J. E. R. Staddon
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John Eric Rayner Staddon is a British-born American psychobiologist known for experimental and theoretical research on interval timing, Skinnerian "superstition," and behavioral economics (optimality) in rats, pigeons, and fish—and people. He has been a critic of Skinnerian behaviorism and proposed a theoretically based "New Behaviorism." which shows that the state of the organism must be taken into account as well as the stimuli it experiences and the responses it makes. State in this case is neither physiological nor mental, but a summary of the organism's equivalent histories, a scheme based on the logic of historical systems developed by automata theorists.
Education and career
Educated first at University College, London, then after a year at Hollins College he studied under Richard Herrnstein, obtaining his PhD in Experimental Psychology at Harvard University in 1964. He has done research at the MIT Systems Lab, Oxford University, the University of São Paulo at Riberão Preto, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Ruhr Universität, Universität Konstanz, the University of Western Australia and York University, United Kingdom. He has also taught at the University of Toronto.
Since 1967, Staddon has been at Duke University; since 1983 he has been the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Biology and Neurobiology. He is an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of York (UK). He is a past editor of the journals Behavioural Processes and Behavior & Philosophy and present editor of PsyCrit, a journal of commentary. Work in the Staddon laboratory has focused on explaining interval timing in terms of memory, and explaining choice in terms of interval timing; work with past students and postdocs has included work on feeding regulation as well as spatial navigation, concurrent choice, and habituation.
Honors and affiliations
Reflections on Adaptive Behavior, a festschrift to Honor John Staddon, held at Duke, May 2003, Papers in honor of John Staddon (MIT Press, 2004); Member, Psychological Round Table, Society of Experimental Psychologists; October 2004; Docteur Honoris Causa, Université Charles de Gaulle, Lille 3, France, Fellow, New York Academy of Science, American Psychological Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Honorary Editor, Behavioural Processes, 2002-; Trustee, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, 1996-; Fulbright Short-Term Senior Award—Distinguished Scholar, 1989; Alexander Alexander von Humboldt Prize, 1985; Phi Betta Kappa; Guggenheim Fellow, 1981-1982.
An early project demonstrated that the then much-cited frustration effect is the result of time discrimination. The effect is shown by hungry rats running in a runway with two goal boxes (double runway): one a short way from the start box and the second some distance after that. In training the rat runs to the first goal box and gets a bit of food, then he runs to second goal box and gets another bit of food. The experimenter measures how fast the rat runs in the first part of the long second runway. The experiment is in two phases. The rat always gets food in the second goal box (the endbox). In the first phase, he also gets food in the first goal box (the midbox) on every trial, so that he learns to expect food in the midbox. In the second phase, he gets food in the mid box on only half the trials: rewarded on half, ‘frustrated’ on half. The question: How fast does he run in the long runway after food and after no-food, in the midbox?
The answer is: after training he runs faster when there is no food in the midbox compared to when there is food, especially in the first third of the long runway. This is the frustration effect (FE). There is another explanation for the FE which takes account of the fact that the long second runway enforces a delay between leaving the mid box and getting food in the endbox. Such a delay should induce a pause, signaled by a time marker – in this case the food in the midbox during the training period. Omission of the food will then disinhibit the running on non-reward trials – so-called frustration. Staddon and collaborators showed in numerous studies (summarized in ) that the FE and related effects can all be explained by temporal control by food.
Staddon has also written on social issues arguing against affirmative action in college admissions -- because it is a form of discrimination -- and that profiling as a way to catch law-breakers can be both fair and efficient. Another social topic is legal responsibility (The Atlantic Monthly; Feb 1995; pg. 88) which, Staddon argues, is perfectly compatible with the assumption that individual behavior is causally determined.
In 2014 Staddon published a small book, Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking, with illustrations by artist David Hockney. In addition to describing the tawdry legal and political history of smoking regulation, the book's main points are first that cigarette smoking is risky but not lethal, second that the evidence for harm from secondhand smoke is weak and finally, that the cost of smoking is borne by smokers and not by society at large.
In an analysis of traffic control, Staddon notes that US traffic fatality rates are much higher than rates in other developed countries because of unpredictable speed limits and traffic signs that attempt to control rather than inform. The uniquely American "all-way stop" is the most blatant example of a wasteful confusing and completely unnecessary type of signal. Most US stop signs could be replaced by yield signs with gains in both efficiency and safety.
Staddon has written on the application of behavioral psychology to the function and malfunction of financial markets in The Malign Hand of the Markets. The book criticizes regulation by scrutiny where armies of underpaid bureaucrats try to figure out whether financial agents – smarter, more highly paid and certainly more motivated than the regulators – are doing things that might be ‘systemically hazardous’. A rash promise since it is precisely the failure to predict "systemic hazard" that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The alternative is a simpler system which ensures that financial agents are directly affected by the consequences of their actions.
In 2016 Staddon published a completely revised edition of his 1983 monograph Adaptive Behavior and Learning, a theoretical synthesis of research on research on instinctive and learned behavior in animals. Among other topics, the book presents a new synthesis of research on R. J. Herrnstein's matching law and J. A. Nevin's concept of behavioral momentum. A long chapter discusses the success and failures of recent work on comparative cognition—the similarities and differences between the intelligence of animals and humans. Other topics include comparisons between human and animal choice behavior (prospect theory) and the Darwinian selection/variation approach, feeding regulation and theoretical analysis of well-known data on reinforcement schedules.
He has written several books, including:
- Scientific Method: How science works, fails to work and pretends to work (Routledge, 2017)
- The Malign Hand of the Markets: The Insidious Forces on Wall Street that are Destroying Financial Markets – and What We Can Do About it (McGraw-Hill, 2012)
- The New Behaviorism, 2nd Edition (Psychology Press, 2014)
- Adaptive Dynamics: The Theoretical Analysis of Behavior (MIT/Bradford, 2001)
- Adaptive Behavior and Learning, 2nd Edition (Cambridge University Press), 2016.
- Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking (Illustrated by David Hockney) University of Buckingham Press, 2013.
- The Englishman: Memoirs of a Psychobiologist. University of Buckingham Press, 2016.
- Staddon, J. E. R. (Ed.) (1980). Limits to action: The allocation of individual behavior. New York: Academic Press.
- The New Behaviorism: Mind, Mechanism and Society, (2nd edition Psychology Press, 2014).
- Staddon, J. E. R. (1974). Temporal control, attention and memory. Psychological Review, 81, 375-391.
- Have Race-Biased Admissions Improved American Higher Education? "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-05-23. Retrieved 2006-08-03.
- Fair Profiling
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2006-08-03.