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Beyond Freedom and Dignity Available in paperback


Science and Human Behavior Available in paperback


Principles of Psychology Available in paperback

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Skinner’s Quote of the Day

On January 4, 2016, the B. F. Skinner Foundation launched a new project – Skinner’s Quote of the Day. Quotes from B. F. Skinner works, selected by renowned scientists, appear daily Monday-Friday in order, starting with Chapter 1 of each book and running all the way through the last chapter. We started with the Science and Human Behavior. You can leave your comments here (registered users only), or join the discussion on our open Facebook forum. RSS feed for Skinner’s Quote of the Day is available here.

About Behaviorism, Chapter 4: Operant Behavior, Quote 5

“​Freedom” usually means the absence of restraint or coercion, but more comprehensively it means a lack of any prior determination: “All things that come to be, except acts of will, have causes.” (p. 59)
 

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 4: Operant Behavior, Quote 4

“​The spontaneous generation of behavior has reached the same stage as the spontaneous generation of maggots and micro organisms in Pasteur’s day. ” (p. 59)
 

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 4: Operant Behavior, Quote 3

“The apparent lack of immediate cause in operant behavior has led to the invention of an initiating event. Behavior is said to be put into play when a person wills to act. The term has a confusing history.” (p. 59)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 4: Operant Behavior, Quote 2

“To distinguish an operant from an elicited reflex, we say that the operant response is “emitted.” (It might be better to say simply that it appears, since emission may imply that behavior exists inside the organism and then comes out. But the word need not mean ejection; light is not in the hot filament […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 4: Operant Behavior, Quote 1

“The process of operant conditioning . . . is simple enough. When a bit of behavior has the kind of consequence called reinforcing, it is more likely to occur again . . . The process supplements natural selection. Important consequences of behavior which could not play a role in evolution because they were not […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 10

“Contingencies of reinforcement have the edge with respect to prediction and control. The conditions under which a person acquires behavior are relatively accessible and can often be manipulated; the conditions under which a species acquires behavior are very nearly out of reach.” (p. 49)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 9

“The question is not whether the human species has a genetic endowment but how it is to be analyzed. It begins and remains a biological system, and the behavioristic position is that it is nothing more than that.” (p. 49)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 8

“In an important sense all behavior is inherited, since the organism that behaves is the product of natural selection. Operant conditioning is as much a part of the genetic endowment as digestion or gestation.” (pp. 48-49)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 7

“Universal features of language do not imply a universal innate endowment, because the contingencies of reinforcement arranged by verbal communities have universal features.” (p. 48)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 6

“When we have reviewed the contingencies which generate new forms of behavior in the individual, we shall be in a better position to evaluate those which generate innate behavior in the species. Meanwhile we may note the importance of insisting upon the distinction.” (p. 45)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 5

“There are certain remarkable similarities between contingencies of survival and contingencies of reinforcement. Both exemplify, as I have noted, a kind of causality which was discovered very late in the history of human thought. Both account for purpose by moving it after the fact, and both are relevant to the question of a creative […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 4

“. . . verbal behavior could arise only when the necessary ingredients had already evolved for other reasons.” (p. 42)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 3

“. . . plausible conditions of selection are hard to find in support of such an assertion as that “principles of grammar are present in the mind at birth,” since grammatical behavior can hardly have been sufficiently important to survival for a long enough time, to explain its selection.” (p. 42)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 2

“Darwin simply discovered the role of selection, a kind of causality very different from the push-pull mechanisms of science up to that time. The origin of a fantastic variety of living things could be explained by the contribution which novel features, possibly of random provenance, made to survival.” (pp. 40-41)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 3: Innate Behavior, Quote 1

“. . . to say that a bird builds a nest because it possesses a nest-building instinct, or because certain conditions release nest building, is merely to describe the fact, not to explain it.” (p. 38)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 15

“Profiting from recent advances in the experimental analysis of behavior, [behaviorism] has looked more closely at the conditions under which people respond to the world within their skin, and it can now analyze, one by one, the key terms in the mentalistic armamentarium.” (p. 36)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 14

“Even those who insist upon the reality of mental life will usually agree that little or no progress has been made since Plato’s day.” (p. 36)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 13

“Plato is said to have discovered the mind, but it would be more accurate to say that he invented one version of it.” (p. 35)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 12

“A person who has been “made aware of himself” by the questions he has been asked is in a better position to predict and control his own behavior.” (p. 35)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 11

“Self-knowledge is of social origin. It is only when a person’s private world becomes important to others that it is made important to him.” (p. 35)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 10

“Explanations of behavior vary with the kinds of answers accepted by the verbal community. If a simple “I feel like it” suffices, nothing else will appear. Freud was influential in changing the kinds of answers often given to “Why are you doing that?” He emphasized feelings but allowed for references to personal history. The […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 9

“The words used to describe covert behavior are the words acquired when behaving publicly.” (p. 31)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 8

“Verbal behavior can easily become covert because it does not require environmental support. “I said to myself . . . “ used synonymously with “I thought . . . ,” but we do not say, “I swam to myself.” (p. 31)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 7

“We often ask about feelings by asking “What does it feel like?” and the answer usually refers to a public condition which often produces a similar private effect.” (p. 27)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 6

“Fortunately, . . . the verbal community can to some extent solve the problem of privacy. For example, it can teach responses descriptive of internal conditions by using associated public conditions. Something of the same sort happens when a blind person is taught to name the objects he feels by a teacher who merely […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 5

