Tag Archives: Skinner

Interview with author of Beyond the Box

beyond the boxA new book on B. F. Skinner and his influence on American life will be released later this month by the University of Toronto Press. The book, Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner’s Technology of Behavior from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s, is authored by Alexandra Rutherford.

The following is from the book’s dust jacket:

B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) is one of the most famous and influential figures in twentieth century psychology. A best-selling author, inventor, and social commentator, Skinner was both a renowned scientist and a public intellectual known for his controversial theories of human behavior. Beyond the Box is the first full-length study of the ways in which Skinner’s ideas left the laboratory to become part of the post-war public’s everyday lives, and chronicles both the enthusiasm and caution with which this process was received.

Using selected case studies, Alexandra Rutherford provides a fascinating account of Skinner and his acolytes’ attempts to weave their technology of human behavior into the politically turbulent fabric of 1950s-70s American life. To detail their innovative methods, Rutherford uses extensive archival materials and interviews to study the Skinnerians’ creation of human behavior laboratories, management programs for juvenile delinquents, psychiatric wards, and prisons, as well as their influence on the self-help industry with popular books on how to quit smoking, lose weight, and be more assertive.

A remarkable look at a post-war scientific and technological revolution, Beyond the Box is a rewarding study of how behavioral theories met real-life problems, and the ways in which Skinner and his followers continue to influence the present.

Professor Rutherford is a faculty member of the graduate program in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University and a Fellow of the Society for the History of Psychology. She was gracious enough to grant AHP an interview about her new book. This follows below the fold. Continue reading Interview with author of Beyond the Box

“Looking for Skinner and finding Freud”

Geir OverskeidA while back, in the Fall of 2007, we posted a handful of notes about the articles then recently published in American Psychologist. But one slipped through the cracks: Geir Overskeid‘s essay on the relationship between Skinner and Freud.

Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner are often seen as psychology’s polar opposites. It seems this view is fallacious. Indeed, Freud and Skinner had many things in common, including basic assumptions shaped by positivism and determinism. More important, Skinner took a clear interest in psychoanalysis and wanted to be analyzed but was turned down. His views were influenced by Freud in many areas, such as dream symbolism, metaphor use, and defense mechanisms. Skinner drew direct parallels to Freud in his analyses of conscious versus unconscious control of behavior and of selection by consequences. He agreed with Freud regarding aspects of methodology and analyses of civilization. In his writings on human behavior, Skinner cited Freud more than any other author, and there is much clear evidence of Freud’s impact on Skinner’s thinking.

However, the delay has afforded an unexpected benefit: the full text of the article can now be found online here. (An additional related reading is provided below the fold.) Continue reading “Looking for Skinner and finding Freud”

Videos of the Operant Condition

The website of the B. F. Skinner Foundation has posted online six short videos relevant to its namesake’s illustrious career. They include the famous clip of pigeons playing ping pong, Skinner himself conditioning a pigeon to make a complete turn, and a pigeon learning to use a block to reach a “banana” hung from the top of its enclosure (a sly allusion to Wolfgang Köhler’s “insight” research with a chimp named Sultan). The remaining three videos give an illustrated explanation of Skinner’s schedules of reinforcement, a brief appraisal of Skinner’s work by behavior analyst Murray Sidman, and a short interview with Skinner about conditioning, free will, and gambling.

Behaviorists may not be so pleased by a satirical definition of “behaviorism” I recently found on Dr. Mezmer’s Dictionary of Bad Psychology, which reads: Continue reading Videos of the Operant Condition