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Follow your arrow: B. F. Skinner taught me something

Kendall McElhaney

Welcome to the second week of school, where the classwork is hard and the points may not matter yet. This week I took it upon myself to pop into a class which I am not registered for, simply because I had the time and because I got lost on campus. I mean seriously, who knew we have a Physiology building? Needless to say, I was completely out of my element in this area of campus. So I did what I do best – pretend to be on my phone, avoid judgmental looks and act natural. I had ventured far past where the light touches, Simba.

I waltzed into a class titled Mind, Brain and Behavior. I figured this one would be a cool step outside my “normal” journalism classes. Also I possess all of the three main components this class requires. A mind, a brain and an entire case-studies worth of behaviors.


The class was having a discussion about B.F. Skinner and behaviorism, centered around the “nurturer” debate. For those who haven’t taken PSY 100, which is none of you, this debate is essentially trying to explain that people has some inherent, unshakable behaviors that make up the nature of their person. However, there are also other behaviors that are learned through certain nurturing environments. This brief description is pretty much all you need to remember for your midterm; you’re welcome.

A point was raised that your behavior is determined in predictable ways by lawful principles, just as the flight of an arrow is governed by the laws of physics. This idea conjured an image in my head of an archery line of arrows, all pointed in the same direction. Forward. Upward. Towards something out of reach but still possible. I started thinking about this theory in relation to humans.

We’re all like arrows, moving in varying directions towards different goals, but our paths are determined based on who we are and what we have individually identified as what we aim to pursue. We are who we are, just like the arrow head is what it is; something tangible that can be described and understood and held.

After putting some more thought into this theory, I decided we are born as notched arrows; aimed towards greatness based on personality traits and behaviors we pick up during the formative years of our lives that are then launched in the direction of our choosing. What affects us are the winds of change and the strength of our bow. The stronger you are the farther you’ll travel. This might be a stretch but hey, I only sat in on one class. Also, I kind of tuned out the teacher once this metaphor popped into my head because I started thinking about The Hunger Games and then I got hungry and then I was thinking about Panda Express and everything fell apart.

A few things I did retain from my sneaky adventure however are that we are all on different paths. Just because your strengths, beliefs, behaviors, etc. don’t line up with mine doesn’t mean they don’t line up exactly with your own target. I think that’s what we have to remember when we really get into the nitty gritty of this semester. We are all working towards different goals, but we all share the same drive. I also learned to never sit on a random class on an empty stomach, because your thoughts will go from B. F. Skinner to L. S. C. Dinner real quick.

The beginning of the school year is similar to an archery line, all synchronizing together to shoot their arrows in the sky. We are all gearing up towards a greater goal. I urge you to remember that everyone’s arrows are facing different obstacles, so allow for diverging paths. Lastly, watch where you’re aiming.

Collegian Columnist Kendall McElhaney took a 13 hour nap once, woke up and remembered her Webkinz password. She can be reached at or on Twitter @kendallaftrdark.

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  • R

    Rolf Marvin Bøe LindgrenSep 8, 2015 at 7:30 am


    i’m glad Skinner could teach you something!

    I would like to, though, clear up some small point here.

    Behaviorists (including Skinner) are not environmentslists. The basic tenet of Behaviorism is that behavior follows laws, and that these laws can be found. The main method has traditionally been by varying the environment and seeing what happens.

    It is not the case, however, that innate or inherited behavior is any less malleable than learned behavior. This is a myth.

    Behaviorist are interested in finding out which behaviors can be changed, and how. Behaviorists maintain that behavior, when it can be changed, is changed by the environment.

    The behavior itself – whether it is instinctive, innate, learned or otherwise – does not matter. The only way to find out if a given behavior can be aquired and/or changed is by trying to change it and thus finding out what works.

    All the best,
    Rolf Lindgren