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Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

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Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been nar Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been narrated as stories, chock-full of plot, wit, personality, and theme.


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Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been nar Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been narrated as stories, chock-full of plot, wit, personality, and theme.

30 review for Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a fascinating, monumentally flawed, book. Its central conceit? Slater, a psychologist, "revisits" ten of the most (in)famous historical experiments conducted in psychology, work which has played a key role in establishing the prevailing dogma about human behavior. Each experiment gets its own chapter in the book. Obviously, the success of this kind of gimmick depends critically on (a) the particular set of experiments chosen for inclusion, (b) the author's insight - her ability to interpr This is a fascinating, monumentally flawed, book. Its central conceit? Slater, a psychologist, "revisits" ten of the most (in)famous historical experiments conducted in psychology, work which has played a key role in establishing the prevailing dogma about human behavior. Each experiment gets its own chapter in the book. Obviously, the success of this kind of gimmick depends critically on (a) the particular set of experiments chosen for inclusion, (b) the author's insight - her ability to interpret the experimental results correctly and to situate them within the broader context, and (c) (assuming that the previous step has been accomplished), her ability to communicate the message effectively to a non-specialist reader. Can she spark readers' curiosity and hold their attention? Can she chart a course between the Charybdis of breezy superficiality and the Scylla of excessive detail to write clearly, at a level that is appropriate for a general audience? Slater scores highly on the first criterion. The experiments she has included were thought-provoking when they were first published, and they remain fascinating. Many of them achieved canonical status precisely because the results were so counterintuitive, confounding expectations and forcing investigators to reexamine prior beliefs. This tends to be true in any discipline - often it's the experiment that yields anomalous results that turns out to be important. Among the ten experiments that Slater discusses are: B.F. Skinner's work on operant conditioning, Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments, Harry Harlow's experiments demonstrating that a (monkey) baby's need to be held and cuddled is more primal than the need to be fed, studies that showed the importance of "social cuing" and the bystander effect in determining people's response to an emergency or a request for help, and Elizabeth Loftus's work which essentially debunked the whole "recovered memory" trend that had become popular in the 1980s. What does Slater have to tell us about these experiments? The good news is that she is quite capable of providing a lucid description of the various experimental protocols, results, and explaining their significance in the broader scheme of things. This despite the fact that, at some fundamental level, the woman is borderline unhinged. This is someone who, as part of the "research" conducted for the book, tries to see if she can personally duplicate results of one of the earlier experiments (in which nine healthy subjects presented themselves at the admission units of different mental hospitals, claiming to hear voices in their heads saying "thud", to see what would happen - answer, 8 diagnoses of schizophrenia, with hospital stays ranging from 7 to 52 days, despite behaving completely normally and never repeating the initial complaint). I should note that Slater does this not just once, but nine times: "It's a little fun, going into ERs and playing this game, so over the next 8 days, I do it 8 more times" (each time she receives a diagnosis of psychotic depression and a fistful of pills). Of course, long before reaching this episode, the reader will have figured out that Slater has a pathological need to make herself the center of attention. Almost every chapter contains a perfectly lucid account of the research and the issues, which is marred by whole swaths of extraneous irrelevant stuff about Slater's own life. This material is easily recognized, as the prose switches into a mode best described as "histrionic", but it gets very old very fast. Unfortunately, there are other, more disturbing issues as well. As the book progresses, it becomes evident that Slater's view of what constitutes truth in reporting is more flexible than one might wish in a science reporter. See, for example, these links: Deborah Skinner's rebuttal NT Times article To me, the most distasteful aspect of the book, other than Slater's persistent self-aggrandization, is her habit of adding superfluous negative editorial comments when describing people who have agreed to speak with her (she has a related tendency to engage in uncharitable speculation about the thoughts and motivation of people who are dead, and thus unable to defend themselves). And what kind of person seeks out one of the participants of the Milgram study and forces them to spend an afternoon resurrecting what are obviously extremely disturbing memories of their behavior during the study? Well, the same kind of person who evidently has no qualms about tracking down a Stage 4 cancer patient to browbeat them, not just once, but several times about what she perceives as "dissonance" between the patient's faith and her medical prognosis. It is a testament to Slater's monstrous self-absorption that she ends the chapter in question by reassuring us that she herself is at peace. It's as if the skinhead with the baseball bat came over to reassure you that he's OK, really, he'll be fine. Just a little blood on his boots, nothing that can't be cleaned up. And that he's never felt so invigorated. But, as we know, loathsome people sometimes write books that are worthwhile. "Opening Skinner's Box" is a case in point.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dave Comerford

