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.

Recent Issues. Chapter 4: The Listener. Quote 1

“In a behavioral account, the direction of action is exactly reversed. Speakers do not take in the world and put it into words; they respond to it in ways which have been shaped and maintained by special contingencies of reinforcement.” (p. 35)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 10

“Eventually, the body will be more accurately observed in a different way by physiology, especially neurology, but it will then be observed as the product of specifiable contingencies of variation and selection rather than as what was less accurately seen through introspection.” (p. 33)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 9

“Shall we ever be able to say more about what is felt? Almost certainly not through introspection. We do not have sensory nerves going to relevant parts of the body or any chance of agreeing upon words that refer to private events of any kind.” (p. 33)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 8

“We are said to have acted rationally when we can give reasons for our behavior, but most of our behavior is not rational in that sense. Contingencies of selection affect our behavior whether or not we recognize them.” (p. 32)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 7

“A more effective way of restoring belief in oneself [than through reminders of overlooked successes], of course, is to restore successes, perhaps by simplifying contingencies of reinforcement.” (p. 31)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 6

“A poet “has” a poem in the sense of having written it. It is his poem. Critics will show “influences,” however, and if we knew enough about what the poet had read and done, we could presumably explain the whole poem.” (p. 30)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 5

“Operant modeling, and the self-observation it facilitates, appears to be exclusively human; reinforcement from the behavior of an imitator is apparently too long delayed to reinforce modeling in other species.” (p. 29)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 4

“In a behavioral analysis the environment acts first, in either of two ways. As a consequence it reinforces behavior and an operant comes into existence. As a setting it elicits or evokes behavior. Few English words, certainly not person or self, are at home in such a behavioral version.” (p. 29)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 3

“The English language evolved when it was generally believed that behavior started within the individual.” (p. 28)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 2

“Only under special kinds of verbal contingencies do we respond to certain features of our body.” (p. 28)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 3: The Initiating Self. Quote 1

“Chemistry suggests ways in which living things could have emerged from nonliving, and biologists explain the origin of species, including homo sapiens, through natural selection. There is less for a creator to do. Behavior has also come within the scope of a scientific analysis.” (p. 27)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 19

“. . . we have only begun to construct a science needed to analyze the complex interactions between the environment and the body and the behavior to which it gives rise.” (p. 25)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 18

“. . . people’s answers to questions about how they feel or what they are thinking often tell us something about what has happened to them or what they have done. We can understand them better and are more likely to anticipate what they will do. The words they use are part of a […]

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 17

“Verbal contingencies of reinforcement explain why we report what we feel or introspectively observe. The verbal culture that arranges such contingencies would not have evolved if it had not been useful.” (p. 25)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 16

“The analysis of behavior need not wait until brain science has done its part. The behavioral facts will not be changed, and they suffice for both a science and a technology.” (p. 25)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 15

“Human behavior will eventually be explained, because it can only be explained by the cooperative action of ethology, brain science, and behavior analysis.” (p. 25)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 14

“There are two unavoidable gaps in any behavioral account: one between the stimulating action of the environment and the response of the organism, and one between consequences and the resulting change in behavior. Only brain science can fill those gaps.” (pp. 24-25)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 13

“We can trace a small part of human behavior, and a much larger part of the behavior of other species, to natural selection and the evolution of the species, but the greater part of human behavior must be traced to contingencies of reinforcement, especially to the very complex social contingencies we call cultures. Only […]

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 12

“No account of what is happening inside the human body, no matter how complete, will explain the origins of human behavior. What happens inside the body is not a beginning.” (p. 24)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 11

“Whether or not the cognitive revolution has restored mind as the proper subject matter of psychology, it has not restored introspection as the proper way of looking at it. The behaviorists’ attack on introspection has been devastating.” (p. 24)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 10

“Unfortunately, we cannot report any internal event, physical or metaphysical, accurately. The words we use are words we learned from people who did not know precisely what we were talking about, and we have no sensory nerves going to the parts of the brain in which the most important events presumably occur.” (pp. 23-24)
 

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By |November 16th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 10|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 9

“To think is to do something that makes other behavior possible. Solving a problem is an example. A problem is a situation that does not evoke an effective response; we solve it by changing the situation until a response occurs.” (p. 20)
 

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By |November 15th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 9|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 8

“In a behavioral analysis, contingencies of reinforcement change the way we respond to stimuli. It is a changed person, not a memory, that has been “stored.” (p. 16)
 

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By |November 14th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 8|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 7

“Like pre-Darwinian evolution (where to evolve meant to unroll as one unrolled a scroll), developmentalism is a form of creationism.” (p. 16)
 

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By |November 13th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 7|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 6

“Since the observable effects of reinforcement are usually not immediate, we often overlook the connection. Behavior is then often said to grow or develop. Develop originally meant to unfold, as one unfolds a letter. We assume that what we see was there from the start.” (p. 16)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 5

“Since behavior analysts deal only with complete instances of behavior, the sensing part is out of reach of their instruments and methods and must . . . be left to physiologists.” (p. 16)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 4

“The world takes control of behavior when either survival or reinforcement has been contingent upon it.” (p. 16)
 

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By |November 8th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 4|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 3

“We do what we do because of what has happened, not what will happen. Unfortunately, what has happened leaves few observable traces, and why we do what we do and how likely we are to do it are therefore largely beyond the reach of introspection.” (p. 15)
 

