psychological truths.  Thus if you read and contemplate the messages in these above mentioned essays, you will gradually change in not only what you do, but also in how you think.  You will think more of those thoughts high up on the happiness list.  Moreover, by focusing on happiness, you will spot the negative thought patterns and your rational side will change, much like you changing a CD, the mental music in your brain as you drive down the freeway of life. 


9        Of all the reinforcers that shape your behavior, the avoidance of the negative reinforcer, boredom/satiation, I would place at the top.  At the top insofar as its explicative power as to why we do most things.  In other words, sitting around reading the Sunday paper for a couple hours and you have reached the satiation point.  The enjoyment from reading at 155 minutes is about one-half what it was in minute 10.  You now start thinking about a Starbuck’s coffee and going to Target.  In another 10 minutes you get up and prepare to go to the mall.  This is basically like my cat getting up after two hours in its chair and wondering around the house.  As satiation sets in, enjoyment diminishes and another activity now becomes a higher reinforcer.  Two hours prior, the NY Sunday Times was higher.  Running in the background is the long practiced collection of Sunday activities which for a myriad of complex operant-conditioning reasons has produced a set of activities for to select from on a subconscious level (though of course you can give in thought or words reasons for those choices after the selection has occurred).  The highest rated one given the totality of your conditioning will be the activity that you at that moment engage in.  The subconscious process of the brain selecting based on operant conditioning could be mathematically modeled using vector-algebra.  But unlike the cat, one of the vectors comes from the rational portion of your mind.  Having your rational side affirms loving-happy thoughts more strongly would cause the vector for such thoughts to become greater.  Thus to think more hours of happy thoughts during the day than a like situated clone of you, this would occur through greater development of the rational side and the realization that such thoughts ought to be maximized.


Rational controls:

10        Realizing this subconscious processes of selection is based upon operant conditioning, you can train your rational side to measure your pattern as to when boredom becomes strong, time yourself, and then break off the reading of the NY Times Sunday edition before satiation sets in, and thus get on with the next activity and 130 minutes instead of 210 minutes.  You can also evaluate items on that list so as to improve the amount of pleasure obtained.  Let us suppose you like writing poetry, then developing a poetry website would be a more pleasing activity than reading the NY Times.[i]  By both lowering the aversive vector of boredom in your behavior, and developing better alternative activities, you will be able to enjoy for a longer period the happier thoughts.


11     Bit-by-bit you can modify your behavior:  the rational side can exert control upon what is running in the background and modify it.  You can develop better activities.  The rational side can get you to join a gym; the animal side will resist the exercise.  Exercise in the short term is not sufficiently reinforcing.  However, your rational side can exert sufficient force—hopefully.  In your initial six months, you average one trip a week to the gym, by 10 months out you are going three times a week.  Eventually you will take up racket ball and swimming—this wont happen for a year.  The reinforcers from forming associations at the gym and from the gradual improvement in the way you feel throughout the day will in time make this activity habitual.  This is example of your rational side establishing a new pattern of behavior, one that makes a greater contribution to your living the good-life.  Doing things that improve the way you feel and also developing and doing more pleasant activities will act as a mental tonic where by you will quite naturally increase the time spent contemplating items at the top of the happiness list. 


Punishment and aversive stimuli:

12        Behavior can also be measured by the use of aversive and positive reinforcer.  The popular person has a high ratio use of positive to negative reinforcers.  Some are the things he does such as having a well-supplied party, others are in what he says and does when with friends.  He brightens up the gathering.  Learn to emulate your most pleasant and popular friends by having a high ratio of positive to aversive reinforcers.   


13     A positive reinforcer to you all too often is aversive to others.  A word said crossly produces stimulation and alertness, but is aversive to the recipient.  Aversive reinforcers lead to the same in kind.  Two kittens playing, one playfully bites the other too hard, the other responds by biting back harder.  A 4-year-old sister pushes her 3-year-old brother; the brother then shoves back.  Your spouse talks in an acrimonious tone about you not doing the yard work, so you bring up in like tone about his mess in the garage and the cars need to be waxed.  Things haven’t changed much, we are brothers to the cat.  However, the rational side can analyze the effects of aversive conditioning and limit its usage. 


14     Once you realize the dire consequences of aversive reinforcers, your rational side can operate to limit their usage. 

The reason for the widespread use of punishment is probably very simple.  Punishment reinforces the punisher.  We are not referring to sadism, which is a special case, but to the general case when a person punishes behavior that is aversive.  Punishment suppresses the aversive behavior and as we have seen, the removal of aversive stimulation is reinforcing.  When a parent punishes a child for whining or playing with matches or tracking mud all over the floor, the aversive behaviors are interrupted or suppressed for the parent.  —Reese 37

There is more, anger is itself reinforcing through the release of neurotransmitters alertness (a feeling of well being) is brought about.  Mud on the kitchen floor does not have to be aversive to the mother, she can laugh about it, clean it up, and still do something to her daughter to reduce the frequency of such an event.  Yet why do most mother get angry?  The answer lies with the neurotransmitters:  anger releases neurotransmitters that produce stimulation and thus end/avert boredom.  The mother does not have to be angry when she punishes her child, but usually is because of its effect upon boredom.


