|Abstract: This tutorial examines the centrality of choice to the understanding of behavior. By re-examining the concept of reinforcement and relating it to behavioral allocation, the dynamics of choice may be seen as the process of shifting allocation. Skinner’s assertion that the law of effect is not a theory was correct, even if his theory of reinforcement was incorrect. Research of the last forty years suggests that the events called “reinforcers” affect behavior in two ways: induction and contingency. Reinforcers induce activities related to them by life history or phylogeny, and reinforcers add value to the situations in which they occur. By linking particular activities with particular results, contingencies both constrain behavior change and add value to those activities. Seen this way, the dynamics of choice may be construed as optimization, a tendency to move toward the highest value possible. These dynamics may be seen sometimes on a short time scale and sometimes on a longer time scale. Some recent research by Davison and Aparicio and myself, as well as some earlier experiments, support these ideas.
William M. Baum received his A.B. in psychology from Harvard College in 1961. Originally a biology major, he switched into psychology after taking courses from B. F. Skinner and R. J. Herrnstein in his freshman and sophomore years. He returned to Harvard University for graduate study in 1962, where he was supervised by Herrnstein and received his Ph.D. in 1966. He spent the year 1965-66 at Cambridge University, studying ethology at the Sub-Department of Animal Behavior. From 1966 to 1975, he held appointments as post-doctoral fellow, research associate, and assistant professor at Harvard University. He spent two years at the NIH Laboratory for Brain, Evolution, and Behavior, and then accepted an appointment in psychology at University of New Hampshire in 1977. He retired from there in 1999. He currently has an appointment as Associate Researcher at University of California – Davis and lives in San Francisco. His research concerns choice, molar behavior-environment relations, foraging, and behaviorism. He is the author of a book, Understanding Behaviorism: Behavior, Culture, and Evolution.|