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Psychology Operant Conditioning
by
Jesse Dallery, Brantley Jarvis, Allison Kurti

Introduction

The study of operant conditioning represents a natural-science approach to understanding the causes of goal-directed behavior. Operant behavior produces changes in the physical or social environment, and these consequences influence whether such behavior occurs in the future. Thus, operant behavior is selected by its consequences. The basic unit of analysis in the operant framework is the operant, or operant class, which is a class of activities that produces the same consequence. For example, an operant such as joke telling is shaped and maintained by positive social consequences (e.g., laughter) or extinguished by negative social consequences (e.g., silence). Selection of operant behavior is analogous to the selection of biological traits via natural selection. The environment (physical, social, cultural) selects behavior via the processes of reinforcement and punishment. Stimuli present when these processes occur become occasioning or discriminative stimuli for particular operants. More complex forms of learning, such as conceptual and symbolic behavior, are also considered to be forms of operant behavior. Whether simple or complex, operant behavior is always included within a three-term contingency: discriminative stimulus, operant behavior, and reinforcing or punishing consequence. The three-term contingency is deceptively simple, as the probabilities of occurrence represented by each term can vary over time. In addition, the under-represented role of verbal behavior further enriches and complicates the picture of human behavior. From its inception, the operant analysis has also included private behavior such as thoughts, feelings, and other aspects of the “inside story.” The operant framework has led to a number of extensions and applications to human affairs, including the treatment of developmental disorders, interventions for psychopathology, teaching technologies for classrooms, strategies to improve behavior in business and occupational settings, and approaches to reduce substance use and abuse. Although less empirical in nature, the operant framework has also been extended to explanations of cultural behavior and future threats posed by consumerism, nuclear proliferation, and other human rights and social justice issues. Operant conditioning has a long history of being mischaracterized, and several responses to these claims have appeared in the literature.

Textbooks

There are a variety of textbooks that cover operant principles and applications. The textbooks here focus on general principles. For those new to the field, Baum 2005 provides a good introduction to some of the philosophical and conceptual background of behavior analysis and is less focused on empirical findings. Pierce and Cheney 2013 and Malott 2008 are good introductions to the empirical work and to basic concepts in the field. Catania 2013 and Mazur 2006 are a bit more advanced. Iversen and Lattal 1991 and Madden 2012 are the most advanced texts and recommended for graduate students in behavior analysis or allied disciplines. Skinner 1953 is recommended to anyone interested in behavior analysis or behaviorism more generally. The book covers basic principles, issues related to understanding feelings, thoughts, the self, and social influences on behavior.

  • Baum, W. B. 2005. Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, culture, and evolution. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

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    A useful introduction to the conceptual roots of radical behaviorism. Includes sections on philosophy, the basic elements of an operant account (including verbal behavior), and extensions to relationships, government, and other cultural phenomena.

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  • Catania, A. C. 2013. Learning. 5th ed. Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan.

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    This is one of several common undergraduate textbooks. Covers all of the basic principles and is organized into two sections: one that discusses learning without words and a second that discusses learning with words (verbal behavior).

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  • Iversen, I. H., and K. A. Lattal, eds. 1991. Techniques in the behavioral and neural sciences: Experimental analysis of behavior (Parts 1 and 2). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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    This textbook is primarily geared toward graduate students in behavior analysis. The material is more complex than typical undergraduate texts.

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  • Madden, G. J., ed. 2012. APA handbook of behavior analysis. 2 vols. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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    This handbook is the most up-to-date and comprehensive account of behavior analysis. Volume 1 covers experimental and research methods in single-subject designs as well as major content areas in the experimental analysis of behavior. Volume 2 focuses entirely on translational research and areas of application.

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  • Malott, R. W. 2008. Principles of behavior. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    This is another common text for undergraduates.

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  • Mazur, J. E. 2006. Learning and behavior. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    This is another standard text for undergraduate pedagogy. The book provides nice analyses of the current state of knowledge in the field of learning and provides an interesting overview of unresolved empirical questions.

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  • Pierce, W. D., and C. D. Cheney. 2013. Behavior analysis and learning. 5th ed. New York: Psychology Press.

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    Yet another text for undergraduates. Covers all of the basic principles of behavior analysis, including sections on verbal behavior and selectionism at three levels of analysis (biological, behavioral, and cultural).

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1953. Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

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    This is one of Skinner’s major works. This book is more conceptual in nature, as the database for operant science was still in its infancy. Covers basic principles, including chapters on private behavior, motivation, thinking, the self, and culturally mediated sources of behavioral influence.

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Journals

The journals below represent the flagship journals in the field. The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior is the flagship journal for basic laboratory science, and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis is the flagship journal for applied science. Behavior Analyst focuses on conceptual and theoretical questions, literature reviews, and critiques, and many of these articles will be accessible to the nonexpert. Behavior and Philosophy generally emphasizes philosophical issues, and some of the articles may be quite challenging for someone not already familiar with philosophy of science. Behavior and Social Issues focuses on social and cultural issues from a behavior-analytic perspective.

Data Sources

The websites below represent a selective sampling. The Association for Behavior Analysis International has information about the parent organization for the study of operant psychology, from basic research to a variety of applied disciplines. The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies offers solutions and resources across a number of domains relevant to operant psychology including journals, articles, books, and experts in each domain. Current Directions in Behavioral Science includes a number of articles and resources relevant to operant psychology in scientific and mainstream outlets.

Main Principles

The subsections that follow address the main principles of operant conditioning: Units of Analysis, Reinforcement, Conditioned Reinforcement, Stimulus Control, Punishment, Motivating Operations, Symbolic and Complex Behavior, Verbal Behavior, and Choice and Behavioral Economics. For introductions to these principles, we recommend consulting the Textbooks section of this article.

