What are the limits of conditioning?

Skinner has shown that by the proper use of positive reinforcement, the behavior of animals and humans can be altered to an amazing degree, even in opposition to what some would loosely call "innate" tendencies.

The slave controls the master as completely as the master slave, in the sense that the techniques of punishment employed by master have been selected by the slave's behavior in submitting to them.

There must be impulses inherent in man which set limits to the power of conditioning; to study the failure of conditioning seems just as important, scientifically, as its success.

Indeed, man can be conditioned to behave in almost every desired way; but only "almost." He reacts to those conditions that conflict with basic human requirements in different and ascertainable ways. He can be conditioned to be a slave, but he will react with aggression or decline in vitality; or he can be conditioned to feel like part of a machine and react with boredom, aggression, and unhappiness.

Conditioning works through its appeal to self-interest, such as the desire for food, security, praise, avoidance of pain. In animals, self-interest proves to be so strong that by repeated and optimally spaced reinforcements the interest for self-preservation proves to be stronger than other instincts like sex or aggression. Man of course also behaves in accordance with his self-interest; but not always, and not necessarily so. He often acts according to his passions, his meanest and his noblest, and is often willing - and able - to risk his self-interest, his fortune, his freedom, and his life in the pursuit of love, truth, and integrity - of for hate, greed, sadism, and destructiveness. In this very difference lies the reason conditioning cannot be a sufficient explanation for human behavior.

--Erich Fromm