POINTAccording to B.F. Skinner, human beings are essentially blank slates that are shaped by their environment. He used to say: "Give me a child at birth and I can make him into anything you want."
We have a number of societal mechanisms that exist because of this belief in the power of learned behavior. Let me identify some of them:
Role of parenting: We place a great deal of importance on the role of mothers and fathers in the raising of children. We believe, for instance, that children raised without fathers will be hindered by their lack of a male role model. Parents who have continual run-ins with the law risk having government authorities take their children from them. The latter action is typically taken because society believes that irresponsible parents do not provide the proper learning environment for their children.
Importance of education: Most advanced societies invest heavily in the education of their young. They typically provide ten or more years of free education. In countries like the United States, going on to college after finishing high school has become the norm rather then the exception. This investment in education is undertaken because it is seen as a way for young people to learn knowledge and skills.
Job training: For those individuals who do not go onto college, most will pursue job training programs to develop specific work-related skills. They will take courses to become proficient as auto mechanics, medical assistants, and the like. Similarly, people who seek to become skilled trades workers will pursue apprenticeships as carpenters, electricians, or pipe fitters. In addition, business firms invest billions of dollars each year in training and education to keep current employee skills up-to-date.
Manipulating of rewards: Complex compensation programs are designed by organizations to fairly reward employees for their work performance, but these programs are also designed with the intention to motivate employees. They are designed to encourage employees to engage in behaviors that manage desires and to extinguish behaviors that management wants to discourage. Salary levels, for instance, typically reward employee loyalty, encourage the learning of new skills, and motivate individuals to assume great responsibilities in the organization.
The above mechanisms all exist and flourish because organizations and society believe that people can learn and change their behavior.
While people can learn and can be influenced by their environment, far too little attention has been paid to the role that evolution has played in shaping human behavior. Evolutionary psychology tells us that hum beings are basically hardwired at birth. We arrive on Earth with ingrained traits, honed and adapted over millions of years that shape and limit our behavior.
All living creatures are "designed: by specific combinations of genes. As a result of natural selection, genes that produce faulty design features are eliminated. Characteristics that help a species survive tend to endure and get passed on to future generations. Many of the characteristics that helped early Homo sapiens survive live on today and influence the way we behave. Examples include: emotions, risk avoidance, stereotyping, and male competitiveness.