16)    Punishment has unfortunate consequences.  Through stimulus generalization it becomes associated with the location and source.  Thus the home is less a pleasant place to your child, and you are less loved for use of aversive stimuli.  Thus to find other ways to obtain the same goal is preferred.  You can talk to your daughter, explain that you are unhappy because she has made more work for you.  You can warn her that if she persists that you won’t allow her to have desert tonight.  You can promise her a reward if she is exceptionally good for the rest of the day.  And if you have developed a close bond with your daughter, she will want to please you.  The same applies to your spouse.  Your goal is to make your presence reinforcing, and using aversive stimuli is 180 degrees the opposite.  (Of course it helps to have a suitable spouse).  The bond is built upon positive reinforcement; aversive reinforcement undoes the bond.  Thus what you think about your spouse is in part a result of the reinforcements received.  Avoid aversive reinforcers. 


17)    This is the key point.  Be on the look out for the use of aversive reinforcers, your use and also by others.  Seek to sow loving thoughts with positive reinforcers.  Recall the various reasons for the use of aversive stimuli:  1) It quickly modifies behavior that is annoying thus the behavior causing the removal of the unpleasant stimulus is thereby being reinforced.  2) It can lead to a quarrel, which causes the release of epinephrine and that produces alertness.  3) Because it allows pay back, and man is by his very nature is reinforced for getting even, the paybacks are reinforcing.  Finally, 4) there is the phenomena that if two reinforcers are otherwise equal in their ability to shape behavior, yet one has a less of delay than the other, that one will be the stronger reinforcer.  The reinforcement you receive from use of aversive conditioning on others follows quickly, while the positive path produces gradual long-term reinforcement.[ii]  With the rational nature aware of how the use of aversive stimuli is reinforcing, yet it has consequences which do not promote the a positive relationship with others, and thus in the long term yields less overall happiness, with this awareness the rational side can promote in you behavior that avoids the use of aversive stimuli.


18)    There are many thing that now one ought to add to the list of unsuitable behavior including listening to rap music with its violent, abusive, simple-minded lyrics; the watching of violent movies and television; being around people that use on you aversive stimuli.  

Conversely you ought to watch positive, cheerful movies, study for the purpose of becoming a better person, have as much as possible loving thoughts, be in a cooperative relationship, and consider it consider it better to use positive reinforcers, just as you consider it good to help others.  Bit by bit you can change what you do by changing your awareness and changing your environment.  Learn to be a loving person, for the long-term rewards are greater. 



List of subjects of each paragraph:

1.  Introduction

2.  Positive and negative reinforcers defined

3.  How environment determines behavior

4.  Aristotle’s definition of man

5.  Operant and respondent conditioning

6.  Animal and rational vectors of behavior

Positive Patterns:

7.  Boredom & vector selection based upon complex history of operant conditioning

8.  Avoiding boredom

9.  Modifying your own behavior

10. Example of

11. Use of rational side in modifying behavior

12. Positive reinforcer and being popular

13. Some positive reinforcers to you are negative to the other participant

14. Punishment

15. Avoiding use of aversive reinforcers

16. Punishment, its consequences

17. Use of aversive stimulus

18. Selecting good influences on your behavior


[i]   You could find reading materials that make a greater long-term contribution to your happiness.  The NY Times makes little of such contribution.  Thus for example, my rational side prefers medical textbooks and journals to the NY Times.  I thus have maintained and improved upon my scientific understanding of the human body.  This has enabled me to eat healthfully by knowledge rather than by trends, to exercise regularly, and to avoid both the quack naturalistic treatments and unsupported and sometime risky treatments.


[ii]   In the lab it has been demonstrated how for two pigeons the one which receives the food reward less delayed than the other bird on the same schedule as to number of pecks for reward, that bird will peck at a higher rate.  Delayed rewards are less effective.  The same has been observed in man.  There has been extensive studies done on various schedules of reinforcing stimuli and behavior in laboratory settings, and these results can be generalized to the complex world of human behavior.


       Much more could be accomplished as to making people better able to promote their own happiness.  A great waste is in the media, which has such a great influence on what people think and do.  But until the relationship between business and government is placed well behind the responsibility to serve the people, government will not address media content.  Business ought not be allowed to make political contributions, just like a judge is not allowed to take gifts from those whom he is preciding over.  Our government is supposed to preside over business as measured by the public's wheal.  How can it went the potitican's very elect is dependent upon big business? 

        There is a belief that the wolves caring for the sheep are better than wise Sheppard caring for the flock.  This belief is promoted by the wolves who own the media.  We thus allow a tight alliance to form between business and politicians, so tight that representatives of the business community hold the highest political offices.  The actions of politicians with a big-business background and those without are not distinguishable.   But this is false:  the belief that the wolves of business will serve better the public than the brightest and specially trained—just consider the example of our university system.   In fact on a whole state universities provides a better education with lower tuition that corporate universities such as National University.  It is important when describing an ideal system of government to establish a means whereby the special interest is all the people governed, and that in put to government is one which motivates government to prudently work for their public wheal.--jk 


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