    The raw material of this book deserves 5 stars. The ten experiments that Slater has selected tell stories of the human condition as effectively as any art. But the experience of reading the book is like being guided through the most fascinating museum by someone who laughs like hyena, bursts into tears at random intervals and occasionally pisses on the exhibits.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    The full title here is Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Author Lauren Slater reviews 10 famous experiments from the various niches of psychology and attempts to understand them and their participants in new ways. It's really not very good. And that's too bad, because these psychological experiments and the scientists involved with them are gold mines of fascinating stories --they're famous for a reason. Examples include getting average Joes to shock The full title here is Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Author Lauren Slater reviews 10 famous experiments from the various niches of psychology and attempts to understand them and their participants in new ways. It's really not very good. And that's too bad, because these psychological experiments and the scientists involved with them are gold mines of fascinating stories --they're famous for a reason. Examples include getting average Joes to shock other people to death, imprisoning babies in boxes constructed to shape their psyches, turning rhesus monkeys into antisocial lunatics, faking your way into a psychiatric hospital on flimsy pretenses, crowds of people watching impassively as their neighbor is stabbed to death, and inserting false memories into the minds of people who should know better. This is crazy, fascinating, outrageous stuff! Slater devotes a chapter to each set of experiments and attempts to delve deeper into the concepts that each one left in the landscape of psychology. She usually does this by writing about the people underneath the lab coats, including their personalities, their drives, their flaws, and their humanity. Unfortunately when she's short on information Slater had an annoying habit of just making details up, along the lines of "I imagined him blah blah blah" or "Did he look at this spectacle and blah blah blah?" Its an entirely ineffective literary technique that really only serves to yank you out of whatever flow you might have gotten into to be reminded that we're resorting to conjecture in an attempt at spicing things up a bit and to live up to the dust jacket's doubtful premise that there are great mysteries here to be revealed through personal research and fact checking. In fact, this brings me to my major problem with the book: the author's writing style. The prose is so purple, sloppy, and florid, so full of itself and laden with pointless metaphores and descriptors that it strains credibility for something claiming to be non-fiction. She also has a flair for the dramatic, as when she breathlessly drew parallels between Stanley Milgram's subjects administering painful shock and his own doctors trying to revive him with defibrillators. It's just not well done. It's great source material (or at least I think so), but Slater just can't hold a candle to better science writers like Bill Bryson or Mary Roach.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James

    This book is so bad in so many ways, where do I start? p49 she interviews "Joshua Chaffin", in the endnotes I see this is a pseudonym to protect his privacy, Please, he was proud of what he did, he didn't want privacy, that's why he responded, that is, if he really exists. My opinion, 90% chance the interview is 100% fiction. Chapter 3, she claims to go to 9 emergency rooms claiming she heard voices. She says she gave a fake name, Please....... Everyone in the medical world wants photo ID to make su This book is so bad in so many ways, where do I start? p49 she interviews "Joshua Chaffin", in the endnotes I see this is a pseudonym to protect his privacy, Please, he was proud of what he did, he didn't want privacy, that's why he responded, that is, if he really exists. My opinion, 90% chance the interview is 100% fiction. Chapter 3, she claims to go to 9 emergency rooms claiming she heard voices. She says she gave a fake name, Please....... Everyone in the medical world wants photo ID to make sure you're not ripping off an insurance company or something else. My Opinion, 100% chance she's lying. Through out the book the writing is turgid with clumsy stupid metaphors. And she often jumps from an idea to a silly comparison/conclusion. p 102 after relating an experiment where someone has a fake seizure, "So, if you are on a plane when it is hijacked, and you do not act within the first 180 seconds, you are unlikely to act at all." My opinion: Stupid conclusion. p 177 she claims to take some of her husbands hydromorphone tablets. This is one of the most popular of the opiates with drug abusers, most doctors refuse to write prescriptions for it, I think it unlikely her husband had them, and if he did, he wouldn't want her playing with them. My opinion: More lies. consider these examples of her writing: p225 "Little is know of his mother or the circumstances of his birth, but we can imagine he came out head first, the midwife placing her hands on either side of his still-soft skull and pulling him like a rooted vegetable from the red earth." p232 "Afterward, several scarred and barren places on the brain, like land looks as it is seen from an airplane following a forest fire." p 245 "The cingulate gyrus looms large and grainy as a planet beamed back to Earth" What crap!!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed Samir

    The book is a very good introduction to psychological aspects of the modern world. It takes the reader through 10 defining moments in psychology and presents them in a way that can basically direct you where you want to go. The writing style is excellent and had me latched on to the book for as long as I had it. Highly recommend for psychology enthusiasts.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    Many years ago, I wanted to be an educational psychologist. For various reasons, I didn't (and I'm now happy that I did what I did and became what I am), but it's experiments like this that drew me to the subject. This describes great psychological experiments of the 20th century, told in a chatty, narrative style. Lots of fascinating food for thought, but the literary pretensions and irrelevant imaginings are an irritating distraction. Many years ago, I wanted to be an educational psychologist. For various reasons, I didn't (and I'm now happy that I did what I did and became what I am), but it's experiments like this that drew me to the subject. This describes great psychological experiments of the 20th century, told in a chatty, narrative style. Lots of fascinating food for thought, but the literary pretensions and irrelevant imaginings are an irritating distraction.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Abubakar Mehdi

    The narrative description of Milgram’s experiment comes awfully close to fictionalising the whole thing. I appreciate her desire to make this dry subject more interesting but am not sure to what extend you can take these liberties. Same is the case with the first chapter on Skinner. Its a well written book and a good insight on the history of some major breakthroughs in the study of human psychology, but her narrative inevitably raises some questions at to the authenticity and veracity of their The narrative description of Milgram’s experiment comes awfully close to fictionalising the whole thing. I appreciate her desire to make this dry subject more interesting but am not sure to what extend you can take these liberties. Same is the case with the first chapter on Skinner. Its a well written book and a good insight on the history of some major breakthroughs in the study of human psychology, but her narrative inevitably raises some questions at to the authenticity and veracity of their explanation.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aj Sterkel

