Introduction to Psychology
Human behavior seems at first sight unexplainable and unpredictable, given that it is always difficult to understand others. However, psychology boldly took a responsibility for explaining the laws of human acts, emotions and interpersonal relations. The present paper is intended to discuss three concepts from the Psychology module, positive reinforcement, emotional intelligence and sexual orientation and apply them to the examples from the popular media and literature.
According to Skinner’s behaviorist account, human behavior is controllable, and one of the main means of shaping the desirable pattern is reinforcement. Reinforcers are those events that increase and strengthen the response; or event whose presence or absence control how often a response occur (Skinner, 1953, p.253). Skinner invented and conceptualized several types of reinforcement, among which positive reinforcement is associated rewarding a person for a desirable act so that the probability that this action will be repeated increases. Therefore, only by completely eliminating completely eliminating the rewards (positive reinforcements) that follow particular behaviors will people (or animals) be sufficiently discouraged from repeating those behaviors (Skinner, 1953, p.280). For instance, the film entitled “The Island” (2005) shows a community of clones, controlled mostly by positive reinforcement. They are suggested that the planet is now polluted and they need to stay in the ostensibly safe reservation, where all conditions for their good are created. The characters are daily informed how the “government” is caring about them, meeting their physical, emotional and intellectual needs, as they attend interesting work, self-help and personality development sessions and 24/7 health care services. All these facts actually encourage them to continue obeying the leaders’ orders and prevents them from exploring the world behind the walls of the reservation. However, taking into consideration their striving for learning more about the environment, the leaders invent a lottery, to which everyone is certainly eligible. The lottery consists in ostensibly random selection of one person who wins an opportunity to live on the only unpolluted point of the Earth, the beautiful island. It is also implied that everyone will sooner or later move to this island, as the winners are selected regularly and the population is not so large. By launching this lottery, the leaders provide the community with a common dream, which acts as an additional reinforce of their compliance. Importantly, following Skinner’s prescriptions, the “government” regularly broadcasts lottery results, reinforcing the “citizens” over and over again and keeping them distracted from the considerations of individual trip outside.
The second concept to be addressed is emotional intelligence. It is defined as “the capacity or a self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others and of groups” (Arbib and Fellous, 2005, p. 35). Emotional intelligence is measured by five key characteristics: self-awareness, or the ability to recognize emotions and feelings; mood management, or “handling feelings so that they’re relevant to the current situation and the person reacts appropriately” (Arbib and Fellous, 2005, p. 36); self-motivation, or the ability to direct feeling towards a certain goal; relationships management and empathy, or ability to identify and understand others’ emotions. A bright example of extremely weak, almost pathological emotional intelligence is the main character is Alber Camus’s novel entitled “The Stranger”, Mersault. His emotions are determined by physical sensations and seem equally momentary. The man is actually able to evaluate his emotions at the basic level, i.e. he reports irritation, infatuation, delight which he experiences, but he never tries to reflect on his emotions or explain them. In addition, he fails to control his mood: for instance, during his mother’s funeral, he feels nothing but anger with the weather and the crowd of pensive people, absorbed in their thoughts, instead of focusing on the moment and trying at least to recollect the feelings he had for the deceased. An example of poor self-motivation is Mersault’s emotions during court trial, in which he is being convicted: although the situation requires that he concentrate on each word the prosecutor and defender pronounce, he feels tired and irritated by heat. As a result, he fails to say anything in his defense or ask his lawyer to include in his speech certain episodes. Mersault’s empathy skills are also strikingly weak: at the romantic moment of his date with Marie, his girlfriend, he appears to be absolutely unresponsive when she begins to talk about her attraction and affection to him. Instead, he continues to keep silence, whereas he is also notably infatuated with Marie. Poor ability to manage relationship often comes in pair with the absence of empathy; in this sense, Mersault seems antisocial and impolite. When Marie asks his whether he is willing to create a family with her, he responds that matrimony, family life and reproduction seem to him meaningless, but if Marie insists, he can become her spouse. This awkward structure of response actually makes the woman feel inconveniently, as if she is imposing marriage on the man.
Sexual orientation is a direction of individual’s sexuality (Mondimore, 1996) , “usually conceived of as classifiable according to the sex and gender of the persons whom the individual finds sexually attractive” (Mondimore, 1996, p. 47). In the Western sociology and psychology, sexual orientation is composed of a number of aspects, including sexual identity (in the meaning of the perception of one’s own biological sex), social identity and self-perception in general. From the purely psychological approach, sexual orientation includes several dimensions: cognitive (perception of males or females as future partners, specific cognitive constructs, associated with sexes), affective (direction of romantic emotions and erotic desires) and behavioral (intimate relationships or cohabitation with an individual of the same or opposite gender) (Mondimore, 1996). Therefore, there are three types of sexual orientation: heterosexual, or attraction to individuals of the opposite sex, homosexual, or attraction to the same sex and bisexual (includes viewing both males and females as potential sexual partners and the arousal or erotic desire for the individuals of both sexes).
The movie entitled “The Aggresives” is a brilliant example of video about lesbian identity. It is composed of several interviews with women, whose appearance and behavior are fully masculine, but they don’t seek to be men. The film reveals that sexual orientation is formed to great extent under society’s influence. For instance the interviewee named Flo was brought up as a boy, since her mother dreamed about a son. Therefore, Flo is emotionally and cognitively adherent to the masculine roles and behavioral patterns associated with leadership, self-establishment and use of force. Further, Flo explains that she was abandoned by her mother and began a relationship with a girl. Nowadays, she views homosexual relationship as the only acceptable emotional and sexual “partnership”. The other girls had similar fates, but many of them felt uncomfortable in their female body since their childhood; and the greater was their parents’ attempt to turn them into girls, the stronger was their rebellion against the gender roles being imposed. Nowadays, they still endure social stigma and need to accept their relatives’ hope that they will once become “normal women”.
As one can conclude, positive reinforcement is a measure or a complex of measures that bring the expected or desirable behavior and habituate the person to the respective pattern so that it is repeated whenever necessary. Emotional intelligence is a multifaceted concept that includes not merely the ability to understand emotions, but also the practical skills of using them for one’s own profit in all spheres including interpersonal relationship. Sexual orientation is a relative stable pattern of attraction to certain gender , which, as the film about homosexual women shows, has both natural and social origins.
Myers, D. (2006). Psychology in Modules, 8th Edition. Worth Publishers.
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Free Press.
Arbib, M. and Fellous, J-M. (2005) .Who Needs Emotions?: The Brain Meets the Robot. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
Camus, A. (1942). The Stranger. New York: Vintage Books.
Mondimore, F. M. (1996). A natural history of homosexuality. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.