“The community can teach a child to name colors in various ways. For example, it can show him colored objects, ask him to respond with color words, and commend or correct him when his responses correspond or fail to correspond with the colors of the objects . . . The community cannot, however, follow […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 4

“We might expect that because a person is in such intimate contact with his own body he should be able to describe its conditions and processes particularly well, but the very privacy which seems to confer a special privilege on the individual makes it difficult for the community to teach him to make distinctions.” […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 3

“We respond to our own body with three nervous systems, two of which are particularly concerned with internal features. The so-called interoceptive system . . . The so-called proprioceptive . . . A third nervous system, the exteroceptive, is primarily concerned with seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling things in the world around us, […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 2

“We feel [the world within our skins] and in some sense observe it, and it would be foolish to neglect this source of information just because no more than one person can make contact with one inner world. Nevertheless, our behavior in making that contact needs to be examined.” (p. 24)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 2: The World Within the Skin, Quote 1

“A small part of the universe is contained within the skin of each of us. There is no reason why it should have any special physical status because it lies within this boundary, and eventually we should have a complete account of it from anatomy and physiology.” (p. 24)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 20

“When it is important to be clear about an issue, nothing but a technical vocabulary will suffice. It will often seem forced or roundabout. Old ways of speaking are abandoned with regret, and new ones are awkward and uncomfortable, but the change must be made.” (p. 22)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 19

“For purposes of casual discourse, I see no reason to avoid such an expression as “I have chosen to discuss . . .” (though I question the possibility of free choice), or “I have in mind . . .” (though I question the existence of a mind), or “I am aware of this fact […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 18

“. . . it is impossible to engage in casual discourse without raising the ghosts of mentalistic theories. The role of the environment was discovered very late, and no popular vocabulary has yet emerged.” (p. 22)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 17

“To spend much time on exact redefinition of consciousness, will, wishes, sublimation, and so on would be as unwise as for physicists to do the same for ether, phlogiston, or vis viva.” (21)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 16

“I consider scores, if not hundreds, of examples of mentalistic usage. They are taken from current writing, but I have not cited the sources . . . (I express my regrets if the authors would have preferred to be given credit, but I have applied the Golden Rule and have done unto others what […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 15

“One writer has recently said that “mere speculation which cannot be put to the test of experimental verification does not form part of science,” but if that were true, a great deal of astronomy, for example, or atomic physics would not be science. Speculation is necessary, in fact, to devise methods which will bring […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 14

“Much of the argument goes beyond the established facts. I am concerned with interpretation rather than prediction and control. Every scientific field has a boundary beyond which discussion, though necessary, cannot be as precise as one would wish.” (p. 21)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 13

“When what a person does i[s] attributed to what is going on inside him, investigation is brought to an end. Why explain the explanation? For twenty-five hundred years people have been preoccupied with feelings and mental life, but only recently has any interest been shown in a more precise analysis of the role of […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 12

“The environment made its first great contribution during the evolution of the species, but it exerts a different kind of effect during the lifetime of the individual, and the combination of the two effects is the behavior we observe at any given time.” (p. 19)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 11

“An organism behaves as it does because of its current structure, but most of this is out of reach of introspection. At the moment we must content ourselves, as the methodological behaviorist insists, with a person’s genetic and environmental histories. What are introspectively observed are certain collateral products of those histories.” (p. 19)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 10

“Radical behaviorism restores some kind of balance. It does not insist upon truth by agreement and can therefore consider events taking place in the private world within the skin. It does not call these events unobservable, and it does not dismiss them as subjective. It simply questions the nature of the object observed and […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 9

“Radical behaviorism . . . does not deny the possibility of self-observation or self-knowledge or its possible usefulness, but it questions the nature of what is felt or observed and hence known. It restores introspection but not what philosophers and introspective psychologists had believed they were “specting,” and it raises the question of how […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 8

“Most methodological behaviorists granted the existence of mental events while ruling them out of consideration.” (p. 17)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 7

“It is so easy to observe feelings and states of mind at a time and place which make them seem like causes that we are not inclined to inquire further. Once the environment begins to be studied, however, its significance cannot be denied.” (pp. 15-16)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 6

“The quickest way to [avoid the mentalistic problem] is to confine oneself to what an early behaviorist, Max Meyer, called the “psychology of the other one”: consider only those facts which can be objectively observed in the behavior of one person in relation to his environmental history.” (p. 14)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 5

“Structuralism or developmentalism do not tell us why customs are followed, why people vote as they do or display attitudes or traits of character, or why different languages have common features. Time or age cannot be manipulated; we can only wait for a person or a culture to pass through a developmental period.” (pp. […]

About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 4

“A kind of prediction is possible on the principle that what people have often done they are likely to do again; they follow customs because it is customary to follow them, they exhibit voting or buying habits, and so on.” (p. 13)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 3

“. . . the major difficulties are practical: we cannot anticipate what a person will do by looking directly at his feelings or his nervous system, nor can we change his behavior by changing his mind or his brain.” (p. 12)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 2

“The person with whom we are most familiar is ourself; many of the things we observe just before we behave occur within our body, and it is easy to take them as the causes of our behavior.” (pp. 10-11)

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About Behaviorism, Chapter 1: The Causes of Behavior?, Quote 1

“Why do people behave as they do? It was probably first a practical question: How could a person anticipate and hence prepare for what another person would do? Later it would become practical in another sense: How could another person be induced to behave in a given way?” (p. 10)

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