It’s All in the Staats

There was a mantra in Behavioral Optometry in the mid 20th century that professed “It’s All in the Analytical”, a reference to the 21 point data base of OEP analysis.  So predominant was the thinking that at one time in the State of New Jersey the State Board considered an optometric examination to be incomplete if it did not include these 21 points.  With the addition of many out-of-phoropter tests such as fixation disparity and cheiroscopic tracings, and ocular health tests beyond ophthalmoscopy and keratometry such as automated visual fields and nerve fiber layer imaging, it clearly was no longer “all in the analytical”.

Staats 2Sweeping statements would therefore seem to smack of hubris, but after reading The Marvelous Learning Animal by Arthur W. Staats I’m tempted to claim that much of what he argues is worthy of his goal in advancing a unifying theory of sorts regarding learning and development.  It’s very sweet that Arthur’s son Peter, a physician specializing in pain management, endowed an annual Arthur W. Staats Lecture for Unifying Psychology through the American Psychological Association.  The message that Staats brings has been categorized as psychological behaviorism, and he has summarized his model as follows:


I like the Staats conceptualization of various repertoires, and he is a very strong proponent of human behaviors as learned processes.  Cumulative and hierarchical learning are essential in mastery of behavioral repertoires.  Staats’ book has been widely reviewed and well received, particularly for its emphasis on learning as a counterbalance to what he considers The Great Scientific Error – an overemphasis on biological determinism and over-attribution of human traits when one merely toe-dips in shallow gene pools.

You may not recognize Staats by name, but he is the originator of the now ubiquitous “time out” system for child misbehavior, and the “token reward system”, a pleasant euphemism for bribing kids for good behavior.  What I hadn’t realized is that Staats (p. 228) takes credit for originating the methods that Ivar Lovaas would forumulate into Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA for children on the autistic spectrum.

Time Out

Lastly I’ll commend Staats’s style.  He considers what he offers as a new paradigm, and notes that new paradigms can’t expect an open-armed reception.  It must scratch and fight for acceptance through obstacles of disbelief.  There is so much to be gleaned from Staats that I sense a Part 2 coming on.


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