Units of Analysis

The basic unit of analysis in operant conditioning is the operant or operant class, which refers to a class of activity that is maintained by the same consequences (e.g., positive social reinforcement, negative social reinforcement). A temper tantrum, yelling, and throwing toys may be subsumed under the same operant class if they are maintained by the same consequence of parent attention. The concept of the operant can be difficult to understand, in part because of the dynamic nature of operant behavior and its consequences. Glenn, et al. 1992 is recommended as an introduction to the area. This article is very accessible, in part because the comparison to the (more familiar) notion of selection of biological traits. Skinner 1981 is also recommended as a starting point: this article analyzes selection by consequences at each of three levels: biological, behavioral, and cultural. Catania 1973 may be more challenging, but it is essential reading for anyone wishing to more fully appreciate the definition of the operant. Skinner 1972 (originally published in 1935) is one of the main predecessors to the modern concept of the operant, and although this article is quite challenging, it is essential for a scholarly appreciation of behavioral units in operant psychology. Defining an operant (class) is always an empirical question, and operants are defined at the level of each individual’s behavior. Defining basic units of analysis such as the cell, neuron, or species, is typically the starting place for any natural science, and the same is true with respect to behavioral units. According to Zeiler 1986, “The fundamental [behavioral] units . . . are the smallest entities that display the full characteristics of adaptive behavior” (pp. 4–5).

  • Catania, A. C. 1973. The concept of the operant in the analysis of behavior. Behaviorism 1:103–116.

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    Articulates the concept of the operant and is essential to a complete understanding of the concept. The discussion might be too technical for the novice.

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  • Glenn, S. S., J. Ellis, and J. Greenspoon. 1992. On the revolutionary nature of the operant as a unit of behavioral selection. American Psychologist 47:1329–1336.

    DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.47.11.1329Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the history of the concept of the operant. Excellent introduction to behavioral units. Proposes that operants are analogous to species as units of analysis: just as a species is a population of organisms with a common origin, an operant is a population of behavioral instances with a common origin.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1972. The generic nature of the concepts of stimulus and response. In Cumulative record. 3d ed. By B. F. Skinner, 458–478. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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    This is a challenging read for both undergraduate and graduate students. The analysis focuses on reflexes, but it represents the predecessor to Skinner’s Machian style of defining operant units. This is essential reading for a scholarly understanding of the concept of the operant.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1981. Selection by consequences. Science 213:501–504.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X0002673XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents an analysis of selection by consequences at three levels of analysis: biological, behavioral, and cultural. At each level, the units of analysis are identified, including the operant that is selected by contingencies of reinforcement during an individual’s lifetime (ontogeny).

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  • Zeiler, M. D. 1986. Behavioral units: A historical introduction. In Analysis and integration of behavioral units. Edited by T. Thompson and M. D. Zeiler, 1–12. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Provides a historical introduction to the notion of behavioral units, which is followed by a series of chapters on the analysis and integration of behavioral units. The chapters are appropriate for advanced graduate students in behavior analysis.

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Reinforcement

A reinforcer is any stimulus event (e.g., praise, a nod, or even a reprimand) that, when made contingent on behavior, increases the probability of that behavior in the future. When reinforcer delivery is contingent on the emission of a behavior, we call this process “reinforcement.” For example, a baby’s cooing increases in probability when its mom laughs after each coo and decreases when no laughter follows cooing. Thus, laugher is identified as a reinforcer. It is important to understand that a reinforcer cannot be defined solely on the basis of structure. For example, candy, a gold star, or praise may or may not serve as reinforcers: whether they do or not depends on how they influence behavior. Positive reinforcement refers to increases in the probability of a behavior being emitted in the future as a function of this behavior being reinforced, whereas negative reinforcement refers to increases in the probability of a behavior being emitted in the future as a function of some stimulus being removed. Escape and avoidance learning are examples of negative reinforcement, and Dinsmoor 2001 discusses the two-factor theory of avoidance. Athabasca University’s Positive Reinforcement Tutorial is good on reinforcement, both positive and negative. This tutorial is an excellent starting place for those unfamiliar with the concept of reinforcement. After learning the distinction, Baron and Galizio 2005 will make for an interesting read. The authors argue that the distinction has little empirical or conceptual validity. Perone 2003 is an excellent introduction to the negative effects of positive reinforcement. As argued by Cameron, et al. 2001, these negative effects do not include undermining intrinsic reinforcement. Baum 1973, Nevin and Grace 2000, and Timberlake and Allison 1974 will be more challenging for those unfamiliar with basic concepts in operant psychology, but they represent some of the most influential theories of reinforcement in the field. These articles illustrate the extraordinary scope, elegance, and complexity of the modern theories of reinforcement. Zeiler 1984 is also recommended for those interested in schedules of reinforcement. Like many behavioral principles, reinforcement does not function in isolation. Rather, many variables collectively influence an organism’s behavior (i.e., behavior is multiply controlled). For example, a child may not respond to a teacher’s praise if the child has experienced a prior history of social punishment from peers for doing so. This example, like many others, does not invalidate the principle of reinforcement: it merely demonstrates that other processes influence behavior.

Conditioned Reinforcement

A conditioned reinforcer has been defined as a stimulus that gains its reinforcing efficacy through frequent pairings with a primary reinforcer, and then a conditioned reinforcer alone can maintain behavior. For example, pairing the sound made by a plastic clicker with a dog biscuit allows the sound of the clicker alone to reinforce behavior. As a consequence, presenting the click with no dog biscuits will be sufficient to teach a dog a new trick. Conditioned reinforcement considerably expands the range of stimuli that can influence behavior. The articles below exemplify the current state of knowledge regarding conditioned reinforcement. Williams 1994 is a good place to begin, followed by Hackenberg 2009 and Shahan 2010. Shahan’s article will be challenging for those who have not been exposed to quantitative theories of conditioned reinforcement.

Stimulus Control

Stimuli that “signal” when reinforcement (or punishment) is available might occasion the relevant behavior in the future. Antecedent stimuli that serve this discriminative role are referred to as discriminative stimuli. When behavior is strongly influenced by these stimuli, the organism’s behavior is described as showing “stimulus control.” For example, if Grandma always gives attention for complaining and Dad does not, and complaining only occurs in the presence of Grandma and not Dad, then the child is showing good stimulus control. These antecedent stimuli are engendered by the first term in the three-term contingency: discriminative stimulus, operant behavior, and reinforcer. The effects of discriminative stimuli may spread to other stimuli (generalization) or be specific to the particular stimuli that led to reinforcement (discrimination). Other instances of stimulus control include imitation (see Baer and Sherman 1964) and remembering (see White 2002). The Dinsmoor 1995a and Dinsmoor 1995b tutorials are excellent starting places for those interested in stimulus control.