    Likes: I took a psychology class in high school and absolutely hated it. The lectures were mostly tedious, and the teacher was arrogant. However, the class did make me curious about psychological experiments. It led me to Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and all of the follow-up studies that say Festinger’s conclusions are crap. I also read about Stanley Milgram and a few other well-known psychology pioneers. I guess my high school teacher inadvertently caused me to read the book I’m reviewi Likes: I took a psychology class in high school and absolutely hated it. The lectures were mostly tedious, and the teacher was arrogant. However, the class did make me curious about psychological experiments. It led me to Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and all of the follow-up studies that say Festinger’s conclusions are crap. I also read about Stanley Milgram and a few other well-known psychology pioneers. I guess my high school teacher inadvertently caused me to read the book I’m reviewing now. I blame him for everything I’m about to say. If you don’t have a background in science, psychology experiments can be difficult to understand. I remember doing a lot of Googling while I read When Prophecy Fails and the follow-ups. Opening Skinner’s Box does a brilliant job of making the experiments accessible to non-doctors. The author describes the experiments, interprets the results, and explains why they’re important. The science in these essays is (usually) easy to understand. No Googling is required. I very much appreciated that. Dislikes: I struggled with the writing style. When the author writes about science, this book is really good. I liked learning about the experiments, the scientists, and how they’re relevant to the modern world. Unfortunately, between the experiments, we’re forced to take turgid, overwritten excursions to the author’s imagination. She tells us how she “imagines” people and places look. She makes (mean) judgments about people’s thoughts and motivations. The flowery writing style was a constant distraction for me. I was cringing at over-the-top metaphors instead of paying attention to the author’s message. Too much of the book is about the author. She gives her biased opinions on everything. She gets off-topic at times and talks about apple picking with her daughter or whatever. I eventually started skimming the author’s self-centered tangents. The Bottom Line: The experiments are fascinating, but the purple prose and authorial intrusions distract readers from the science. Do you like opinions, giveaways, and bookish nonsense? I have a blog for that.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jude

    I see that the reviews on this book are very mixed, so I will add my own input to help any potential readers. This book is written in 10 chapters, one per experiment. Slater's writing doesn't follow a single pattern and seems almost whimsical, with most chapters having different formats. This may annoy the structured reader, but to me it just kept things more interesting, as I would have gotten bored otherwise. As for her prose, it can get a bit cheesy sometimes, as she makes some rather questiona I see that the reviews on this book are very mixed, so I will add my own input to help any potential readers. This book is written in 10 chapters, one per experiment. Slater's writing doesn't follow a single pattern and seems almost whimsical, with most chapters having different formats. This may annoy the structured reader, but to me it just kept things more interesting, as I would have gotten bored otherwise. As for her prose, it can get a bit cheesy sometimes, as she makes some rather questionable artistic choices, so to speak. But it's not all dubious, you can spot the occasional good metaphor. One element I quite disliked, however, was her conclusions. Mainly the ones to each chapter, sometimes those to individual paragraphs too, they could get downright awful at times. However, since it's only the last sentence(s), it wasn't unbearable. Slater sometimes diverts from the explanations on the studies to herself, but this was to be expected since the blurb claims to give a personal and social context to these experiments. When executed properly, these contexts were actually welcome, but they did get a little old by the end of the book. What I think matters most is the choice of experiments and how they are explained. Slater gives information on the societal context of each study, on the researcher(s) responsible for each study, on the execution of the studies themselves, on their effect on the field of psychology, on what the studies entail, and on the opposing views and findings (so we don't only see one side of the coin). This, in my opinion, was all done very well, which explains the three star rating. Some might find it odd of me to overlook her personal additions as much as I do, but my focus on the scientific content made me value the parts about psychology much more, enough to enjoy this collection despite its weaker points. However, I do understand why this might bother some, and, consequently, why this book isn't for everyone. Note: Some people might bring into question Slater's fictionalisation of some of what she reports. This is a valid concern in certain chapters, mostly the third one, where she claims to have attempted to reproduce the results of Rosenhan's experiment, and some details scattered throughout. However, some might try to bring up the fact that Skinner's daughter Deborah has written a rebuttal of this book in which she criticises Slater for perpetuating the rumours surrounding her relationship with her father. In reality, Slater explicitly states that the stories floating around Deborah Skinner are only rumours and that none of them are true (second pages of the first chapter, page 7 in my edition). She even goes on later in the chapter describing Deborah's actual treatment from her father, which aligns perfectly with Deborah's "rebuttal". Upon some basic research, it seems that The Observer published an article which misquoted Slater, and Deborah took it for fact and wrote her own rebuttal in consequence.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    Opening Skinner’s Box ”The experiments described in this book, and many others, deserve to be not only reported on as research but also celebrated as story, which is what I have here tried to do.” p. 3 I found this to be an interesting read. I had read an essay by Slater in The Best American Essays 2008 and decided I wanted to read more of her writing. I had a slight infatuation with B. F. Skinner when I was in high school. His novel, Walden Two seemed to hold the answers to many of my questions. Opening Skinner’s Box ”The experiments described in this book, and many others, deserve to be not only reported on as research but also celebrated as story, which is what I have here tried to do.” p. 3 I found this to be an interesting read. I had read an essay by Slater in The Best American Essays 2008 and decided I wanted to read more of her writing. I had a slight infatuation with B. F. Skinner when I was in high school. His novel, Walden Two seemed to hold the answers to many of my questions. In the intervening forty years, I have realized that life is never so easy. Humans are messy creatures that do not fit into neat little boxes. However, I was glad to meet Skinner again and to make the acquaintance of other psychologists. I now understand more about Harlow’s monkeys, false memories and several other famous experiments. I believe that Slater did what she set out to do – tell fascinating stories about research that has impacted the way we see ourselves. If you like essays, if you are interesting in scientists as well as their research or you just like learning new things, I recommend this book. Slater combines her life and her own research in ways that make a compelling story.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bianca Sy

