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Opening Skinner's Box


Opening Skinner's Box

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    Available in PDF Format | Opening Skinner's Box.pdf | English
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In "Opening Skinner's Box", psychiatrist and writer Lauren Slater sets out to investigate the twentieth century through a series of fascinating, witty and sometimes shocking accounts of its key psychological experiments. Beginning with the behaviourist B. F. Skinner, she describes his work with animals in the 1930s, in which he demonstrated the power of rewards and reinforcements to shape behaviour, and probes the truth behind the legend of the child raised in a box. From deep empathy with participants in Stanley Milgram's controversial 1950s experiment designed to explain obedience to authority to a post-Holocaust world, she moves to David Rosenhan's disturbing 1970s experiment that questioned the validity of psychiatric diagnosis itself. With her we observe cognitive dissonance among cult members whose apocalypse fails to arrive, and see the groundwork being laid for a pill that promises to rescue the failing memory. Previously buried in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments concerned with free will, authoritarianism, violence, conformity, and morality are now seen now seen in their full context and told as stories, rich in plot, wit and character.

"Slater creates for the reader a sense of intimacy with scientists and their subjects."Irresistible storytelling.Neither clinical nor dispassionate....This combination of expert scientific and historical context, tough-minded reporting and daringly subjective re-creation.

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Review Text

  • By Catherine on 20 June 2017

    Thorough retelling of the ten Psychological experiments that the author deems the most important of our time. The lyrical prose details how the psychologists came up with the hypotheses behind the experiments; how they put them to the test, what the results were and what effect they've had on psychology and society. The author writes in a down to earth, accessible way that helps readers to understand not only the principles of the experiments but also the personal stories behind the data. Definitely a good read for anyone interested in Psychology or thinking of studying it.

  • By Dr Qui? on 29 April 2009

    On the whole, this is a very entertaining book, which summarises some of the most famous / influential / notorious psychological experiments of the 20th century.While there is certainly a bit of an authorial bias, the book is informative and interesting. I found the style a bit corny and annoying at times, but got used to it.All in all, a good lightish read ... not really academic stuff, but fun, and if you want to know more, there's plenty of dry academic research to dig into!

  • By A. H. Esterson on 27 March 2004

    Readers should be aware that some people interviewed in this book, including prominent psychologists, have written formal letters of complaint to the President of Norton (publishers of the US edition), stating that parts of the purported conversations are defamatory inventions. Other knowledgeable psychologists have stated that important elements in Slater's descriptions of important psychological experiments are erroneous. Even before I read these complaints by a number of prominent psychologists, I had reason to doubt the veracity of the author. From lengthy extracts in the Guardian newspaper in January, and lengthy excerpts from the book on BBC Radio 4 "Book at Bedtime" (five quarter-hour readings from different chapters), I formed the opinion that some of the author's accounts of her experiences, including passages in the alleged conversations she had with current psychologists, were very unlikely to be true. Likewise the detailed account of her first attempt at replicating Rosenhan's experiment concerning the diagnosis of someone who only pretended to have symptoms of severe mental illness seems to me to be largely a product of her imagination. I suggest that people impressed by enthusiastic reviews of the book, such as some of those posted here, should keep an open mind until they have had an opportunity to see the evidence adduced by critics of Slater's book.

  • By Miss E. Potten on 9 December 2008

    Beautifully written book combining journalistic curiosity, psychological intelligence and a novelist's lyricism in telling the deeper stories behind some of the twentieth century's most incredible psychological experiments. From delving further into well-known studies, such as Milgram's shock experiments, to exploring some lesser known but equally profound experiments, Slater opens our eyes to the ethics, the narratives, and the insights into humanity provided by these discoveries, and the amazing minds that drove them forward.

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