  • Baer, D. M., and J. A. Sherman. 1964. Reinforcement control of generalized imitation in young children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 1:37–49.

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    Behavior such as imitation is considered as a form of stimulus control, where the modeler’s behavior serves as a discriminative stimulus for the child’s imitative behavior. This article expands on this process to include instances of seemingly novel imitative responses in new situations. The notion of generalized imitation is discussed.

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  • Dinsmoor, J. A. 1995a. Stimulus control: Part 1. Behavior Analyst 18:51–68.

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    Covers the basics of stimulus control, such as discrimination training, generalization gradients, and factors that affect generalization gradients. The article is a tutorial for those who may not be conversant in procedures and processes related to stimulus control.

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  • Dinsmoor, J. A. 1995b. Stimulus control: Part 2. Behavior Analyst 18:253–269.

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    Continues the tutorial on stimulus control from Part 1 (Dinsmoor 1995a). It covers more advanced topics in an accessible manner, such as imitation, concept formation, and stimulus equivalence. It also explores some factors that affect discrimination (e.g., the magnitude of the difference between the stimulus and background stimulation). This and Dinsmoor 1995a are excellent introductions to stimulus control.

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  • White, K. G. 2002. Psychophysics of remembering: The discrimination hypothesis. Current Directions in Psychological Science 11:141–145.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8721.00187Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief and accessible discussion of the discrimination theory of remembering. The theory posits (in part) that in tasks that require remembering after some interval, this retention interval enters into the discrimination at the time of remembering.

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Punishment

When a stimulus event follows behavior and the behavior decreases in frequency in the future (or stops), then punishment has occurred. This technical definition should not be confused with the ordinary use of the term “punishment,” which often fails to encompass the effects of the stimulus on the frequency of the behavior that it follows. For example, sending a child to his room following aggressive behavior may or may not function as punishment: to determine whether punishment has occurred, one must determine whether the frequency of subsequent aggressive behavior decreases. Lerman and Vorndran 2002 describes the current state of knowledge about punishment in applied contexts. This article is a target article, and we also recommend the replies that follow in the same issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Sidman 1989 is geared toward the layperson and represents an interesting perspective on the consequences of coercion in contemporary culture. Solnick, et al. 1977 is a terrific example of how punishment (and reinforcement) is determined by environmental factors. The article specifies some features of the environment that determine whether time out will function as a punisher or as a reinforcer.

  • Lerman, D. C., and C. M. Vorndran. 2002. On the status of knowledge for using punishment: Implications for treating behavior disorders. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 35:431–464.

    DOI: 10.1901/jaba.2002.35-431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent review article that discusses the current state of knowledge about punishment. Several responses follow this target article in the same issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

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  • Sidman, M. 1989. Coercion and its fallout. Boston: Authors Cooperative.

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    Argues that coercion is an ineffective yet ubiquitous practice in contemporary culture. Provides suggestions for alternative practices in parenting, education, and culture at large.

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  • Solnick, J. V., A. Rincover, and C. R. Peterson. 1977. Some determinants of the reinforcing and punishing effects of timeout. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10:415–424.

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    Time out is a common practice in many cultures. This article describes some determinants of when time out is likely to work and some conditions under which it may actually reinforce rather than punish behavior.

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Motivating Operations

Whether and to what extent a stimulus functions as a reinforcer (or punisher) depends on a number of factors. For example, the efficacy of most primary reinforcers can be increased by depriving the organism of the reinforcer (e.g., water after a long hike, socializing after a period of solitude, etc.). Deprivation from a stimulus thus functions as an establishing operation, making that stimulus more reinforcing. Conversely, satiation might function as an abolishing operation, reducing the value of a reinforcer. Establishing operations and abolishing operations are subsumed beneath the larger category of motivating operations, which is discussed in Laraway, et al. 2003. The seminal article on the topic of establishing operations is Michael 1982. The Iwata, et al. 2000 review article addresses the importance of motivating operations in applied contexts.

  • Iwata, B. A., R. G. Smith, and J. L. Michael. 2000. Current research on the influence of establishing operations on behavior in applied settings. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 33:411–418.

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    This review article discusses the major findings with respect to the use of establishing operations on behavior in applied contexts.

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  • Laraway, S., S. Snycerski, J. Michael, and A. Poling. 2003. Motivating operations and terms to describe them: Some further refinements. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 36:407–414.

    DOI: 10.1901/jaba.2003.36-407Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article refines and extends Michael 1982’s original description of establishing operations. The term “motivating operations” is introduced to describe operations that increase the value of a consequence as a reinforcer (establishing operations), or decrease the value of a consequence as a reinforcer (abolishing operations).

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  • Michael, J. 1982. Distinguishing between discriminative and motivational functions of stimuli. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 37:149–155.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1982.37-149Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This seminal article refines earlier concepts about motivation into the concept of the establishing operation. Briefly, the article addresses how some events come to function as reinforcers and how their effectiveness can be altered by conditions such as deprivation and aversive stimulation. The article also distinguishes between these effects and the discriminative functions of stimuli.

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Symbolic and Complex Behavior

More complicated forms of behavior can be generated via long histories of reinforcement, punishment, stimulus control, and other fundamental behavioral processes. Baxley 1982 might be an excellent place to start, as examples of the relevant behavior can be observed. The video discusses behavior such as imitation, communication, and insight and how they can be approached using basic principles of operant psychology. Conceptual behavior can be understood in terms of processes such as stimulus control. Herrnstein, et al. 1976 is one excellent example of conceptual behavior in pigeons. The study of equivalence relations (see Sidman 1994) also helps us understand many instances of symbolic and complex behavior. Lubinski and MacCorquodale 1984 also discusses communication (and is an extension of the communicative behavior seen in Epstein and Skinner’s video). A more advanced set of articles regarding categorization and concept learning can be found in Critchfield, et al. 2002.

