1984; Incentives

[From Bruce Abbott (971129.1055 EST)]

Rick Marken (971127.1510) --

Bruce Abbott (971127.1925 EST)

Here is "conventional psychologist" E. L. Thorndike on the
matter of incentive (what he called a "satisfying state of

By a satisfying state of affairs is meant one which the
animal does nothing to avoid, often doing things which
maintain or renew it.
  [Thorndike, 1913, p. 2]

Great. Too bad Thorndike didn't come up with The Test for the
Satisfying State of Affairs.

Open your eyes, Rick: That _is_ Thorndike's Test for the Satisfying State
of Affairs. How much more clear could he have been? If the animal "does
nothing to avoid" it, and does "things which maintain or renew it," it is a
satisfying state of affairs.

But, if conventional psychologists
know that incentives are "satisfying states of affairs" then
why do they keep calling them "incentives", a word that connotes,
as Bill Powers (971127.0941 MST) notes, an external cause of

My dictionary gives the following synonyms for the word "incite": encourage;
instigate, provoke, goad, spur, arouse, fire, induce. All of these convey
the idea that an attempt is being made to get someone to perform some
particular act; none describe any _necessary_ stimulus-response relationship
(i.e., the incentive may fail). They only suggest that these "external
causes" tend to influence an individual to behave in some way, not that they
"make" him or her do so. I suspect that "incentive" as something offered to
encourage certain behaviors first entered the psychlogist's vocabulary as a
borrowing from business, though this is just a guess.

Also, am I now to understand that the real meanings of all
conventional psychological terms are consistent with PCT?

No, of course not. My claim was and is a very simple one: "Conventional"
psychologists do not hold the idea that there are things called "incentives"
that _make_ people do things, as a magnet _makes_ iron filings move toward
it. It is recognized that the "attractiveness" of an "incentive" is an
individual matter and is a joint function of the individual's makeup, the
properties of the "incentive," and the availability of alternative
"incentives" of which the person is aware (e.g., offering me $1.00 for
something when I know I can get $10.00 for it at the next booth). This
silly conception of a stimulus-response, reflex-driven human being is not
what psychology proposes, and you know it.

I know I'm pretty dense but I'm surprised that I was able
to get undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and
never notice that psychology was all about the control of

That is not my claim. Let's try to keep the debate centered on what I do
claim, rather than on something I don't.

Fred Nickols (971128.1615 ET) --

From a practical perspective, I don't know that the discussion has shed any
light on the utility or advisability of incentives. Most people I know
realize that incentives aren't worth a damn if no one wants them. They also
know the risks of dangling bunches of really plump, juicy carrots in front
of a group of very hungry mules. Some few know enough to make sure they're
dealing with hungry mules before they try carrots as an incentive. Fewest
in number are those who realize the risks of placing other organisms in
deprived states so as to increase the likely effectiveness of items that
have been labeled "reinforcers."

Hear, hear!

What I don't understand is why you got so hot under the collar in connecton
with Bruce Abbott for saying, "I would say that an incentive to a person is
something the person wants." That seems a perfectly reasonable definition
of an effective incentive. It also suggests that a boss might be able to
sit down and work out a program of action on the part of an employee and set
up a systems of incentives that will work in that situation with that
employee. But I'm not a fan of an approach that amounts to springling
incentive dust over everyone and expecting them to concentrate and channel
their energies along the lines I wish. There ain't no such an animal.

Yes. Particularly the last two sentences.