Like any research, much of the basic research in behavior analysis takes place under highly controlled conditions. With rats and pigeons this means enclosing them in a soundproof, well ventilated operant conditioning chamber (a.k.a. a “Skinner box”) so that distractions from the learning task at hand are minimized. In the case of much basic human operant research, the participant is isolated in a soundproof, well-ventilated room for the same reasons.
This physical isolation poses a problem. How do we know what the subject is doing in addition to the response we are recording? Even though much of the research in behavior analysis is automated, it is necessary and desirable to observe what the subject/participant is doing. Without these data, one can only infer why certain changes in performance are occurring in the summary data generated by cumulative records and digital counters or, today, computers that control the experiments. Such direct observation, however, has to be made in ways that are minimally intrusive. Otherwise, the observation itself becomes a factor in controlling the behavior, a confounding variable. In the case of rats and pigeons, direct observations can be made unobtrusively through an observation window in the side of the operant chamber or through a small peep hole of the sort commonly found on the front doors of houses and apartments. The latter are especially useful because they provide a “fish eye” look at what is going on inside the enclosed chamber. It is more common today to use tiny cameras than can be located within the experimental space and attached to a computer. These can provide a visual picture of the actual behavior that is occurring. Such cameras also allow construction of permanent records of the behavior. In the 1950s, however, closed circuit TV, if it was available at all, often was prohibitively expensive even for research with human subjects.
Lindsley (1956) developed one solution for direct observation of human participants – inpatient psychiatric patients – responding on different schedules of reinforcement. That solution is shown in the first photograph in this display. The photo reveals a typical (well, maybe a little more elaborate than “typical”) operant conditioning laboratory of the time, complete with relay racks and cumulative recorders all in a row on the right side. That’s Ogden Lindsley looking over the data as they roll in on the recorders and counters on the relay racks. Now, look behind Lindsley and you see a rather odd thing. There is a fellow with his head covered standing in front of a long tube that extends off the top of the photo. You have to look closely because the tube is partially hidden by a Gerbrands universal feeder, labeled “a”. A better view of the thing into which he is looking is in the foreground on the left side of the photo (labeled “b”). This thing is called a behavior-scope – in essence a sort of periscope designed to view behavior instead of ships - and a version of it was described in detail by Asano and Barrett (1964).
The fellow is observing a psychiatric inpatient, perhaps operating a Lindsley operandum plunger pull device, located in an adjacent experimental room. The patients most likely are receiving reinforcers delivered by the Gerbrands universal feeders as a function of their plunger-pull response.
Our observer has his head under a black shroud to prevent light from entering the behavior-scope and reflecting in the mirror in the experimental room. The behavior-scope consists of a long tube with the viewer at one end, in the control room, and the seeking end located above the Lindsley operandum plunger device in the work room. Mirrors and lens inside the tube transmitted the image from the work room to the control room. The diagram of Asano and Barrett’s (1964) version of the behavior-scope appears to the right.
With this simple device, it was possible to observe not only the recorded response, but other, collateral behavior that might be of interest.