Verbal Behavior

B. F. Skinner introduced the term “verbal behavior” as an alternative to the term “language” to draw attention to its function rather than to its structure. Like nonverbal behavior (e.g., walking), verbal behavior is an operant that changes as a function of consequences, thus the same basic principles of conditioning are applicable to an understanding of both operants. The key difference between verbal and nonverbal behavior is that the former achieves its effects indirectly through the behavior of others rather than by acting directly on the environment. For example, flipping on a light switch to see in a dark room is nonverbal behavior. Asking a person nearby to flip the switch is verbal behavior, because the consequences are mediated by a listener. Two additional features regarding verbal behavior are worth noting. First, the term is not restricted to vocal behavior: any means of influencing a listener (e.g., gesturing, writing a message, etc.) also constitutes verbal behavior. Second, the listener and speaker can be the same person, thus verbal behavior includes talking to one’s self and thinking. As one might imagine, verbal behavior is an extraordinarily challenging and complex area of study but one that is growing rapidly given its significance to humans and other social animals. Ideally, readers should have a basic understanding of operant conditioning as it relates to verbal behavior before attempting these readings. Skinner’s classic work, first published in 1957, lays the theoretical foundations for an operant analysis of verbal behavior (see Skinner 1992). He predicted that it would be his greatest contribution; however, it was sharply criticized at the time, most notably by linguist Noam Chomsky. (See Chomsky 1959 but also MacCorquodale 1970, cited in Misconceptions and Responses, for a reply to Chomsky’s review of Verbal Behavior.) Lamarre and Holland 1985 reports an experiment on two of Skinner’s verbal operants, and Horne and Lowe 1996 interprets these and other verbal operants from a different perspective as extensions of naming. Skinner 1969 illustrates the difference in behavior generated by rules versus direct contingencies, which is extended to more recent and advanced topics in Hayes 2004. An operant interpretation of therapist behavior is offered by Truax 1966, whereas Salzinger 2003 discusses the major role of verbal behavior as it applies to behavior analysis and psychology more generally. For the latest on verbal behavior research and discussion, readers should consult Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

  • Analysis of Verbal Behavior.

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    A journal that contains experimental and theoretical papers related to verbal behavior. It is published by the Association for Behavior Analysis International and is written for an audience with an advanced understanding of behavior analysis.

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  • Chomsky, N. 1959. Verbal behavior by B. F. Skinner. Language 35:26–58.

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    Chomsky argues that Skinner’s theoretical framework (operant conditioning) is inadequate to account for the complexities of human language. Many view this article as a general critique of behavior analytic theory and its inability to apply beyond simple and highly controlled laboratory experiments. (See MacCorquodale 1970, cited in Misconceptions and Responses, for one reply to this review.)

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  • Hayes, S. 2004. Rule-governed behavior: Cognition, contingencies, and instructional control. Reno, NV: Context Press.

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    Covers a variety of topics that focus on how rules and instructions influence behavior, including chapters on the experimental analysis of rule-governed behavior, the distinction between rule-governed and contingency-shaped behavior, and conceptual and applied implications of behavior controlled by verbal stimuli.

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  • Horne, P. J., and C. F. Lowe. 1996. On the origins of naming and other symbolic behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 65:185–241.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1996.65-185Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A theoretical paper arguing that naming is a fundamental behavioral unit, which is linked to other verbal classes. The authors suggest that the naming relation might form the basis for an experimental analysis of symbolic behavior. The article is followed by replies from experts in the field.

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  • Lamarre, J., and J. G. Holland. 1985. The functional independence of mands and tacts. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 43:5–19.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1985.43-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Skinner hypothesized that different verbal operants could be learned independently of one another, even if their sounds or shapes were identical. This paper provides experimental evidence for this hypothesis and is an excellent example of the importance of the function rather than the structure of verbal behavior.

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  • Salzinger, K. 2003. Some verbal behavior about verbal behavior. Behavior Analyst 26:29–40.

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    Highlights the need for additional research on verbal behavior and reviews the ubiquitous role that verbal behavior plays in controlling our own and others’ behavior, as well as its influence on the development of behavior analysis.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1969. An operant analysis of problem solving. In Contingencies of reinforcement: A theoretical analysis. By B. F. Skinner, 133–171. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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    To solve a problem, organisms must change their own behavior or some aspect of the environment to produce the appropriate response. Skinner offers an analysis of this process using operant principles and highlights differences in behavior generated by direct contingencies and rules.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1992. Verbal behavior. Acton, MA: Copley.

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    In this seminal work, Skinner analyzes verbal behavior systematically and exemplifies how its complexity emerges from basic principles of operant conditioning.

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  • Truax,   1966. Reinforcement and nonreinforcement in Rogerian psychotherapy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 71:1–9.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0022912Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An operant analysis of Carl Rogers and a client in a series of psychotherapy sessions, which revealed that Rogers’s “unconditional” positive regard was conditional on certain types of verbal behavior emitted by the client. An excellent example of how operant conditioning plays a role in talk therapy.

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Choice and Behavioral Economics

Understanding how organisms make choices is critical for any account of behavior. Based on an operant conditioning perspective, organisms’ responses are governed by their consequences. However, the consequences of alternative responses play a role as well. For example, the choice to take the bus to work may be influenced by alternative forms of transportation and their consequences (e.g., a train might get one to work faster). Since the 1970s, psychologists have discovered and explained the importance of several factors influencing choice. More recently, it has become clear that operant psychology and economics address similar questions about behavior, and thus economic concepts and operant methods have been merged into the exciting and innovative field of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics offers a fresh perspective on choice and has already made significant contributions to several major areas of psychology, including public policy and treatment for drug abuse. Less experienced readers may want to refer first to Fisher and Mazur 1997, which offers a nice introduction and integration of choice research in nonhuman animals and humans. Herrnstein 1961 and Rachlin and Green 1972 report on basic experiments that were enormously influential in the development of quantitative models of choice. Rachlin and Green’s findings generated extensive research on behavioral accounts of impulsivity. This literature is reviewed at length in Madden and Bickel 2010, whose introductory chapters are especially useful for readers unfamiliar with operant methods and accounts of impulsivity. Bickel, et al. 1995 covers critical topics in the field; however, it is written for an audience well versed in operant conditioning.

