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Quotes by B. F. Skinner

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Wikipedia Summary for B. F. Skinner

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, behaviourist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was a professor of psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.

Considering free will to be an illusion, Skinner saw human action as dependent on consequences of previous actions, a theory he would articulate as the principle of reinforcement: If the consequences to an action are bad, there is a high chance the action will not be repeated; if the consequences are good, the probability of the action being repeated becomes stronger.

Skinner developed behaviour analysis, especially the philosophy of radical behaviourism, and founded the experimental analysis of behaviour, a school of experimental research psychology. He also used operant conditioning to strengthen behaviour, considering the rate of response to be the most effective measure of response strength. To study operant conditioning, he invented the operant conditioning chamber (aka the Skinner Box), and to measure rate he invented the cumulative recorder. Using these tools, he and Charles Ferster produced Skinner's most influential experimental work, outlined in their book Schedules of Reinforcement (1957).

Skinner was a prolific author, having published 21 books and 180 articles. He imagined the application of his ideas to the design of a human community in his utopian novel, Walden Two (1948), while his analysis of human behaviour culminated in his work, Verbal behaviour.

Contemporary academia considers Skinner, along with John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov, a pioneer of modern behaviourism. Accordingly, a June 2002 survey listed Skinner as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century.

Quote: What is love except another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

What is love except another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa.


Quote: I don't know whether I want to improve religion or not. I prefer to get rid of it. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I don't know whether I want to improve religion or not. I prefer to get rid of it.


Quote: To require a citizen to sign a loyalty oath is to destroy some of the loyalty he could otherwise claim, since any subsequent loyal behavior may then be attributed to the oath. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

To require a citizen to sign a loyalty oath is to destroy some of the loyalty he could otherwise claim, since any subsequent loyal behavior may then be attributed to the oath.


Quote: Religions work for their own aggrandizement -- strengthen the church and so on -- and they use reinforcers of one kind or another to get obedience and so on from their communicants. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Religions work for their own aggrandizement -- strengthen the church and so on -- and they use reinforcers of one kind or another to get obedience and so on from their communicants.


Quote: The extent to which human aggression exemplifies innate tendencies is not clear. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The extent to which human aggression exemplifies innate tendencies is not clear.


Quote: We admire people to the extent that we cannot explain what they do, and the word 'admire' then means 'marvel at.' by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

We admire people to the extent that we cannot explain what they do, and the word 'admire' then means 'marvel at.'




Quote: A vast technology has been developed to prevent, reduce, or terminate exhausting labor and physical damage. It is now dedicated to the production of the most trivial conveniences and comfort. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A vast technology has been developed to prevent, reduce, or terminate exhausting labor and physical damage. It is now dedicated to the production of the most trivial conveniences and comfort.


Quote: The speaker does not feel the grammatical rules he is said to apply in composing sentences, and men spoke grammatically for thousands of years before anyone knew there were rules. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The speaker does not feel the grammatical rules he is said to apply in composing sentences, and men spoke grammatically for thousands of years before anyone knew there were rules.


Quote: I think my novel, 'Walden Two,' has made people stop and look at the culture they have inherited and wonder if it is the last word or whether it can be changed. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I think my novel, 'Walden Two,' has made people stop and look at the culture they have inherited and wonder if it is the last word or whether it can be changed.


Quote: Something doing every minute' may be a gesture of despair-or the height of a battle against boredom. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Something doing every minute' may be a gesture of despair-or the height of a battle against boredom.


Quote: It is a surprising fact that those who object most violently to the manipulation of behaviour nevertheless make the most vigorous effort to manipulate minds. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

It is a surprising fact that those who object most violently to the manipulation of behaviour nevertheless make the most vigorous effort to manipulate minds.


Quote: A disappointment is not generally an oversight. It might just be the best one can do the situation being what it is. The genuine error is to quit attempting. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A disappointment is not generally an oversight. It might just be the best one can do the situation being what it is. The genuine error is to quit attempting.


Quote: I'm very pessimistic. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I'm very pessimistic.


Quote: Your liberals and radicals all want to govern. They want to try it their way- to show that people will be happier if the power is wielded in a different way or for different purposes. But how do they know? Have they ever tried it? No, it's merely their guess. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Your liberals and radicals all want to govern. They want to try it their way- to show that people will be happier if the power is wielded in a different way or for different purposes. But how do they know? Have they ever tried it? No, it's merely their guess.


Quote: I believe that I have been basically anarchistic, anti-religion and anti-industry and business. In other words, anti-bureaucracy. I would like to see people behave well without having to have priests stand by, politicians stand by, or people collecting bills. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I believe that I have been basically anarchistic, anti-religion and anti-industry and business. In other words, anti-bureaucracy. I would like to see people behave well without having to have priests stand by, politicians stand by, or people collecting bills.


