Is the Choice Really Ours?

B.F. Skinner was a psychologist who strongly believed in operant conditioning (learning through a rewards and punishment system). He furthered his studies by using pigeons and having them do certain tasks to receive food (it’s literally food for thought). Skinner ultimately determined that operant conditioning had such a strong influence, humans could basically be manipulated to do whatever others wanted. Free will was simply an illusion.

Are you familiar with “The choice is yours” phrase? This can more commonly be related to a loose definition of free will. Free will basically states that people have the freedom to choose how they act and what they say. We are in control of our own behavior. But are we really?

In Skinner’s experiment, he slightly starved the birds, forcing them to see food as a reward. What would have happened if Skinner did not starve the pigeons? Would they still have done the tricks to receive food? Think of it in the terms of a human experiment; do we choose to eat, or are we forced to eat? We seemingly choose to eat at our own will. What we eat, when we eat, or who we eat with may all seem like things that we determine on our own. But, we also need food to survive. Do we eat because we want to or because we need to? Did we choose to eat what mom made for dinner, or did she force us? Do we eat when we want to, or do we have an underlying schedule to eat? What about our friends? When we eat can sometimes revolve around their schedule. This is a pure example of a rewards and punishment system. If we eat on our own desired time, we might not get to eat with our friends. If we change what time we want to eat based on others, we get the reward of eating with company. It may seem like we chose when we wanted to eat, but really we did not; our friends did. Another example of where free will can be seen as false is in children who grow up to be violent. People often say that we can “choose” our destinies. We can establish the difference between good and evil. We choose whether or not to commit a crime. Although some people believe this, eventually, everything comes back to biology. According psychologists, people who grow up to commit crimes often times have a biological disorder, they grew up watching their parents commit violent acts, or actions that are the cause of observations. It seems as though nearly everything has an underlying cause, and nothing is truly “free will.” Often times, people fail to realize the difference between free will and underlying causes because environmental factors go by unnoticed. According to Skinner, one would choose not to participate in illegal activities because of personal values and history, and other environmental contexts (punishment). Even still, it is also true that one would not choose to participate in a crime because of the rewarding aspects: having a clean record, not getting fined, etc. One last example is one that college students may be able to relate to; Why did you choose your career in college? Did you choose your career because you enjoyed it? Did you choose it because you wanted to follow in your family’s footsteps? What about money? In choosing your college, did you choose it because of location? Price? If free will was true, humans would be able to do whatever they wanted in this life, however, there seems to be an underlying factor to nearly all of our decisions.

Without thought, there is no purpose. Purpose requires determination. Determination requires questioning. Questioning is the result of many possible outcomes. Free will has, is, and always will be influenced.

What do you think, Core Techs? Is free will real or just an illusion?




One thought on “Is the Choice Really Ours?

  1. marybraun99 says:

    I chose to write about BF Skinners post as well, and I completely agree with your points, that if the birds were starved they probably would not have been that concerned with the reward of eating, but since they were slightly starved they learned how to do simple tasks to be rewarded with food. You gave a great analogy that if we want to eat on our own time, we may not be able to eat with our best friends, or exactly what we would like to eat. I also believe that “free will” is a general term, because society ends up being the overall factor for us on what we do. Even when it comes to eating. We sometimes think that we should starve ourselves, or we should only eat a certain amount to fit into society’s view of perfect and be rewarded with praise instead of being bullied, or out-casts for the way that we look. You give some great examples, especially on biology and how environmental factors play such a huge role in our lives. Although I took a slightly different turn on my outlook, your post is extremely relateable We often think we are completely free, but we are fooled by society influencing our every move. Overall, you wrote a great post, and I agree with your thoughts, as well as BF Skinner! Great Job!


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