Breland, Keller and Breland, Marian. "The Misbehavior of Organisms," 16 American
Psychologist (November, 1961), pp. 681-684.
The allusion in the title is, of course, to Skinner's Behavior of Organisms. This paper is a direct
attack - by former students - of the great man's assumptions. For example, Skinner would have it
that his classification of behaviors into Type S and Type R is exhaustive. However, as the present
authors point out, there are behaviors which are neither. There are behaviors which would appear
to be "instinctive" and "species specific." In fact, this brief paper describes examples of behavior
in chickens and pigs and raccoons which appear to be not under the control of reinforcements but
clearly visible in the ethological perspective of these same animals in their natural states.
The authors examine the assumptions that Skinner brought into his psychology: that the animal
comes into the laboratory as a virtual tabula rasa, that species differences are insignificant, and
that all responses are about equally conditionable to all stimuli.
"It is obvious, we feel, that these assumptions are no longer tenable. After 14 years of continuous
conditioning and observation of thousands of animals, it is our reluctant conclusion that the
behavior of any species cannot be adequately understood, predicted, or controlled without
knowledge of its instinctive patterns, evolutionary history, and ecological niche." (p. 684)
Incidentally, the authors call the sudden emergence of apparent instinctive behaviors "instinctive
drift." The general principle seems to be that wherever an animal has strong instinctive behaviors
in the area of the conditioned response, "after continued running the organism will drift toward
the instinctive behavior to the detriment of the conditioned behavior and even to the delay or
preclusion of the reinforcement." In a very boiled down form, it might be stated "learned
behavior drifts toward instinctive behavior." (p. 684)