    I read this book for one of my Psychology classes. I liked how the situations flow, and I learned a lot. Even though I do still have the questions about a few experiments, I loved how this book turned me on.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    I recently finished a collection of horror stories masquerading as psychology experiments, "Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century", by Lauren Slater. Here's what I thought. First of all, the title is lame. It implies that the book is about Skinner, when in fact only the first chapter is. Each chapter is an essay on a different psychologist, telling us where they came from (literally and figuratively), what their Big Idea/Experiment was, and who was offended by I recently finished a collection of horror stories masquerading as psychology experiments, "Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century", by Lauren Slater. Here's what I thought. First of all, the title is lame. It implies that the book is about Skinner, when in fact only the first chapter is. Each chapter is an essay on a different psychologist, telling us where they came from (literally and figuratively), what their Big Idea/Experiment was, and who was offended by it. And many of them have plenty to offend. Skinner bragged about keeping his daughter in a box. On closer inspection it turns out to have been more of a grandiose crib, and Skinner comes off as using intentional controversy to try to make himself sound more daring and original than he was. More interesting, to me, was Milgram. His most famous experiment gave rise to the idea of "six degrees of separation", but his best and most disturbing one found that, if ordered to by a figure of authority, well over half the general population will continue to follow orders (in this case, increasing the voltage applied to another human being well past the marked safety levels), even if it means killing someone (after the experiment was over, they would discover it had been staged, the apparent victim an actor). Remember this, next time you are in a large crowd: most of these people would kill you, if ordered to by the right kind of authority figure, in the right circumstance. In some cases Slater inserts herself into the narrative. Rosenhan's experiment in the 1970's discovered that pyschiatrists at eight out of eight institutions could not tell that a bogus patient with a single fictitious symptom (saying that they heard a voice saying, "thud"), was sane. They were all checked in, in some cases medicated (they were given previous training on how to palm and discard the pills), and in a few cases had to escape when they could not convince their "doctors" to release them. Slater decided to repeat the experiment, herself, to see if anything had changed. Her discoveries? They treat you nicer than they did in the 70's, and they don't check you in. But they still believed the same story, and all gave her prescription antidepressants and/or antipsychotics. Every hospital dealing in physical illness has to learn how to detect "narc seekers" or "Munchausens" who fake illness. Apparently their mental illness counterparts have not learned to yet. Nearly every chapter has some disturbing topic: cognitive dissonance (why people can believe more strenuously in ideas, the less evidence there is for them), drug addiction, the history of lobotomies, how to implant a false memory. By the time I had finished the book, I had come to a new hypothesis to explain Rosenhan's (and Slater's) results. It's not that diagnosing mental illness is impossible. It's that so few people are mentally well, that a minimum standard of rationality would be far too high to set the bar. People remember what they're told to remember by others. They suspend judgment on moral matters if somebody else is there to judge for them. They perceive reality in the way that gives least conflict with their beliefs, rather than altering beliefs to conflict least with reality. There are some optimistic spots. Alexander found that, while rats restrained in a small, bare cage will self-administer heroin rather than eat, until they starve to death, this is more a reflection of the cage than the drug. Put a thoroughly addicted rat into a large pen, brightly lit, with other rats, fresh cedar chips every day, and small alcoves where pregnant females can bear their young, and you get a different result. Rats prefer water, to heroin. Does this mean addiction is a sign of an impoverished environment rather than the power of addiction? Or just more evidence that rats are different than people, mentally? (or at least, we hope so) Occasionally Slater's opinions get in the way. In a chapter on Elizabeth Loftus, the only female pyschologist profiled, Slater comes off as a bit catty, perhaps better able to tolerate (or admire) eccentricity in a male researcher than a female. But by and large, she uses her writing talent to turn a potentially dry topic (psychological research) into the sort of short story that leaves a tightness in your chest afterwards, and disturbs your sleep. More thrilling than horror stories, because the dark underbelly of the ("sane", or at least typical) human psyche is all around you. Read it, if you dare.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Louis

    This is an unusual, quite personal, idiosyncratic take on some of the great psychological experiments of the 20th century. Some, such as Milgram's shock experiment and Skinner's conditioning are well known, but there are a number of less famous but no less fascinating inclusions present too. One interesting element is that the author immerses herself into the story, for example she attempts to get herself admitted to a mental hospital as part of the chapter on Rosenhan's experiment. In places thi This is an unusual, quite personal, idiosyncratic take on some of the great psychological experiments of the 20th century. Some, such as Milgram's shock experiment and Skinner's conditioning are well known, but there are a number of less famous but no less fascinating inclusions present too. One interesting element is that the author immerses herself into the story, for example she attempts to get herself admitted to a mental hospital as part of the chapter on Rosenhan's experiment. In places this takes on a bit of an uncomfortable hue, most notably in the chapter on Festinger and cognitive dissonance where the author challenges the dying mother of a disabled child why she hasn't used her supposed saintly powers to heal her. All in all however, this is a most thought provoking book and one I'd recommend for readers regardless of their familiarity with psychology.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sonia Belviso

