Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Giant Skinner Box

So, my strongest memories of Psych 101 was the day we got of frickin’ lab rats, and our escaped. I had the most ineffectual lab partner, so it was up to me to catch the damned thing, and nary a pair of gloves was to be found. I did name him in honor of my math professor, who gave me some of the best advice and counsel all through school. (Notably, “Five hundred years from now, Jennifer, none of this is going to matter.”)

Anyway, when you put a rat in a Skinner box, your lever is hooked up to a computer and you have to read the data and adjust the settings and basically, everyone ends up proving his theory, which is that behavior that is rewarded is repeated, and behavior that is rewarded RANDOMLY has the highest degree of repetition.  If you push the lever and always get a pellet? You only push the lever when you need a pellet. (Interestingly, this also applies if the reward is distributed on a regular interval – three times gets you nothing, but four is the magic number? You know to push that sucker four times when you need a pellet. And then you wander off to watch Law & Order re-runs until you need another pellet, rinse & repeat.)  If you push the lever and never get a pellet? You learn pretty damned quickly to regard the lever as a very boring shelf in your Skinner box.


If you never KNOW when you’re going to get a pellet, that without any lever-hitting pattern, one appears randomly, then you, little rattie, will punch that lever ’til your paw pads are raw, or you turn into a crispy-fried over-tanned smoker hammering “Play 3 Credits” on a slot machine. (Vegas may be artificial, but they ain’t stupid. Or poor.)

And today, I saw and felt the parallels, that job searching is like being inside a giant Skinner box. I have watched myself rise and fall emotionally, feeling elation, hope, depression, excitement, despair, enthusiasm, pessimism, optimism, fatality and confidence, and today, when the little “plook” noise alerted me to a new email, and I saw it was for another interview, I felt my heart soar once again with enthusiasm and excitement. Because no matter how many ways I circle (or circumvent) the various HR departments, or network myself, or talk to people, or put myself out there, or send in resumes, there is no guaranteed pattern of response or consequences. Of course I keep doing it, not  for the soaring arc of hope the random positive brings, but because I want to work, be useful, get off unemployment, be around people, talk about ideas, work with clients, DO STUFF.

Not just punch a lever.


  1. shannon in oregon

    it will happen and you WILL succeed. just hang in there.

    and does it make you laugh that every time i see “skinner box” i always hear superintendent chalmers screaming, “SKINNNNNNNER!!!” from the simpsons?

  2. sue

    Crossing fingers…

© 2024 PlazaJen: The Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