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Bandura Vs. Skinner: An Argument for Faux Toys

Among the many psychologists, two are at heads with each other on a topic of great importance for children's behavior. Their names are Albert Bandura and B. F. Skinner. These two giants agreed about many things of importance but they were in disagreement on the most effective method in educating a child.

At the outset of this article, I wish to recognize: the overwhelming majority of customers of Faux Toys at DontPlayWithThat.com are not motivated by the following psychology discussion. Most of them are normal people who make their decisions based on need or want. Nevertheless, I thought this topic can develop into a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion. Parents have brains after all!

Disclaimer: this is a layperson's discussion of psychology. For a more authoritative stance, other sources should be sought out.

There'll always be the classic debate at universities and around dinner tables about which element influences a child more: Nature or Nurture. Most agree that both play a role, the question is how much. Obviously, even within both sides of this question there are subcategories. Many aspects of nature and many aspects of nurture. So, both 'Naturists' and 'Nurturists'  can have debates within their own camps about which factor is most pivotal. Today's piece is on a debate within Nurture.

Skinner, after testing this theory on rats and pigeons, held that a child's environment will reinforce particular actions. He called this "Operant Conditioning." In simple English: it's the rewards and punishments which will shape a child's behavior most.

Without any polling to confirm this, it appears Skinner's view is currently quite low in popularity, if I may be so bold. Of course parents continue to distribute lollipops for the good behavior and timeout for the bad, but few truly believe that this will mold a child's character. Parent's mete out punishment as a quick and cheap fix to a pressing problem, not with the long-term in mind. Some would go so far as to say that a parent that is extremely strident with punishments (and even rewards) is inflicting more harm than good.

Bandura strongly disagrees with Skinner. He believed that the foundation for learning is: observing others. Children will learn most when they watch their surroundings and begin to imitate or model that behavior. That which they observe will reinforce their existing behavior or serve as cues for new ways of behaving. Amazingly, the observer (the child) will learn more if the model (the parent) is punished than if they themselves were punished!

If it isn't too much of a stretch, the following example may illustrate the point and prove that indeed Bandura's position carries more water. In his bestseller, 'Freakonomics,' Steven D. Levitt offers the following question to consider. Which of these two parental actions has a best effect on a child's future success? A) The child has many books in his home, or B) The child's parent reads to him nearly every day.

Most would assume that the bonding and educational experience of reading with a parent will have the greatest effect on a child. Surprisingly, if test scores are any indication, the answer is A). The presence of a 'reading parent' usually indicates a household that gives much importance to education and a parent that is herself educated. This, in turn, affects the child. 

(This, likely, can't be faked. One cannot simply dump a mountain of books in people's homes and expect higher test scores. (In fact this was an idea of then Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich.) The books must be a reflection of the values, culture and living examples of the home.)

These statistics seem to point in the direction of Bandura. A home dynamic that values education and study will itself have a positive effect on a child (Bandura) whereas, required reading time will not (Skinner). 

Now, about toys. When a parent sees a child attempting to play with something that is not a toy but a regular household item, two voices can pop into their head. Skinner's voice would say: impose a hard rule against this action and impose a punishment if need be. Comes along Mr. Bandura: embrace the fact that most of a child's behavioral learning will be stemming from the living examples in their life. Instead of total prevention, adapt it into a learning experience. So when you see a baby reaching for a set of keys, don't slap that hand away, purchase a set of toy keys instead!

It would seem we are a Bandura website...

This article was a discussion on whether a parent should allow their little one to play with non-toys. You can read here a discussion on why they want to so desperately.

1 comment

  • 😁This is going to be interesting. Okay I am very familiar with Mr Skinners theory. Bandura not as much. I am going to have to do a bit of reading before sharing. I am educated in child education. I wanted to be a child psychologist when I grew up. Still haven’t grown up so…🤷‍♀️😁I never finished college. I married (dang attractive men!) and had kids instead. I would like to share but I need to familiarize myself with Mr Bandura.

    Deb “YaYa” Spratt

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