  • Fisher, W. W., and J. E. Mazur. 1997. Basic and applied research on choice responding. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 30:387–410.

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    Reviews basic research on variables affecting choice and examines the extension of these findings to clinical applications. This article provides an excellent introduction to choice responding and is a great example of translational research in operant conditioning.

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  • Bickel, Warren K., Leonard Green, and Rudy E. Vuchinich, eds. 1995. Special Issue: Behavioral economics. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 64.3.

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    Contains a range of articles on major topics in behavioral economics including delay discounting and demand-curve analysis. Also discusses the similarities and differences between behavioral economics and behavior analysis.

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  • Herrnstein, R. J. 1961. Relative and absolute strength of response as a function of frequency of reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 4:267–272.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1961.4-267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first experiments on choice in the basic laboratory. Its findings formed the basis for a general mathematical description of choice responding called the matching law, which pushed the field of operant conditioning away from the study of single responses and toward multiple responses (i.e., choice).

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  • Madden, G. M., and W. K. Bickel, eds. 2010. Impulsivity: The behavioral and neurological science of discounting. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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    This book is especially useful for readers interested in delay discounting. It reviews theories, methods, and findings on impulsivity derived from choice studies in operant conditioning and discusses their relevance to addictions and other risky behaviors.

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  • Rachlin, H., and L. Green. 1972. Commitment, choice, and self-control. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 17:15–22.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1972.17-15Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors found that a pigeon’s preference for a small immediate reward over a large delayed reward could be reversed by increasing the time between making a choice and delivering the immediate reward. Demonstrates the importance of reward delay in self-control.

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Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis is a subdivision of behavior analysis with the goals of advancing an understanding of human behavior and improving socially significant behaviors using basic, operant conditioning principles. Applied behavior analysts accomplish these goals by taking a scientific approach to identifying and manipulating variables in individuals’ environments and by using socially valid and objective measurements of behavior. Although the title of the area includes the word “applied,” the purpose of applied behavior analysis is not simply to deliver behavioral treatments. Instead, applied behavior analysts seek to develop effective, behavior change technologies that are based on a science of behavior. As such, behavior analysts first identify the causes of problem behavior, and then seek to change these causes during treatment (see Vollmer, et al. 2000 for a groundbreaking empirical demonstration of identifying the causes of severe problem behavior). Applied behavior analysts have made the greatest strides in the domain of developing treatments that improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities, but its potential for benefiting society is much broader and remains to be seen. In the seminal Baer, et al. 1968, the authors introduce and characterize applied behavior analysis. Martin and Pear 2009 and Miltenberger 2008 are both undergraduate textbooks that cover the literature on operant conditioning principles and emphasize their practical use. Readers who manage client or patient behavior in applied settings should find these to be accessible. Cooper, et al. 2007 is a comprehensive text recommended for anyone seeking an advanced knowledge of applied behavior analysis and for graduate students and professionals, especially those pursuing board certification as behavior analysts. Vollmer, et al. 2000 is a large collection of the most influential papers in applied behavior analysis and includes study questions and answers for each, making it an excellent supplement for graduate courses. The use of operant principles in animal training is introduced in the mainstream, nontechnical Pryor 2002.

  • Baer, D. M., M. M. Wolf, and T. R. Risley. 1968. Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 1:91–97.

    DOI: 10.1901/jaba.1968.1-91Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lays out the defining features of applied behavior analysis and distinguishes it from other behavioral research. This article is a great starting place for those unfamiliar with the field.

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  • Cooper, J. O., T. E. Heron, and W. L. Heward. 2007. Applied behavior analysis. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    This is the definitive text in applied behavior analysis and is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the field. The authors integrate content and task lists from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board.

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  • Martin, G., and J. Pear. 2009. Behavior modification: What it is and how to do it. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    A handbook of operant conditioning in applied settings intended to function both as a university textbook and a “how-to” guide for practitioners with no background in psychology or behavior analysis.

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  • Miltenberger, R. G. 2008. Behavior modification: Principles and procedures. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

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    An introductory textbook written for readers without any previous knowledge of operant conditioning.

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  • Pryor, K. 2002. Don’t shoot the dog: The new art of teaching and training. 3d ed. Lyndey, UK: Ringpress.

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    Introduces the use of operant principles for animal training and for modifying everyday human behavior, pointing out common errors and offering solutions.

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  • Vollmer, T. R., B. A. Iwata, T. J. Cuvo, W. L. Heward, R. G. Miltenberger, and N. A. Neef. 2000. Behavior analysis: Applications and extensions. Lawrence, KS: Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

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    A collection of over sixty articles published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. These articles review or illustrate an applied operant principle, procedure, or specialized extension.

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Conceptual and Philosophical Foundations

Prior to accessing the recommended sources below regarding conceptual and philosophical foundations of behaviorism, it is important to remember that behaviorism itself is not a science, but rather, it is a philosophy of the science. This issue (and other fundamental philosophical issues pertaining to radical behaviorism) is addressed in Lattal and Chase 2003. Day 1983 reviews some of the main philosophical influences on B. F. Skinner’s radical behaviorism, which include Machian positivism, pragmatism, and evolutionary theory. Currently, there are a variety of “behaviorisms,” and no single characterization can be said to represent all of them. Indeed, Skinner’s views about behaviorism changed in important ways during his lifetime. That being said, there are several common properties of most contemporary “behaviorisms.” Delprato and Midgley 1992 highlights these, including (a) concern with the prediction and control of behavior as the prime objective of a science of behavior, (b) the view that selectionism is the primary causal mode by which the environment influences behavior (i.e., that operant behavior is selected by its consequences), (c) the view that the causes of behavior are to be found in the evolutionary and learning history of the organism (phylogeny and ontogeny), and (d) the rejection of mentalisms as causes of behavior. As Moore 2008 explains, a mentalism is a form of circular reasoning. It is using a description of a behavior as an explanation for behavior. For example, attributing a crime to low self-esteem, low intelligence, or to a hypothesized state of mind as a cause for the behavior are examples of a mentalism. The issue is not that these states do not exist, but rather, that descriptions of behavior do not explain the causes of that behavior in a useful way. We should emphasize that the objection is not to internal or private states in general but to the logic and utility of using these states as causes of behavior, an issue that Skinner 1953 explains in greater depth. Finally, Skinner 1999 also addresses issues concerning how people are taught to talk about internal states when these states are not accessible to others.

