Psychological Analysis of the Novel "Opening Skinner’s Box"

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Psychology is the study of the brain and the different functions that it holds. Opening Skinner’s Box is a novel about different psychological experiments that have shaped the world into what it is now. One thing that I learned from the book that caught my mind is cognitive dissonance and how it affects a person. For example, if I know that smoking causes cancer, but I smoke. I may use cognitive dissonance to help that uncomfortable feeling between knowing it is bad and justifying what I actually do. This concept shapes the way people act in their everyday life.

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Antonio Moniz’s experiments in the chapter were the most revealing about psychology to me. He performed lobotomy experiments on people that suffered some sort of mental illness but didn’t even know what the outcome would be. Moniz just did it to learn from his mistake. “First into cadavers, then into people he plucked from his own thriving neurology practice; he shot the patients up and one of them died, the brain aflame, backlit blue and silver.”(Slater 226) One of the biggest things Moniz did that astounded me was when he invented a dye that allowed him to see the brain. This allowed Moniz to detect illnesses in the brain and tumors. Author Lauren Slater gives an analysis of Moniz’s works since no one trusted him during his time. “Altogether then, supposedly seventy percent of the patients had some significant remission of long-standing intractable mental illness with no reported long-term problematic side effects. Scholars of psychosurgery dispute these numbers, claiming that lack of long-term follows up skewed the early results…”(Slater 232) The last thing that really caught my attention was when Slater criticized the effects of Prozac and how no one really knows what it does to the brain. “The truth of the matter is, though, no one really knows where or how Prozac operates in the brain; no one knows quite why Prozac cures.”(Slater 236) Joseph Glenmullen, a famous psychiatrist, discovered.. “that Prozac use can cause Alzheimer-type plaques and tangles in the brain, which may be why so many imbibers complain they can’t retain a thing…”(Slater 237). As times change people start to believe that scientists are unsure about different cures that are prescribed to the mind. The results of chapter 10 are utmost revealing in pharmacological cures and psychology.

Studies shown in chapters 5,6,7 show Laurel Slater’s strength that she is able to go out and tries to know the real story behind each experiment. Cognitive dissonance is when someone is trying to justify their actions when he or she goes against what he or she thinks. This is displayed throughout chapter 5. In chapter 5 studies show that people will lie if they are paid a significant amount. People would come to see Audrey so that they could get “healed” from her miraculous power even if it went against their religious beliefs. Chapter 6 talks about Harry Harlow’s monkey experiments and how he proved loved behavior for the first time in history. Up until the 1950s scientist proposed the theory of drive reduction. Drive reduction basically means that our children only love us because of their mother’s milk. “...hunger is a primary drive and we want to reduce it…”(Slater 135). Slater’s strength is shown in chapter 6 because her husband has access to drugs such as cocaine and other chemicals. If she wanted to have those drugs suppositionally she could. The main idea of chapter 7 is addiction. Many individuals believe that addiction is caused by “availability increases exposure and it increases the chance for addiction”(Slater 163). Rats that were in the Rat Park drank morphine water even if it did not interfere with their normal behavior but caged rats drank morphine water regardless. The whole experiment took a total of 57 days. The rats that were in the rat park, restrained drinking morphine water if there was regular water provided. However withdrawal symptoms were present which suggests that some withdrawal is there and for humans addiction is not adamant.

As I was reading the book I learned things about the human behavior that I did not know before. The main idea of chapter 8 is about memories and how we control them. Sigmund Freud believed that “...memory a mishmash of dream and fact, but just as often claiming it as a movie, rerun, the film scrolled in some section of the brain recoverable through free association.”(Slater 181). Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus decided to contradict what the fathers of this field believed. She believed that memory was “as slippery as a stream, as unreliable as a rat.” As she was trying to prove her theory she would experiment with different subjects. Loftus would show a movie and in reality, the man was masked so no one could see the face but whenever she asked the question such as, “Did you recall a beard on that man?”...many would say yes and many would say no. One of the biggest things that caught my attention while reading this chapter was when she did the biggest experiment in her career “Lost in the Mall.” In this experiment, Loftus told her students to implant false memories during Thanksgiving to their younger siblings. She handed a packet to each 24 of her students which included three real-life scenarios of what happened to a kid when they were at the mall. Many people wrote that they did not remember such sort of situation. Many would confabulate details that astounded Loftus and her assistant. After reading this personally I thought to myself how many people that I have talked to have lied to me or added extra details.

There are different branches of psychology that corroborate with different experiments in the book. Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that deals with the internal mental states of the brain. The “Lost in the Mall” experiment is a great example of cognitive psychology because Loftus proposed the idea that different would be told something which did not happen in real life and would count it as a memory. An example of abnormal and clinical psychology is David Rosenhan’s experiment in a mental asylum. Rosenhan sent himself and 8 other people to different asylums to test his theory. He taught his subjects how to fake swallow pills and were taught to say “thud” whenever they asked what they were hearing. The asylums identified this as an abnormal behavior since there was not a single case where this has happened. “...nowhere in the psychiatric literature are there any reports of any person hearing a voice that contains such obvious cartoon angst”(Slater 65). Comparative psychology experiments consist of animals such as rats, monkeys, and slugs. Monkeys were used to experiment on lovemaking, rats were used in addiction experiments, and slugs were used in memory making. B.F Skinner demonstrated behavioral psychology when he put rats in cages. He wanted to shape the behavior of a living thing. Skinner used punishment but that played no effect however the environment played a bigger role. Chapter 10’s lobotomy experiments are known as clinical psychology. Patients experienced great deal of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression but after lobotomy it was a sudden relief of all the pain. Social psychology is best described when it is viewed in Stanley Milgram’s experiment. He paid subjects to help with his shock machine but did not know it was fake. Each time the “student” cried out in pain when they were shocked, but Milgram told the shocker to proceed with the experiment. Many major branches of psychology are found in Opening Skinner’s Box.

I agree with the author’s analysis that she wrote throughout each of the chapters. In most of the experiments Slater would interview or either have a thorough background knowledge on the person. Slater would find every detail pertaining to the psychologist even if it is negative. In chapter 10, Slater did not interview Moniz himself but knew every move he made since he was born. She also had input in Moniz’s works. “Her answers certainly didn’t indicate significant spectacular improvement; if anything, they indicated some cognitive decline, but Moniz wasn’t worried.”(Slater 230). Harold Sackheim opposes the idea of lobotomy and call it a “myth”. “People also criticize lobotomy because it is irreversible”(Slater 236). Overall Opening Skinner’s Box has been an enjoyable book even if the experiments were a little out of hand.

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