Dissemination of Behavior Analysis

Special Interest Group (DBA-SIG)

Questions about B.F.Skinner: A (Misunderstood) Proponent of ABA

BF Skinner is acclaimed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century by the Review of General Psychology in 2002! 

He is referenced in popular television shows such as SimpsonsLost, and was an inspiration for the Google's PigeonRank posted on April 1st, 2002.

Yet -- still today, there are rampant rumors which paint this man as a non-feeling scientist who attempted to rob humanity of its dignity and free will.

The DBA SIG wants to shed light on this and give you a no-nonsense look at the true BF Skinner!

You may be thinking,"Oh Yes -- Skinner, I've heard about him. He didn't believe in emotions or think that we have free will! I've heard he even ran experiments on his own daughters!"

In case you didn't get to know him, we figured we'd share some quotes from those that knew him best. 

Skinner's daughter, talking about her father-- who he was, and whether he tried to control her and her sister with his science:
"...my father was a father to me, and I was a daughter to him. And I always thought that we really controlled his behavior more than he did ours, because he is very fond of kids, and his own were super according to him. So if we were ever at all unhappy or discontent, it was terribly painful for him to have to see us not happy...sometimes, I think that he would try to help us become more happy, but that is then reinforcing your not being happy. I don't think he applied his techniques consciously at all on us..." 
When asked 'growing up what would have been the best word to describe her father':

"Now I would say that the top of the list would be sentimental, then--I don't think I would've seen it. Although, I do remember times that he would put me to bed, and would squeeze my hand just before leaving and there would be tears in his eyes, and I remember looking up and thinking, what's going on? Now I realize exactly what he's going through because I do the same thing with my children, you just feel a tremendous swelling of emotion, and it just brings tears to your eyes. " 

Skinner himself, when asked about what he felt when he was told he would die after being diagnosed with leukemia:

"When I was told I had this and would be dead in a few months, -- I didn't feel any emotion or anything at all-- not a bit of panic, fear, or anxiety-- nothing at all....the only thing that touched me, was and I really--my eyes watered when I thought of this I will have to tell my wife and my daughters, see, when you die -- you hurt people if they love you -- and you can't help it. You've got to do it. and that bothered me, otherwise, my dying is...I knew I was going to die, now I know about when, I've had a very good life...it'd be very foolish of me to complain." 
Does this sound like a man who would raise his children in a box, someone who doesn't believe in emotion? 

Sound clips available from Trudeau, M. (1990, July 27). B. F. Skinner on his latest theory and death. [Radio interview]. (Cassette recording available from National Public Radio, All things Considered, 635 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20001-3753).

More Quotes:

 “It is not a question of starting. The start has been made. It's a question of what's to be done from now on.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

"The consequences of an act affect the probability of it's occurring again."

― B.F. Skinner

"If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment."

― B.F. Skinner

"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."

― B.F. Skinner

"The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount."

― B.F. Skinner  

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances.  The real mistake is to stop trying." 

 ― B.F. Skinner

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

― B.F. Skinner

“Men build society and society builds men.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“The world's a poor standard. any society which is free of hunger and violence looks bright against that background.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“In a democracy, there is no check against despotism, because the principle of democracy is supposed to be itself a check. But it guarantees only that the majority will not be despotically ruled.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two 

"I did not direct my life.  I didn't design it.  I never made decisions.  Things always came up and made them for me.  That's what life is."

― B.F. Skinner

“Death does not trouble me. I have no fear of supernatural punishments, of course, nor could I enjoy an eternal life in which there would be nothing left for me to do, the task of living having been accomplished.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)  

“Science, not religion, has taught me my most useful values, among them intellectual honesty. It is better to go without answers than to accept those that merely resolve puzzlement.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)   

“When we say that a man controls himself, we must specify who is controlling whom.”

― B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior, 1953, p. 229

“Technically, meanings are to be found among the independent variables in a functional account, rather than as properties of the dependent variable.”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 14

“Problem-solving typically involves the construction of discriminative stimuli” 

― B.F. Skinner, p. 218

“I may say that the only differences I expect to see revealed between the behavior of the rat and man (aside from enormous differences of complexity) lie in the field of verbal behavior”

― B.F. Skinner,  1938, pp. 442.

“There is no point at which it is profitable to draw a line distinguishing thinking from acting on this continuum. So far as we know, the events at the covert end have no special proper- ties, observe no special laws, and can be credited with no special achievements”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 438 

“Any single historical event is too complex to be adequately known by anyone. It transcends all the intellectual capacities of men. Our practice is to wait until a sufficient number of details have been forgotten. Of course things seem simpler then! Our memories work that way; we retain the facts which are easiest to think about.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two 

“It is not a question of starting. The start has been made. It's a question of what's to be done from now on.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

"The consequences of an act affect the probability of it's occurring again."