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By |November 7th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 3|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 2

“As an experimental analysis has shown, behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences, but only by consequences that lie in the past.” (p. 15)
 

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By |November 6th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 2|

Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 1

“What is felt when one has a feeling is a condition of one’s body, and the word used to describe it almost always comes from the word for the cause of the condition felt.” (p. 13)
 

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By |November 5th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 2: The Origins of Cognitive Thought. Quote 1|

Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 14

“The inspection or introspection of one’s own body is a kind of behavior that needs to be analyzed, but as the source of data for a science it is largely of historical interest only.” (p. 20)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 13

“Physiologists, and especially neurologists, look at the same body [as philosophers and psychologists] in a different and potentially successful way, but even when they have seen it more clearly, they will not have seen initiating causes of behavior.” (p. 19-20)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 12

“For at least 3,000 years . . . philosophers, joined recently by psychologists, have looked within themselves for the causes of their behavior. For reasons which are becoming clear, they have never agreed upon what they have found.” (p. 11)
 

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By |October 31st, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 12|

Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 11

“On the point of offering a friend a glass of water, we do not ask, “How long has it been since you last drank any water?” or “If I offer you a glass of water, what are the chances you will accept it?” We ask, “Are you thirsty?” The answer tells us all we […]

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 10

“Cognitive psychologists are among those who most often criticize behaviorism for neglecting feelings, but they themselves have done very little in the field. The computer is not a helpful model.” (p. 10)
 

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By |October 29th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 10|

Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 9

“Psychoanalysis is largely concerned with discovering and changing feelings. An analysis sometimes seems to work by extinguishing the effects of old punishments.” (p. 10)
 

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By |October 26th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 9|

Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 8

“In his remarkable book, Émile, Rousseau described what is now called desensitization. If a baby is frightened when plunged into cold water (presumably an innate response), begin with warm water and reduce the temperature a degree a day. The baby will not be frightened when the water is finally cold.” (p. 10)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 7

“Feelings are most easily changed by changing the settings responsible for what is felt . . . When a setting cannot be changed, a new history of reinforcement may change its effect.” (p. 15)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 6

“Presumably we are more likely to avoid hurting animals if what they would do resembles what we would do when hurt in the same way . . . It is a rare person, indeed, who would not hurt a fly.” (p. 9)
 

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 5

“All words for feelings seem to have begun as metaphors, and it is significant that the transfer has always been from public to private. No word seems to have originated as the name of a feeling.” (p. 8).

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 4

“Good behaviorists would say, “You reinforce my behavior” rather than “You reinforce me,” because it is behavior, not the behaving person, that is being reinforced in the sense of being strengthened; but they would say much more.” (p. 5)

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By |October 19th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 4|

Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 3

“The very privacy which suggests that we ought to know our own bodies especially well is a severe handicap for those who must teach us to know them.” (p. 4)

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Recent Issues. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 2

“Methodological behaviorists, like logical positivists, argued that science must confine itself to events that can be observed by two or more people; truth must be truth by agreement . . . That was not a very satisfactory position, of course . . . Radical behaviorism has never taken that line. (p. 3)

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Recent Issues in the Analysis of Behavior. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 1

“Behaviorists are not supposed to have feelings, or at least to admit that they have them. Of the many ways in which behaviorism has been misunderstood for so many years, that is perhaps the commonest.” (p. 3)

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By |October 16th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Recent Issues in the Analysis of Behavior. Chapter 1: The Place of Feeling in the Analysis of Behavior. Quote 1|

Next Up: Recent Issues In the Analysis of Behavior

The B. F. Skinner Foundation is bringing back to print the last book by Skinner, Recent Issues In the Analysis of Behavior. This collection of articles, originally published in 1989, addressed the broad spectrum of issues that were important to Skinner during the last years of his life. He dedicated it To All Behavior […]

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By |October 15th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Next Up: Recent Issues In the Analysis of Behavior|

We will be back soon

The Quote of the Day will be back soon with the quotes from another Skinner’s classic.

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By |October 4th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on We will be back soon|

Contingencies of Reinforcement. Chapter 9: The inside story. Quote 21

“All human behavior . . . is ultimately to be accounted for in terms of the phylogenic contingencies of survival which have produced man as a species and the ontogenic contingencies of reinforcement which have produced him as an individual.” (p. 297)

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Contingencies of Reinforcement. Chapter 9: The inside story. Quote 20

“We do not look for ultimate responsibility in a machine, nor should we look for it in man.” (p. 297)

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Contingencies of Reinforcement. Chapter 9: The inside story. Quote 19

“Only when we know what a man actually does can we be sure that we have simulated his behavior. The Outside Story must be told first.” (p. 295)

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Contingencies of Reinforcement. Chapter 9: The inside story. Quote 18

“As our understanding of human behavior increases, however, we appeal less and less to explanatory fictions, and we can then accept the fact that the essential differences between machines and men concern componentry.” (p. 295)

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By |September 28th, 2018|Skinner's Quote of the Day|Comments Off on Contingencies of Reinforcement. Chapter 9: The inside story. Quote 18|

Some of the books in our bookstore are Name-Your-Price products. We set the minimum from $0 to $0.99, but the amount you actually pay is up to you. Every dollar you add is a donation that will be used to keep B. F. Skinner’s books in print, convert more works into e-book formats, and provide free access to more and more archival material through our website. Dismiss