Quote: I remember when I was a freshman in college, I was still somewhat bothered by... worried... about religion. I remember going to this professor of philosophy and telling him that I had lost my faith. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I remember when I was a freshman in college, I was still somewhat bothered by... worried... about religion. I remember going to this professor of philosophy and telling him that I had lost my faith.


Quote: Even the mundane task of washing dishes by hand is an example of the small tasks and personal activities that once filled people's daily lives with a sense of achievement. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Even the mundane task of washing dishes by hand is an example of the small tasks and personal activities that once filled people's daily lives with a sense of achievement.


Quote: That's all teaching is; arranging contingencies which bring changes in behavior. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

That's all teaching is; arranging contingencies which bring changes in behavior.


Quote: A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A self is a repertoire of behavior appropriate to a given set of contingencies.


Quote: Those few people who do respond to the dire conditions of the future -- journalists, environmentalists, behavioral scientists -- tend not to be powerful. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Those few people who do respond to the dire conditions of the future -- journalists, environmentalists, behavioral scientists -- tend not to be powerful.


Quote: It is a mistake to suppose that the whole issue is how to free man. The issue is to improve the way in which he is controlled. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

It is a mistake to suppose that the whole issue is how to free man. The issue is to improve the way in which he is controlled.


Quote: The problem of far greater importance remains to be solved. Rather than build a world in which we shall all live well, we must stop building one in which it will be impossible to live at all. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The problem of far greater importance remains to be solved. Rather than build a world in which we shall all live well, we must stop building one in which it will be impossible to live at all.


Quote: The human species took a crucial step forward when its vocal musculature came under operant control in the production of speech sounds. Indeed, it is possible that all the distinctive achievements of the species can be traced to that one genetic change. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The human species took a crucial step forward when its vocal musculature came under operant control in the production of speech sounds. Indeed, it is possible that all the distinctive achievements of the species can be traced to that one genetic change.


Quote: If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

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


Quote: To say that... behaviors have different 'meanings' is only another way of saying that they are controlled by different variables. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

To say that... behaviors have different 'meanings' is only another way of saying that they are controlled by different variables.


Quote: Does a poet create, originate, initiate the thing called a poem, or is his behavior merely the product of his genetic and environmental histories? by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Does a poet create, originate, initiate the thing called a poem, or is his behavior merely the product of his genetic and environmental histories?


Quote: The alphabet was a great invention, which enabled men to store and to learn with little effort what others had learned the hard way-that is, to learn from books rather than from direct, possibly painful, contact with the real world. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The alphabet was a great invention, which enabled men to store and to learn with little effort what others had learned the hard way-that is, to learn from books rather than from direct, possibly painful, contact with the real world.




Quote: We are only just beginning to understand the power of love because we are just beginning to understand the weakness of force and aggression. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

We are only just beginning to understand the power of love because we are just beginning to understand the weakness of force and aggression.


Quote: The simulated approval and affection with which parents and teachers are often urged to solve behavior problems are counterfeit. So are flattery, backslap-ping, and many other ways of winning friends. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The simulated approval and affection with which parents and teachers are often urged to solve behavior problems are counterfeit. So are flattery, backslap-ping, and many other ways of winning friends.


Quote: A culture must be reasonably stable, but it must also change, and it will presumably be strongest if it can avoid excessive respect for tradition and fear of novelty on the one hand and excessively rapid change on the other. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A culture must be reasonably stable, but it must also change, and it will presumably be strongest if it can avoid excessive respect for tradition and fear of novelty on the one hand and excessively rapid change on the other.


Quote: A first principle not formally recognized by scientific methodologists: when you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A first principle not formally recognized by scientific methodologists: when you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.


Quote: If the world is to save any part of its resources for the future, it must reduce not only consumption but the number of consumers. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

If the world is to save any part of its resources for the future, it must reduce not only consumption but the number of consumers.


Quote: If freedom is a requisite for human happiness, then all that's necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

If freedom is a requisite for human happiness, then all that's necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom.


Quote: At this very moment enormous numbers of intelligent men and women of goodwill are trying to build a better world. But problems are born faster than they can be solved. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

At this very moment enormous numbers of intelligent men and women of goodwill are trying to build a better world. But problems are born faster than they can be solved.


Quote: Society already possesses the psychological techniques needed to obtain universal observance of a code -- a code which would guarantee the success of a community or state. The difficulty is that these techniques are in the hands of the wrong people-or, rather, there aren't any right people. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of B. F. Skinner quote: Society already possesses the psychological techniques needed to obtain universal observance of a code -- a code which would guarantee the success of a community or state. The difficulty is that these techniques are in the hands of the wrong people-or, rather, there aren't any right people.- black text on quotes background

Society already possesses the psychological techniques needed to obtain universal observance of a code -- a code which would guarantee the success of a community or state. The difficulty is that these techniques are in the hands of the wrong people-or, rather, there aren't any right people.


Quote: Overcrowding can be corrected only by inducing people not to crowd, and the environment will continue to deteriorate until polluting practices are abandoned. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Overcrowding can be corrected only by inducing people not to crowd, and the environment will continue to deteriorate until polluting practices are abandoned.