― B.F. Skinner

"If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment."

― B.F. Skinner

"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."

― B.F. Skinner

"Give me a child and I'll shape him into anything."

― B.F. Skinner

"The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount."

― B.F. Skinner  

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances.  The real mistake is to stop trying." 

 ― B.F. Skinner

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

― B.F. Skinner

“Men build society and society builds men.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“The world's a poor standard. any society which is free of hunger and violence looks bright against that background.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“In a democracy, there is no check against despotism, because the principle of democracy is supposed to be itself a check. But it guarantees only that the majority will not be despotically ruled.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two 

"I did not direct my life.  I didn't design it.  I never made decisions.  Things always came up and made them for me.  That's what life is."

― B.F. Skinner

“Death does not trouble me. I have no fear of supernatural punishments, of course, nor could I enjoy an eternal life in which there would be nothing left for me to do, the task of living having been accomplished.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)  

“Science, not religion, has taught me my most useful values, among them intellectual honesty. It is better to go without answers than to accept those that merely resolve puzzlement.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)   

“When we say that a man controls himself, we must specify who is controlling whom.”

― B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior, 1953, p. 229

 “Technically, meanings are to be found among the independent variables in a functional account, rather than as properties of the dependent variable.”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 14

 “Problem-solving typically involves the construction of discriminative stimuli” 

― B.F. Skinner, p. 218

“I may say that the only differences I expect to see revealed between the behavior of the rat and man (aside from enormous differences of complexity) lie in the field of verbal behavior”

― B.F. Skinner,  1938, pp. 442.

“There is no point at which it is profitable to draw a line distinguishing thinking from acting on this continuum. So far as we know, the events at the covert end have no special proper- ties, observe no special laws, and can be credited with no special achievements”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 438 

“Any single historical event is too complex to be adequately known by anyone. It transcends all the intellectual capacities of men. Our practice is to wait until a sufficient number of details have been forgotten. Of course things seem simpler then! Our memories work that way; we retain the facts which are easiest to think about.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two It is not a question of starting. The start has been made. It's a question of what's to be done from now on.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

"The consequences of an act affect the probability of it's occurring again."

― B.F. Skinner

"If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment."

― B.F. Skinner 

"We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading."

― B.F. Skinner

"Give me a child and I'll shape him into anything."

― B.F. Skinner

"The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount."

― B.F. Skinner  

"A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances.  The real mistake is to stop trying." 

 ― B.F. Skinner

"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."

― B.F. Skinner

“Men build society and society builds men.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“The world's a poor standard. any society which is free of hunger and violence looks bright against that background.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two

“In a democracy, there is no check against despotism, because the principle of democracy is supposed to be itself a check. But it guarantees only that the majority will not be despotically ruled.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two 

"I did not direct my life.  I didn't design it.  I never made decisions.  Things always came up and made them for me.  That's what life is."

― B.F. Skinner

“Death does not trouble me. I have no fear of supernatural punishments, of course, nor could I enjoy an eternal life in which there would be nothing left for me to do, the task of living having been accomplished.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)  

“Science, not religion, has taught me my most useful values, among them intellectual honesty. It is better to go without answers than to accept those that merely resolve puzzlement.” 

― B.F. Skinner (1987)   

“When we say that a man controls himself, we must specify who is controlling whom.”

― B.F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior, 1953, p. 229

 “Technically, meanings are to be found among the independent variables in a functional account, rather than as properties of the dependent variable.”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 14

“Problem-solving typically involves the construction of discriminative stimuli” 

― B.F. Skinner, p. 218

“I may say that the only differences I expect to see revealed between the behavior of the rat and man (aside from enormous differences of complexity) lie in the field of verbal behavior”

― B.F. Skinner,  1938, pp. 442.

“There is no point at which it is profitable to draw a line distinguishing thinking from acting on this continuum. So far as we know, the events at the covert end have no special proper- ties, observe no special laws, and can be credited with no special achievements”

― B.F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior, p. 438 

“Any single historical event is too complex to be adequately known by anyone. It transcends all the intellectual capacities of men. Our practice is to wait until a sufficient number of details have been forgotten. Of course things seem simpler then! Our memories work that way; we retain the facts which are easiest to think about.” 

― B.F. Skinner, Walden Two