  • Day, W. 1983. On the difference between radical and methodological behaviorism. Behaviorism 11:89–102.

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    This seminal article differentiates the radical behaviorism associated with B. F. Skinner from the methodological behaviorism associated with cognitive psychologists. Although the article provides an excellent overview of radical behaviorism and the philosophical influences on Skinner, it is fairly difficult, thus it is recommended for graduate students of behavioral psychology.

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  • Delprato, D. J., and B. D. Midgley. 1992. Some fundamentals of B. F. Skinner’s behaviorism. American Psychologist 47:1507–1520.

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    Addresses the core tenets of Skinner’s behaviorism in a comprehensive fashion by distilling his main works into twelve key points that summarize his view. This is an excellent introduction to radical behaviorism and provides useful references to guide further research into this area.

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  • Lattal, K. A., and P. N. Chase, eds. 2003. Behavior theory and philosophy. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

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    Examines core principles in the philosophy of science and explains their special relevance to behavioral psychology. This resource focuses on behavioral psychology’s three levels of knowing: experimental, applied, and interpretive analyses. The extent to which these levels collectively inform a science of behavior is also discussed.

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  • Moore, J. 2008. Conceptual foundations of radical behaviorism. Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY: Sloan.

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    Discusses radical behaviorism as a philosophy and describes the radical behaviorist view on important topics such as verbal behavior, private events, and the challenges posed by mentalisms and cognitive psychology. This book is a useful introduction for psychology students interested in enhancing their understanding of radical behaviorism.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1953. Science and human behavior. New York: Macmillan.

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    This groundbreaking book discusses the radical behaviorist perspective on topics such as private events, motivation, government, education, and religion in a chapter-by-chapter fashion. This work is especially appropriate for psychology students who are interested in obtaining more information on behaviorism.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1999. An operational analysis of psychological terms. In Cumulative record. By B. F. Skinner, 416–430. Acton, MA: Copley.

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    Explains how a person’s verbal community teaches them to discuss internal events. The notion of an “operational analysis” may be difficult to understand due to the baggage implied by the term “operational.” Skinner’s analysis is not about operational definitions, and he criticizes the practice of studying psychological terms using operational definitions. Reprinted from Psychological Review 52 (1945):270–277.

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Social Issues and Culture

The field of operant conditioning has made rich contributions to the study of broad social and cultural issues, including threats posed by consumerism, nuclear proliferation, and other human rights and social justice issues. Skinner made several contributions along these lines, and he was optimistic throughout most of his lifetime about the ability of a science of human behavior to help make the world safer, happier, and more stable. Skinner 1948 and Skinner 1971 are accessible and meant for a general audience, and they reflect Skinner’s early optimism. Chance 2007 documents how Skinner became pessimistic later in life about the ability of a science of behavior to meaningfully impact human affairs. This is an excellent article that will be of interest to those concerned with human welfare. Conceptual issues related to the study of cultural practices are provided by Glenn 1988 and Malagodi 1986. Greenwood, et al. 1992 is an excellent, data-based example of how behavior analysis can positively impact a community. The journal Behavior and Social Issues also addresses a range of cultural issues from a behavior-analytic perspective, as does the special interest group Behaviorists for Social Responsibility.

Methodology

In general, the methodology of operant conditioning is distinct from those of other areas of psychology in terms of both logic and design. The majority of psychological researchers use group designs, in which individuals are randomly assigned to groups, each of which experiences some level of an independent variable (e.g., drug or placebo). Averages of each group are taken on a measure of interest and compared using inferential statistics to determine whether the manipulation had an effect. In contrast, most behavior analytic experiments use a single-subject or single-case design, which—as the name suggests—examines behavior at the level of the individual rather than the average behavior of a group. Single-subject designs measure behavior over extended periods of time and rely on baseline logic and a steady-state strategy that allow for experimental prediction, verification, and replication. Analysis of the data is often accomplished through sophisticated visual inspection of graphed data rather than statistical analysis. Although single-subject designs are not widely used in psychological research, they are a powerful means of identifying and changing environmental factors that impact behavior. Readers should have a general understanding of experimentation and methodology in behavioral research to benefit the most from these sources. Johnston and Pennypacker 2009; Kazdin 2011; and Barlow, et al. 2009 all offer equally excellent and in-depth coverage of single-subject designs in applied and clinical research, whereas some researchers may prefer Sidman 1988. For a brief overview of single-subject designs, see Morgan and Morgan 2001. Lattal and Perone 1998 and Iwata, et al. 2000 cover advanced methodology for specific areas within operant psychology and are best suited for graduate students and researchers in behavior analysis. Arguments for studying individual subjects and using visual analysis rather than alternative practices found in psychology are raised in Skinner 1956.

  • Barlow, D. H., M. K. Nock, and M. Hersen. 2009. Single case experimental designs: Strategies for studying behavior change. 3d ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

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    An in-depth sourcebook for single-subject designs in behavioral research. Methodological descriptions are supplemented with examples and visual displays. This text also devotes an entire chapter to statistical analyses of single-subject data.

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  • Iwata, B. A., N. A. Neef, D. P. Wacker, F. C. Mace, T. R. Vollmer, and R. H. Thompson, eds. 2000. Methodological and conceptual issues in applied behavior analysis: 1968–1999 from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 2d ed. Lawrence, KS: Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

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    This reprint series includes nearly seventy articles published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis that cover a variety of methodological issues. Although the focus is on applied research, many of the articles are relevant to operant conditioning methods more generally.

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  • Johnston, J. M., and H. S. Pennypacker. 2009. Strategies and tactics of behavioral research. 3d ed. New York: Routledge.

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    Covers the goals, methods, and procedures of single-subject behavioral research in an easy-to-read new edition that emphasizes the utility of these methods for applied research and service delivery.