    I can understand why this book gets such mixed reviews. I need to say I got hooked on it from the first page. This is how popularization of science should look like. I, for example, would not want to know all the details of the experiments, because most of them are quite disturbing. But I appreciated the insight into the experimenters' background and the historical context. I consider Slater a great storyteller and combined with facts, this book gave me some crazy dreams! And it provided plenty o I can understand why this book gets such mixed reviews. I need to say I got hooked on it from the first page. This is how popularization of science should look like. I, for example, would not want to know all the details of the experiments, because most of them are quite disturbing. But I appreciated the insight into the experimenters' background and the historical context. I consider Slater a great storyteller and combined with facts, this book gave me some crazy dreams! And it provided plenty of references to authors and resource material, which I want to look at later.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Hufsa

    This book was actually a lot better than I expected it to be! The experiments in here were fascinating, and I learned a lot. I read this book for my AP Psychology class, and I think it gave me a great introduction to the subject of psychology. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book as a fun, casual read, but it it is a great read for anyone interested in learning about why we do what we do :) This book was actually a lot better than I expected it to be! The experiments in here were fascinating, and I learned a lot. I read this book for my AP Psychology class, and I think it gave me a great introduction to the subject of psychology. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book as a fun, casual read, but it it is a great read for anyone interested in learning about why we do what we do :)

  16. 5 out of 5

    CharleneIgnites

    You have to be interested enough in psychology to stay engaged, but not so interested that you expect too much. I enjoyed a lot of this. No regrets - except maybe wishing that it had been a (free) library book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessy

    The experiments in this book are explained so well! And my favorite in my opinion was Milgram’s shock experiment, the results of some of the experiments are surprising like this one (65% of people will blindly obey authority even if it means inducing death/pain)😬. Overall a great book even if it was just for a summer psych assignment :^)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mandi

    Lauren Slater’s “Opening Skinner’s Box” is an insightful recounting of the ten most influential psychological experiments of the twentieth century. From B.F. Skinner to Harry Harlow, Slater outlines all the most important experiments, leaving out extraneous details but adding enough that it is still an enjoyable read. Each chapter is devoted to a description of the experiment, an anecdote about her own research into the experiment and its goals, and an expansion of the ideas and conclusions glea Lauren Slater’s “Opening Skinner’s Box” is an insightful recounting of the ten most influential psychological experiments of the twentieth century. From B.F. Skinner to Harry Harlow, Slater outlines all the most important experiments, leaving out extraneous details but adding enough that it is still an enjoyable read. Each chapter is devoted to a description of the experiment, an anecdote about her own research into the experiment and its goals, and an expansion of the ideas and conclusions gleaned from each experiment. Slater begins her book with the psychologist of the title, B.F. Skinner. Skinner is known for his infamous box and the discovery of operational conditioning. Skinner devised two experiments using box contraptions. The box was simply a container with a lever that the rat could press. Skinner then experimented with changing how and when rewards were given to the rats. He found that the rats would learn when the lever would give them food, when it would not, or if there was a pattern to the job. Taking the experiment further Skinner was even able to teach common pigeons to play ping-pong through simple operant conditioning. Slater then moves along describing fascinating experiments like Stanley Milgram’s research concerning obedience in which unsuspecting citizens were told to administer shocks to a helpless “learner”. More than sixty five percent of participants went to the end of the experiment, even when they believed they had killed the “learner” from the shocks. The seventh chapter of the book is perhaps the most interesting and biologically relevant. It features an experiment dealing with addiction and whether it is biologically or environmentally based. Bruce Alexander, Robert Coambs, and Patricia Hadaway first built two cages for groups of rats. One cage was small, cramped, and dirty, built to resemble poor, overbuilt, and overpopulated habitats of humans. The other cage, deemed “rat park”, was large and roomy with brightly colored fixtures as well as tubes and wheels for the rats to play in. In both cages the experimenters placed two bowls of water, one laced with morphine and sugar and the other with plain tap water. The rats in the dirty cage all drank from the morphine laced water and left the tap water untouched. In rat park however almost none of the rats touched the morphine water and stayed away from the opiate. Alexander, Coambs, and Hadaway then took morphine-addicted rats from the dirty cage and introduced them to the wonders of rat park. Surprisingly they found that all the rats easily switched from drinking the morphine water to drinking the tap water once introduced to rat park. The rats showed no signs of biological withdrawal or physical dependence on what is supposedly one of the most addictive drugs known to man. These results point to the idea that addiction and withdrawal may not be a biological function of dependence as is commonly thought. Slater’s book is a fantastic adventure into the world of twentieth century psychology. Slater does an excellent job of weaving her own experiences and, in some cases, her own versions of the experiments mentioned as well as expanding on the conclusions and applying them in a more modern sense. Readers completely ignorant of psychology as well as readers well versed in the subject will enjoy themselves immensely throughout the completely manageable two hundred and fifty four page journey.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sadie

