Hi @bilk-zwang, I’d be happy to share my views on personality and the social learning theory in general. I am a Skinnerian but that does not mean that I think other psychology theorists are wrong or flawed. Often, we just interpret things differently or place more emphasis on different concepts than others.
Like Bandura, I think the social environment has a significant impact on our learning. People and their responses can either be an antecedent event or act as a consequence of our actions. For example, my behaviours at work in the presence of my colleagues differ from my behaviours when I am around close friends. My behaviours differ even more when I am in out in public in the company of strangers. The presence of certain people in my environment acts as a cue to suggest ways in which I should behave and be successful. Most of my social behaviour repertoire (manners, social norms, behaving in moral ways etc.) have been shaped by my social environment. I can either be accepted or excluded by others based on how I behave - i.e., others either reinforce my behaviours or they punish them. We may learn the rules of engagement from others telling us how to behave. This is referred to as rule-governed behaviours. For many social norms we do not need to have experienced the usual punishment to avoid behaving in certain ways; rather, our behaviour is under the control of other’s verbal behaviour. For example: we have been told stealing is wrong or what would happen to us if we did steal, so most of us will not steal.
We also use the social cues in our environment to help us behave effectively in novel situations. When I first moved to Toronto and had to learn the transit system here, I observed what others did. Everyday subway riders modeled certain behaviours which I saw worked for them and so I behaved in similar ways. My behaviours in turn worked as well and I became a successful transit user. Had my experience been different - say I got bumped into a lot, I got lost or people yelled at me for doing something I wasn’t supposed to do - that might have been enough to punish my subway riding behaviours. I might have avoided riding the subway in the future. I might have also told people about my horrible experience and the feelings associated with it. When I speak of those feelings, it is easy to assume that I will not ride the subway again because of I how I felt (e.g. embarrassment, frustration) but those feelings came as a result of the consequences that occurred. Had I experienced a more favorable consequence, I might have felt feelings of happiness and thought I was successful. The behaviourist view does not discount the occurrence of these thought or feelings – in fact, radical behaviourists think they are themselves behaviours – each with their own antecedents and consequences. Rather, we don’t think thoughts and feelings are the focus when changing a related behaviour (unless we want to indeed change the thought/feeling). If we can re-arrange the environment by adding more prompts, having reinforcement easily accessible, removing possible punishers, and/or teaching any alternative behaviours then perhaps the next attempt at riding the subway will go better.
With respect to personality - my challenge is what is a personality? How do you operationally define a personality? For me, it comes down to a set of behaviours that have been learned. The introvert behaves a certain way in comparison to the extrovert. The person with a type A personality behaves differently than the person with Type B. I believe (much like Skinner did) that we are all born with a certain capacity to find various stimuli reinforcing - both physical and social. In other words, each of us has innate or neurological preferences for certain reinforcers: sensorial, tangible, social or otherwise. However the physical and social environment still has to deliver reinforcers while at the same time be void of punishers. I will continue to use the extrovert vs. introvert as an example:
The so-called introvert may like a more low-key social experience and not find attention to be that reinforcing. Thus, they seek out environments that can provide that low-key experience while being free from too much attention on them. This strengthens the introverted behaviours because it works at giving them a comfortable, pleasurable experience. The so-called extrovert may very well find people and socializing highly reinforcing and seek out opportunities to gain attention. But if people repeatedly punish the extrovert’s attempts to socialize, get attention s/he will eventually learn to escape or avoid these situations. Their out-going behaviours have not worked, so they may then behave in ways that appear to be more introverted.
Many of our early experiences and the reactions, comments from others have shaped our personality. But this also means that our personality is not set in stone for us. Through some environmental/social engineering, behaviours associated with one personality type can evolve into another. I was reserved and quiet as a child. You wouldn’t know it today based on my presence in front of a room of people when I give a presentation. I actually find delivering courses and workshops to be reinforcing. I enjoy engaging and discussing with workshop participants. But occasionally my shy behaviours come out when I am at a social gathering where I do not know many of the people in attendance.
There is a lot more to say about this topic and I could write on and on and on. I hope I presented a clear picture of how a Skinnerian views personality and social learning. In your own research you may find it helpful to read Skinner’s About Behaviorism. He attempts to explain the behaviourist view on such matters as personality, feelings and thinking.
Now that I’ve answered your question, I am curious to read your viewpoint and comparisons. If you are comfortable with sharing a sample of your paper, I would love to read it – either published on your blog or shared privately. I have studied behaviourism intensively and can suffer from tunnel vision at times. I appreciate reading about other theories and point of views to balance with my own.
Hayes, S.C. (1989). Rule-governed behavior: Cognition, contingencies, and instructional control.
Skinner, B.F. (1974). About behaviorism.
Multiple personalities - disorder or behaviours?
Feelings…nothing more than feelings
What we say and how has influence