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  • Kazdin, A. E. 2011. Single-case research designs: Methods for clinical and applied settings. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A concise description and evaluation of single-subject logic, assessment, measurement, and design written for clinical researchers. Includes a helpful chapter on graphic display and visual information for researchers who are only accustomed to statistical analyses.

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  • Lattal, K., and A. Perone. 1998. Handbook of research methods in human operant behavior. New York: Plenum.

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    This extensive collection of chapters covers in great detail virtually every major human operant method and its development and includes a section on new directions for emerging research methods.

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  • Morgan, D. L., and R. K. Morgan. 2001. Single-participant research design: Bringing science to managed care. American Psychologist 56:119–127.

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    Provides a general description of single-subject research and suggests that single-subject rather than group designs should be used to demonstrate the usefulness of clinical interventions in managed care settings.

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  • Sidman, M. 1988. Tactics of scientific research: Evaluating experimental data in psychology. Boston: Authors Cooperative.

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    Considered a classic in behavior analysis and experimental psychology more generally. Although the majority of this work focuses on details of single-subject designs, Sidman allocates multiple chapters to basic methodological concepts such as replication and variability of data. First published in 1960.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1956. A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist 11:221–233.

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    When asked to write a paper on a system of the methods used to gain knowledge, Skinner responded that he was not in a position to understand and report the important variables of his own behavior. Instead, he provides this historical account of his developments in the laboratory.

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Education

Operant conditioning explains how behaviors are acquired, maintained, and changed by environmental consequences. As such, it should come as no surprise that this topic has great relevance to the domain of education. By understanding and applying operant principles to learning, students can drastically improve their efficiency and teachers can engineer classrooms that make learning easier and more fun. The readings below highlight several effective instructional and classroom management techniques gleaned from operant conditioning. For example, Lindsley 1992 describes precision teaching, which incorporates features of operant psychology such as frequent monitoring and the use of sensitive behavioral measures to assess learning (i.e., rate of response instead of percentage correct). However, a recurring theme in this area is that most operant learning strategies do not mesh well with the American education system and are rarely adopted, despite the fact that some operant approaches produce nearly twice as much learning with the same effort. Schloss and Smith 1998 and Vargas 2009 are introductory textbooks highly recommended for teachers who want to learn how to use operant conditioning to improve their classrooms. Both include useful guidelines and resources that educators can modify for their own needs (e.g., data collection forms). Basic descriptions and the evidence for various teaching and learning strategies that emerged from operant conditioning research are reviewed in Kinder and Carnine 1991; Lindsley 1992; and Buskist, et al. 1991. Readers with a background in operant conditioning will find valuable discussions in Heward, et al. 2004, which covers recent issues related to the progress and challenges of integrating behavior analysis in education. Skinner 1984 is one of many writings in which he criticizes the American education system’s failure to use a science of behavior to improve learning.

  • Buskist, W., D. Cush, and R. J. DeGrandpre. 1991. The life and times of PSI. Journal of Behavioral Education 1:215–234.

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    An overview of a personalized system of instruction and the effectiveness of its components. The authors review evidence showing that personalized systems of instruction are superior to traditional teaching methods and explain why these systems were never adopted.

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  • Heward, W. L., T. E. Heron, N. A. Neef, S. M. Peterson, D. M. Sainato, G. Y. Cartledge, R. Gardner, and J. C. Dardig. 2004. Focus on behavior analysis in education: Achievements, challenges, and opportunities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    A collection of recent papers that cover a range of topics on operant conditioning and education, including the role of operant conditioning in treating children with autism. This book is an excellent representation of the present status of the relationship between behavior analysis and education.

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  • Kinder, D., and D. Carnine. 1991. Direct Instruction: What it is and what it is becoming. Journal of Behavioral Education 1:193–213.

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    Describes the principles of direct instruction and the outcomes of direct instruction in low-income and special education populations. Concludes with a discussion of the potential of technology to improve existing applications.

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  • Lindsley, O. R. 1992. Precision teaching: Discoveries and effects. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 25:51–57.

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    An introduction to precision teaching, its origins, and its effectiveness. This article includes hypothetical and real-life examples that illustrate how precision teaching can be implemented to change and refine behaviors.

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  • Schloss, P. J., and M. A. Smith. 1998. Applied behavior analysis in the classroom. 2d ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    Operant principles are introduced and discussed in the context of education. Contains essential information and guidelines for teachers who want to improve their own classrooms by using behavior analytic techniques.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1984. The shame of American education. American Psychologist 39:947–954.

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    Skinner sharply criticizes educational practices in the United States and argues that a major reason for their ineffectiveness lies in the culture’s psychological beliefs about human behavior. He suggests specific ways in which operant conditioning could be applied to fix the educational system.

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  • Vargas, J. S. 2009. Behavior analysis for effective teaching. New York: Routledge.

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    The author, who happens to be B. F. Skinner’s daughter, discusses the significance of operant conditioning in teaching and offers practical methods and suggestions for using it effectively. Fittingly, the content of the book is presented in a manner consistent with a behavior analytic approach to teaching.

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Behavioral Pharmacology and Substance Abuse

Behavioral pharmacology is the study of how drugs affect behavior and how drugs interact with environment-behavior relations. Carlton 1983 and McKim 2006 are the most basic introductions to the field. For those with limited knowledge of behavioral pharmacology but some behavioral analytic training, Poling and Bryne 2000 and Thompson and Schuster 1968 are recommended, as is Branch 1991. Behavioral pharmacology emphasizes the actions of drugs on the behaving individual (human or nonhuman), and how the environment and even ongoing behavior can influence these actions. The study of the behavioral effects of drugs draws from several levels of analysis, including neural underpinnings, principles of operant learning, and social/cultural influences. Laties 2003 represents an excellent review of the contributions that operant psychology, specifically, has made to critical developments in the field of behavioral pharmacology. A central finding in behavioral pharmacology is that the actions of a drug on behavior are not determined solely by physiological factors: the environment can profoundly influence drug effects. For example, a drug such as amphetamine can either enhance or suppress behavior depending on environmental factors. Some additional topics in the field include behavioral tolerance and sensitization, preclinical research on medication development, the roles of social and contextual factors on drug effects, abuse liability of drugs, drug effects on learning and memory, and behavioral and pharmacological treatments for substance abuse. Though the resources suggested below do not discuss all of these topics in great depth, Griffiths, et al. 2003 provides a fairly in-depth discussion of behavioral methods for assessing drug abuse liability, as does Higgins, et al. 2008 with respect to discussing a specific behavioral treatment for substance abuse.