    A fascinating, engaging, and necessary book. Lauren Slater’s essays are empathetic, intelligent, and passionately curious. Her inquisitive, philosophical mind offers a wealth of rich perspectives and insights. Her writing is brilliantly accessible. An excellent primer.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is a strange book. While the experiments were interesting, Slater's attempt to "fill in the blanks" and add storylines to the lives of psychologists who performed the experiments often felt forced. more than once, as Slater narrated a scene, she would throw in a sharp word seemingly out of nowhere, jarring the reader. (I'll be happy never to read about scat again.) She also talked about herself, but failed to connect her experiences with the experiment or psychologist she was discussing. Fo This is a strange book. While the experiments were interesting, Slater's attempt to "fill in the blanks" and add storylines to the lives of psychologists who performed the experiments often felt forced. more than once, as Slater narrated a scene, she would throw in a sharp word seemingly out of nowhere, jarring the reader. (I'll be happy never to read about scat again.) She also talked about herself, but failed to connect her experiences with the experiment or psychologist she was discussing. For example, she tried to replicate David Rosenhan's experiment in which he and other psychologists faked their way into psychiatric hospitals, then acted perfectly sanely, waiting to see how long before they were released. Slater reveals that she had been committed to several mental hospitals when she was younger, but does not tell the reader when, why, nor for how long. Why would she now want to voluntarily have herself admitted to a psych ward? Or why, when studying addiction, would she decide to take her husband's opiate pain meds to see if she got addicted? Slater identifies herself as a secular Jew and insisted on writing god instead of God throughout the book. It is interesting, then, that nearly all of the psychologists she chose to focus on were Jewish. I don't say that to be anti-Semitic. It is just that Slater had thousands of experimental psychologists to pick from and the US is only about 2% Jewish. (It would be as noteworthy as if, say, Amy Tan wrote an anthology of American writers and only chose those of Chinese descent.) She even chose Harry Harlow, whom we find out was born Harry Israel. She changed tactics slightly when discussing a female scientist, Elizabeth Loftus. In the chapter, nearly all the other psychologists she sites are also women, even though the topic they were studying, repressed memories, is not gender-specific. (The one notable exception to the "women only rule" is Avram Goldstein.) Slater stated that she found Loftus to be pretty strange. By that point in the book, I found Slater to be pretty strange herself. So, I don't recommend this book, but would encourage other readers to find better books about twentieth century psychological experiments.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I enjoyed the majority of this book immensely. What I felt made it interesting and original was its descriptive, engaging telling of factual scientific, often ground breaking psychological experiments. However, I was disappointed by the final chapter ("Conclusion"), which seemed a complete digression into the author's own opinion about the field, which she tried to justify with questionable anecdotal statistics, almost as if to enhance the need for her book to be published? ("I interviewed twelve I enjoyed the majority of this book immensely. What I felt made it interesting and original was its descriptive, engaging telling of factual scientific, often ground breaking psychological experiments. However, I was disappointed by the final chapter ("Conclusion"), which seemed a complete digression into the author's own opinion about the field, which she tried to justify with questionable anecdotal statistics, almost as if to enhance the need for her book to be published? ("I interviewed twelve licensed practising psychologists, and none of them even know most of these experiments." - I find this very hard to believe, as any first year psychology student should have knowledge of at least half of them.) She then seemed to try and dismantle the entire body of psychology and related studies, alternating between criticisng psychology for its apparent lack of scientific method and measurement, and then concluding by stating "I'm not sure I want a psychology so smart it can tell me which action potential leads to what neurotransmitter that leads to the smile you see on my face." So which is it? And what do you base that on? This book had won me over until page 247, I loved the narrative form of relating science and behavioural experiments, but then that last chapter seemed to dismantle everything that had preceded it. Not sure what the author was trying to achieve with that concluding chapter, or why it irritated me so much, but it ruined my appreciation of the book and whatever point she was trying to make.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Controversial reevaluations vividly presented This is a remarkable book not only for its content, but for the way it is written. What Lauren Slater does extremely well is (1) provide a context for the experiments and personalize them; (2) insinuate herself into the narrative in meaningful ways; and (3) write the kind of prose that is vivid and psychologically engaging. She has the gift of the novelist, and she is not satisfied with the conventional surface of things. But there is an edge to Slater Controversial reevaluations vividly presented This is a remarkable book not only for its content, but for the way it is written. What Lauren Slater does extremely well is (1) provide a context for the experiments and personalize them; (2) insinuate herself into the narrative in meaningful ways; and (3) write the kind of prose that is vivid and psychologically engaging. She has the gift of the novelist, and she is not satisfied with the conventional surface of things. But there is an edge to Slater's prose. She dwells on the horrific: the lobotomies, the monkeys being abused for the experimenter's purposes, the living rats with their brains exposed... She does/doesn't believe that the means of animal experimentation justifies the ends of neurological knowledge. This dialectic that she holds in her mind, now favoring the value of experimental psychology, now questioning it, may leave the reader dissatisfied and confused. Where DOES Lauren Slater stand? She says she stands "with this book" for which there is no conclusion, even though she writes a concluding chapter with that title. So it is not so strange that among these "great psychological experiments" she finds nothing like solid ground. Instead she waffles between experimenter and experiment, between one interpretation and another. And while she addresses the experiments themselves and the controversies they raised, more significantly she addresses the experimenters themselves, challenges them with sharp and sometimes impertinent questions; and when the experimenters are not available, she finds relatives or friends and fires loaded questions at them. Slater wants to find the truth, if possible, and to be fair; but often what she finds is that she doesn't know what the truth is, and that life is oh, so complex. This is refreshing and of course disconcerting. She began with an attitude of deep distrust, for example, toward B. F. Skinner, the man who had put his daughter in a box, the man who apparently cared more for experiment and establishing behaviorism than he did for human beings, a man whose conclusions could pave the way to a new and more horrible fascist state. But Slater plunges in and finds that his daughters loved him and that the one who supposedly committed suicide is alive and well. Slater even realizes, after being confronted by Julia Skinner Vargas, one of the daughters she interviewed by telephone, that she, Slater, hadn't read Skinner's magnum opus, Beyond Freedom and Dignity--had instead, like most of us, myself included, known it only by reputation, bad reputation. So Slater reads the book and when she is through she compares Skinner to a "green" Al Gore and speculates that "maybe" Skinner "was the first feminist psychologist." Quite a turnaround. But this is characteristic of Slater's approach. Become engaged. Keep an open and flexible mind. Dare to believe what others are afraid to believe. Turn on a dime. And this is right for this book since many of the experimenters did exactly that: they sought to show where the conventional wisdom was wrong; and they sought to turn psychology on its head. The first piece I read (opening the book at random) was "On Being Sane in Insane Places." This is about how in the early 1970s, Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan and eight collaborators showed up at nine different mental hospital around the country and told the shrinks they were hearing voices. The voices said one word: "Thud." They were committed even though otherwise they acted normally. Their stay was from fifty-two to seven days each. This experiment created a sensation and a scandal in the psychiatric community and caused a complete overall in the DSM II (we have DSM IV today). The diagnostic language was rewritten so that the definitions became measurable, and the volume grew by two hundred pages. Slater decided to replicate the experiment. She went to mental hospitals and said she heard a voice that said, "Thud." What she got were prescriptions for antipsychotics and antidepressants. There are ten chapters and a conclusion. "Obscura," the second chapter deals with Stanley Milgram's infamous electric shock experiment which showed that ordinary people would, guided by the authority of the experimenter, administer what they thought were possibly lethal shocks to fellow human beings. Another chapter looks at Leon Festinger's experiment with infiltrating a doom's day cult and seeing what happens when doom does not arrive at the appointed hour. What happens is "cognitive dissonance"--which I would call "elaborate rationalization." Still another chapter is devoted to the famous "Lost in the Mall" repressed memory experiment by Elizabeth Loftus which demonstrated how subject to suggestion are our memories. Loftus who, along with Katherine Ketcham, wrote The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1994), showed how a false memory of being lost in the mall as child could be suggested to people and how they would not only come to believe it, but would confabulate all sorts of "remembered" detail around an event that never happened. This is a book that may make some practicing psychologists uneasy. (And they may write nasty reviews.) Certainly Slater does not play to their feelings. Quite the opposite. Toward the end she asks: "At what point does experimental psychology and clinical psychology meet? Apparently at no point. I interviewed twelve licensed practicing psychologists...and none of them even knew most of these experiments, never mind used them in their work." (p. 253) And Slater is not enchanted with the new psychopharmacology. She argues that Prozac, Zoloft, and other psychoactive drugs may have long term effects worse than lobotomies. In fact the point of Chapter 10: "Chipped" is to tell the story of a man who benefitted from a cingulotomy (the modern, streamlined lobotomy) after electroshock therapy and after "more than twenty-three...psychiatric medications" had failed him. The walnuts pictured on the cover come from this statement about the brain on page 249: "there is still something holy about that three-pound wrinkled walnut with a sheen." --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I use this book in my developmental reading-writing-critical thinking course, and it's great for that context. Each chapter tells the story of a different psychology experiment of the 20th century, some well-known (Milgram), others more off-the-beaten path (Rat Park, an intriguing study of the causes of addiction). Slater interweaves the stories of the experiments with background on the authors, along with discussions of the controversies, debates, and ethical dimensions of the work. It has some I use this book in my developmental reading-writing-critical thinking course, and it's great for that context. Each chapter tells the story of a different psychology experiment of the 20th century, some well-known (Milgram), others more off-the-beaten path (Rat Park, an intriguing study of the causes of addiction). Slater interweaves the stories of the experiments with background on the authors, along with discussions of the controversies, debates, and ethical dimensions of the work. It has some flaws -- Slater's prose tends toward the purple at times, and she veers into what feel like personal attacks against some of the researchers (like Loftus, who has done interesting work on the unreliability of memory). Still, these weaknesses make it even more interesting to use in a classroom, as there are very real opportunities for critical evaluation of not only the psychological issues discussed, but also the author's approach in the book. Beyond its use in my classroom, I have personally enjoyed reading it and being introduced to parts of the psychology world I might never have encountered. Chapter 3 on Rosenhan's experiment at mental institutions in the 1960s (70s?) was especially interesting.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Isaiah