Quote: In a world of complete economic equality, you get and keep the affections you deserve. You can't buy love with gifts or favors, you can't hold love by raising an inadequate child, and you can't be secure in love by serving as a good scrub woman or a good provider. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

In a world of complete economic equality, you get and keep the affections you deserve. You can't buy love with gifts or favors, you can't hold love by raising an inadequate child, and you can't be secure in love by serving as a good scrub woman or a good provider.


Quote: An important fact about verbal behavior is that speaker and listener may reside within the same skin. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

An important fact about verbal behavior is that speaker and listener may reside within the same skin.


Quote: What is sought can never produce the seeking. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

What is sought can never produce the seeking.




Quote: Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives not even understanding how it is possible, and blaming our failure on being born the wrong way. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Some of us learn control, more or less by accident. The rest of us go all our lives not even understanding how it is possible, and blaming our failure on being born the wrong way.


Quote: I don't deny the importance of genetics. However, the fact that I might be altruistic isn't because I have a gene for altruism; the fact that I do something for my children at some cost to myself comes from a history that has operated on me. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I don't deny the importance of genetics. However, the fact that I might be altruistic isn't because I have a gene for altruism; the fact that I do something for my children at some cost to myself comes from a history that has operated on me.


Quote: Indeed one of the ultimate advantages of an education is simply coming to the end of it. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Indeed one of the ultimate advantages of an education is simply coming to the end of it.


Quote: I won't say that I'm an agnostic, since agnosticism maintains that one cannot know... but I'm not averse to the idea of some intelligence or some organizing force that set up the initial conditions of the universe in such a way that ultimately generated stars, planets and life. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of B. F. Skinner quote; white text on black background

I won't say that I'm an agnostic, since agnosticism maintains that one cannot know... but I'm not averse to the idea of some intelligence or some organizing force that set up the initial conditions of the universe in such a way that ultimately generated stars, planets and life.


Quote: We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

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

Longer Version/[Notes]:

We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Knowing the contents of a few works of literature is a trivial achievement. Being inclined to go on reading is a great achievement.




Quote: If you insist that individual rights are the summum bonum, then the whole structure of society falls down. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

If you insist that individual rights are the summum bonum, then the whole structure of society falls down.


Quote: I am opposed to the military use of animals. I am also opposed to the military use of men. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I am opposed to the military use of animals. I am also opposed to the military use of men.


Quote: You can get along very well in this world by simply coming up with a quantity of reasonably valid statements. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

You can get along very well in this world by simply coming up with a quantity of reasonably valid statements.


Quote: I have to tell people that they are not responsible for their behavior. They're not creating it; they're not initiating anything. It's all found somewhere else. That's an awful lot to relinquish. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I have to tell people that they are not responsible for their behavior. They're not creating it; they're not initiating anything. It's all found somewhere else. That's an awful lot to relinquish.


Quote: No theory changes what it is a theory about; man remains what he has always been. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

No theory changes what it is a theory about; man remains what he has always been.

Longer Version/[Notes]:

No theory changes what it is a theory about. Nothing is changed because we look at it, talk about it, or analyze it in a new way. Keats drank confusion to Newton for analyzing the rainbow, but the rainbow remained as beautiful as ever and became for many even more beautiful. Man has not changed because we look at him, talk about him, and analyze him scientifically. ... What does change is our chance of doing something about the subject of a theory. Newton's analysis of the light in a rainbow was a step in the direction of the laser.


Quote: Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.

Longer Version/[Notes]:

Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. It enslaves him almost before he has tasted freedom. The 'ologies' will tell you how its done Theology calls it building a conscience or developing a spirit of selflessness. Psychology calls it the growth of the superego. Considering how long society has been at it, you'd expect a better job. But the campaigns have been badly planned and the victory has never been secured.


Quote: A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.


Quote: I don't think my mother and father ever had any doubts about what I was to be punished for or not. My parents come from a very strictly defined culture. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

I don't think my mother and father ever had any doubts about what I was to be punished for or not. My parents come from a very strictly defined culture.


Quote: 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. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

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.


Quote: Must we wait for selection to solve the problems of overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, pollution of the environment and a nuclear holocaust, or can we take explicit steps to make our future more secure? In the latter case, must we not transcend selection? by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

Must we wait for selection to solve the problems of overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, pollution of the environment and a nuclear holocaust, or can we take explicit steps to make our future more secure? In the latter case, must we not transcend selection?


Quote: When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.


Quote: The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.


Quote: The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

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


Quote: The ideal of behaviorism is to eliminate coercion: to apply controls by changing the environment in such a way as to reinforce the kind of behavior that benefits everyone. by author B. F. Skinner overlaid on photo of photo of author B. F. Skinner with quote

The ideal of behaviorism is to eliminate coercion: to apply controls by changing the environment in such a way as to reinforce the kind of behavior that benefits everyone.


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