Rule-Governed versus Implicitly Shaped Behavior

Only some behavior that can be described by rules can be called rule-governed in the present sense. A pigeon trained to match to sample (chapter 6) pecks at the key with the stimulus that matches the sample key. It could be said to be following a rule, but the “rule” is only a verbal summary, a brief description, of its performance. Whether a nonhuman animal's behavior should ever be called rule-governed

Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution, Third Edition. William M. Baum. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

remains a debatable point, but this pigeon's behavior cannot qualify as rule- governed because no verbal discriminative stimulus is involved. In chapter 7, we made a similar point about the rules of grammar; insofar as a four-year-old's speech is grammatical, it “follows rules" but since the four-year-old cannot state the rules, and no one else states them for the child, in the present sense its verbal behavior cannot be called rule-governed.

Although people tend to say a person or animal is following a rule whenever they notice some sort of regularity in behavior, behaviorists use the term to mean something more specific than just any complex discrimination. We focus on discriminations that involve verbal statements of rules, like the rules of a game, because historically, people's ability to respond to the verbal behavior of others was considered evidence in favor of mentalism. Behaviorists maintain that a scientific account is possible, and try to show that rule-following can be explained by the concepts of behavior analysis (e.g., reinforcement and stimulus control).

To help understand rule-governed behavior, we distinguish it from implicitly shaped behavior (sometimes called “contingency-shaped” behavior), which can be attributed solely to unspoken reinforcement and punishment relations. All operant behavior—rule-governed included—is shaped by reinforcement and punishment. The term implicitly shaped in this context means behavior that is shaped directly by relatively immediate consequences, not dependent on hearing or reading a rule (as described in chapter 4). An incident in an episode of All in the Family illustrates this: Archie Bunker argues with his son-in-law Mike over the correct method of putting on socks and shoes. Mike puts on a sock and a shoe on one foot and then the other sock and shoe on the other foot. Archie puts on both socks and then both shoes. Probably neither one was ever actually told to do it the way he did it; the behavior of each was implicitly shaped.

Rule-governed behavior depends on the verbal behavior of another person (a speaker), whereas implicitly shaped behavior requires no other person, only interaction with non-social reinforcement. The difference between Mike and Archie might have arisen by chance; each one's way of putting on socks and shoes was reinforced by being able to do the next activity in a sequence (chapter 4). Rule-governed behavior is talked about, directed, instructed (under the control of verbal discriminative stimuli), whereas implicitly shaped behavior arises without instruction and frequently cannot be talked about. Ask someone how he or she catches a ball, ask someone who has just told a joke how he or she managed to tell it so well, or ask someone on a bicycle how he or she succeeds in staying upright, and often the only answer you will get is, “I don't know, I just do it" He or she can demonstrate the activity, but not talk about it, which is a sure sign that the behavior is implicitly shaped.

Pure examples of implicitly shaped behavior are hard to think of, because much of our behavior begins with instruction and shifts to being shaped implicitly once it occurs in an approximation to the final form. Beginning gymnasts are told first how to perform a stunt, to carefully place hands and feet according to instructions, execute a crude version, and then practice and practice. During practice, unspoken relations between bodily movement and correct form shape the behavior until the form is correct. Many of our skills conform to this pattern: writing, driving, good manners, playing a musical instrument, and so on. The first rough approximation is rule-governed, but the final product is implicitly shaped.

In the terms of chapter 6, implicitly shaped behavior coincides with procedural knowledge—knowing how. Once the behavior is shaped, we know how to stay upright on a bicycle, even if we cannot explain it. If the behavior and its consequences can be talked about, that is a type of declarative knowledge— knowing about. Aaron knows about the game of chess if he can explain its rules. Rule-giving nearly always constitutes knowing about.

Of course, we often both know how to do something and know about it, as well. We may learn to talk about implicitly shaped behavior before or after it is shaped. The incident between Archie and Mike illustrates also how readily we make and justify rules. Archie stops Mike and tells him he should put on both socks before putting on a shoe. Mike objects. Archie says, “What if there's a fire? If you run out in the street, at least you won't be barefoot" Mike replies that at least he would have one shoe on and could hop around on one foot. The making of rules is part of our business as speakers. We discussed rule-making implicitly in chapter 7, and we will return to it again in chapters 12 and 13, on values and culture. Right now we are concerned with the justification of rules, because j ustification is verbal behavior about reinforcement and punishment (At least you wont be barefoot).

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