    I went into this book expecting it to be riveting or at least more enjoyable than a textbook. I was proven wrong on every chapter, especially the conclusion. A textbook leaves a story after it has been told, it does not add personal details (not IRB approved studies done by the author for fun or random stories from the author's life). As a psychology major I did not learn anything from this book that I did not learn in less than half the number of pages in a textbook. This book was disappointing I went into this book expecting it to be riveting or at least more enjoyable than a textbook. I was proven wrong on every chapter, especially the conclusion. A textbook leaves a story after it has been told, it does not add personal details (not IRB approved studies done by the author for fun or random stories from the author's life). As a psychology major I did not learn anything from this book that I did not learn in less than half the number of pages in a textbook. This book was disappointing and very biased. The author is clearly a fan of psychosurgery and bashes pharmacology. This is upsetting as the evidence against psychosurgery is completely brushed off and never addressed. It left me feeling like I was arguing with a child on the matter instead of listening to an educated person on the matter. Outside of the psychosurgery chapter the author did at least come across as more professional, but I would not recommend this book to someone if they have never taken a basic psychology class.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I find myself agreeing with previous reviews, in that the raw material of this book deserves five stars. However, Slater's determination to include loosely related personal anecdotes and her consistent attempts to fill in the blanks or explain the inner dialogue of the researchers she discussed was grating. At certain points she wrote verbose, flowery lines in an attempt to set the scene of past experiments while interjecting her personal opinion of what the individual in the passage was thinkin I find myself agreeing with previous reviews, in that the raw material of this book deserves five stars. However, Slater's determination to include loosely related personal anecdotes and her consistent attempts to fill in the blanks or explain the inner dialogue of the researchers she discussed was grating. At certain points she wrote verbose, flowery lines in an attempt to set the scene of past experiments while interjecting her personal opinion of what the individual in the passage was thinking or feeling. This constant need to place her own viewpoint above the actual events of the experiments made it difficult to enjoy her work. I had high hopes for this book as the base content appeared very interesting, sadly, Slater's personal perspective seemed to take precedence over the experiments she was attempting to discuss.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Don't even bother dealing with this book. I realize that my perspective may be skewed because I am a psychologist, but this book is terrible. The author writes in flowery language and makes shallow observations. It seems like it were written for a very long high school project. Moreover, the author talked more about her life experiences than empirical research. You would be better off reading from the original sources, or at least from a good history and systems of psychology text. Hergenhahn is Don't even bother dealing with this book. I realize that my perspective may be skewed because I am a psychologist, but this book is terrible. The author writes in flowery language and makes shallow observations. It seems like it were written for a very long high school project. Moreover, the author talked more about her life experiences than empirical research. You would be better off reading from the original sources, or at least from a good history and systems of psychology text. Hergenhahn is a reliably good source for interesting, unbiased information. I realize that this book was not written for psychologists, but it is still a throw away.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    this book was a great read for all those people watchers. The part I liked the most was when some university shut down a project some democrat dubbed "too dangerous and cruel to rats" because of poor ventilation and generally poor sanitary conditions, three days after it was shut down a new wing of student services moved in without any cleaning or maintenance on the building. The author cleverly keeps your interest through wildly different chapters that each talk about some ground-breaking exper this book was a great read for all those people watchers. The part I liked the most was when some university shut down a project some democrat dubbed "too dangerous and cruel to rats" because of poor ventilation and generally poor sanitary conditions, three days after it was shut down a new wing of student services moved in without any cleaning or maintenance on the building. The author cleverly keeps your interest through wildly different chapters that each talk about some ground-breaking experiment that significantly affected the field of philosophy. Great read - my sister recommended it- thanks L.M.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mahlon Smith

