Sexual Bx Research: Kinsey

I came across a discussion board the other day that asked the compare the topics of Motivation and Emotion, based on movies about the research of Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson. It sparked a fairly in-depth reply from me, with a behavioral explanation. It was interesting enough to me that I’d like to share it with you here.

Discussion Board Topic (condensed)

The topic of motivation and emotion is often laughingly considered the “Sex and Food” topic. For DB2 please select one of two movies or documentaries, one called, “Kinsey,” starring Liam Neeson. It is disturbing but depicts a ground-breaking study into human sexuality before it was considered an appropriate field of research. The other option would be any academic documentary regarding Masters and Johnson. Please post an appropriate response, relating the concepts of motivation and emotion to researchers such as Abraham Maslow, Phillip Zimbardo, Alfred Kinsey, or Masters and Johnson. Have fun. Keep it above board: no inappropriate statements or judgment calls, rather evaluate your perception of this topic as the professional scientists you are becoming.

“Kinsey” (2004) movie poster

My Response

As a Behaviorist, who teaches and practices ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), motivation and emotion are two completely different topics.

Motivation is a concept that is based on how satiated or reinforcing something is, which can be, and is, both variable and manipulated given that moment in time. For example, water becomes more motivating the longer you go without it and your thirst increases. Another example, food becomes more valuable the longer you go without eating, and less valuable after you finish eating. Within the field of ABA, we call this Motivating Operations, which is divided into 2 categories, Establishing Operations (EO’s) and Abolishing Operations (AO’s). EO’s equate to something becoming more valuable in a moment, thus more likely to be reinforcing. AO’s equate to something becoming less valuable in a moment, this less likely to be reinforcing.  Simply put, “motivation” is a momentary and temporary state based on what you are both lacking and have an abundance of.When describing this based on sexual behaviors – sexual stimulation and activity is more rewarding and desirable when you have not engaged in sexual behaviors for a duration of time (based on your specific physical needs and satiation/deprivation limits), and less rewarding immediately after completion of sexual behaviors. Using movies as examples, think of “There’s Something About Mary”, when Ben Stiller is advised to masturbate prior to his date with Mary, to decrease his sexual anxiety and frustrations during the date. That works because the shorter the duration after ejaculation (satiation), the longer the duration until anxiety and frustration returns (deprivation).

Emotions, behaviorally, are seen as behaviors, not causes or triggers of behaviors. They are inner behaviors (private events) that are only definable and observable by the person experiencing them. What others see, and what they would define you emotion as, is the observed physical responses (conscious and unconscious) you engage in. For example, laughing can insinuate both happiness or sadness, and a frowning face can insinuate anger, unhappiness, or calm (resting angry face?). Since emotions are behaviors, they are events that are triggered as a response to something else. Responses can be natural without having to be learned, or they can be learned based on your social groups and environments. Since emotions are triggered, and can be learned responses, you can learn to change how things affect you and the physical responses you engage in. This is how programs like Anger Management and addiction therapies work.

Within the Kinsey research, he assumed anonymity would motivate people to give more honest answers, assuming that honest answers would indicate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that (at the time) were more socially shammed and ostracized than they are now. Sexual behaviors are Sensory (Automatic) behaviors, meaning we engage in them because they feel good, thus making them self-reinforcing and rewarding. Due to this, and the difficulty replacing them with other (alternative) behaviors, they are extremely difficult to decrease in both frequency and/or intensity. These two films, regarding both Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, demonstrate that consistent engagement in, and access to, self-stimulating behaviors (both participating in and observing), creates long learning histories, which makes fitting socially typical behaviors (whatever they are for you specific social groups and environments) extremely difficult, creating socially displacing behaviors and interactions. This was depicted in the Kinsey movie, when Kinsey’s own social group of sexual researchers began to object to his behaviors and responses (reactions) to their behaviors. Sexual behaviors being self-stimulating means they are non-extinguishable (cannot satiate long term), are highly rewarding, and create their own motivation. However, the emotions involved with sexual behaviors are initially innate (don’t have to be learned), but change as your responses to environmental events are either reinforced or punished, based on the responses of others in your social groups and environments, creating new learned behaviors (responses).