    Some of the experiments mentioned in this book were more fascinating than others, if I had to force rank them -- but they were all approached with an objective viewpoint (even the ethically questionable ones) and descriptions of the surrounding times and environments that made them possible. Hugely interesting, a great read -- especially for someone without any psychology/psychiatric background whatsoever. I would have finished it much sooner if it wasn't for Skyrim leeching from my reading time. :) The Some of the experiments mentioned in this book were more fascinating than others, if I had to force rank them -- but they were all approached with an objective viewpoint (even the ethically questionable ones) and descriptions of the surrounding times and environments that made them possible. Hugely interesting, a great read -- especially for someone without any psychology/psychiatric background whatsoever. I would have finished it much sooner if it wasn't for Skyrim leeching from my reading time. :) The voice says "thud."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    In this book, Slater reflects on 10 famous psychological experiments in a series of essays. While clearly well-researched, with fascinating raw subject matter to work with, this book is let down by the writer's awful flowery prose and grating personal reflections. I did, however, find the chosen experiments interesting and engaging; and I've come away knowing more about Milgram, Skinner, Loftus et. al. than I did delving in. In this book, Slater reflects on 10 famous psychological experiments in a series of essays. While clearly well-researched, with fascinating raw subject matter to work with, this book is let down by the writer's awful flowery prose and grating personal reflections. I did, however, find the chosen experiments interesting and engaging; and I've come away knowing more about Milgram, Skinner, Loftus et. al. than I did delving in.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jess Van Dyne-Evans

    I really liked this book a lot more before I read a statement from Skinner's daughter denouncing the author and stating that (despite her protestations to the contrary) the author had never tried to contact her to verify statements... I really liked this book a lot more before I read a statement from Skinner's daughter denouncing the author and stating that (despite her protestations to the contrary) the author had never tried to contact her to verify statements...

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