  • Branch, M. N. 1991. Behavioral pharmacology. In Experimental analysis of behavior (Part 2). Edited by I. H. Iverson and K. A. Lattal, 21–77. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

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    This excellent overview of behavioral pharmacology reviews the objectives and the experimental methods commonly used by behavioral pharmacologists. Key topics in the field of behavioral pharmacology such as dose-response functions, contextual factors influencing drug effects, and interactions between drugs and behavioral processes. This book is appropriate for students who have a basic understanding of behavior analysis.

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  • Carlton, P. L. 1983. A primer of behavioral pharmacology. New York: W. H. Freeman.

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    Defines and explains key topics in behavioral pharmacology using accessible terminology. Addresses topics such as rate-dependency, drugs as stimuli, tolerance, and the behavioral classification of drugs in a useful, chapter-by-chapter fashion. This simplified introduction to the field is recommended for any psychology students seeking a glimpse into the field of behavioral pharmacology.

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  • Griffiths, R. R., G. E. Bigelow, and N. A. Ator. 2003. Principles of initial experimental drug abuse liability assessment in humans. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 70:S41–S54.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0376-8716(03)00098-XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Describes the rationale and typical methodology for assessing the abuse liability of new substances in a fairly technical manner. This article emphasizes the importance of using outcome measures that accurately capture the likelihood of abuse of a new substance. Recommended for students who are familiar with behavioral pharmacology.

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  • Higgins, S. T., K. Silverman, and S. H. Heil. 2008. Contingency management in substance abuse treatment. New York: Guilford.

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    Comprehensive overview of contingency management procedures and the conditions under which they are effective. Useful introduction to contingency management and the behavioral processes it is based on. This is an appropriate resource for practitioners who are interested in practical, evidence-based, behavioral treatments for substance-use disorders.

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  • Laties, V. G. 2003. Behavior analysis and the growth of behavioral pharmacology. Behavior Analyst 26: 235–252.

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    Reviews the contributions that operant psychology made to the development of behavioral pharmacology. This is an excellent introduction to the history of behavioral pharmacology.

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  • McKim, W. A. 2006. Drugs and behavior: An introduction to behavioral pharmacology. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    This introductory-level review of basic behavioral pharmacological principles and methods is appropriate for students with limited behavioral pharmacology terminology. This book discusses key topics within behavioral pharmacology in an easy-to-follow, chapter-by-chapter fashion, in which basic foundations are provided before progressing into more complex topics.

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  • Poling, A., and T. Byrne. 2000. Introduction to behavioral pharmacology. Reno, NV: Context.

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    This behavioral pharmacology primer is appropriate for those with limited knowledge of pharmacology and a moderate amount of behavior analytic training. This primer applies commonly used terms in operant psychology to explain the objectives, methods, and phenomena observed within the field of behavioral pharmacology.

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  • Thompson, T., and C. R. Schuster. 1968. Behavioral pharmacology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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    This groundbreaking book on behavioral pharmacology principles and methods is appropriate for advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate students. The book represents the earliest text on the topic and thus outlines some of the orienting conceptual and methodological strategies in the field.

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Biology and Behavior

An organism’s biological makeup enables selection of behavior based on consequences. In other words, organisms have inherited their susceptibility to operant conditioning. The contributions made by an organism’s evolutionary history (i.e., phylogeny) and its learning history (i.e., ontogeny) to its behavior are discussed by Skinner 1984. Thompson 2007 provides numerous examples of how biological variables may serve as motivating operations, discriminative stimuli, or consequences in an experimental analysis. A more basic explanation of the contributions of biological variables (e.g., genes) to behavior is provided by Schneider 2012. Buccafusco 2009 provides a broad, comprehensive overview of the utility of behavior analytic methods in neuroscience research. An overview of neurobiological mechanisms for reinforcement is provided by Robbins and Everitt 1996. Schultz 2010 and Mirenowicz and Schultz 1994 review neural mechanisms underlying reinforcement.

  • Buccafusco, J. J. 2009. Methods of behavioral analysis in neuroscience. 2d ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

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    This book describes the use of behavior analytic methods across diverse areas of neuroscience research (e.g., brain areas involved in contextual fear conditioning, interoceptive drug states as discriminative stimuli, mesolimbic dopamine functioning in conditioned place preference).

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  • Mirenowicz, J., and W. Schultz. 1994. Importance of unpredictability for reward responses in primate dopamine neurons. Journal of Neurophysiology 72:1024–1027.

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    Groundbreaking work on the responses of dopamine neurons in monkeys using a classical conditioning preparation. Recommended for students of behavior with a solid understanding of the Rescorla-Wagner model, as well as rudimentary knowledge about neurophysiology (e.g., neuron structure and function).

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  • Robbins, T. W., and B. J. Everitt. 1996. Neurobehavioural mechanisms of reward and motivation. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 6:228–236.

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    Summarizes critical findings with respect to learning and the neurobiology of motivation and reinforcement, then synthesizes this information in a discussion of the neurocircuitry that may underlie processes such as reinforcement, punishment, and others.

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  • Schneider, S. M. 2012. The science of consequences: How they affect genes, change the brain, and impact our world. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

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    Excellent introduction to the contributions of genes, neurotransmitters, etc. to operant behavior. Exemplifies many behavioral principles using language that could be understood by individuals with minimal training in behavior analysis or neuroscience.

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  • Schultz, W. 2010. Dopamine signals for reward value and risk: Basic and recent data. Behavioral and Brain Functions 6:24.

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    Comprehensive, albeit highly technical, review of research using behavioral and neurophysiological methods to record dopamine activity in monkeys performing behavioral tasks. Characterizes activity of dopamine neurotransmitter systems as involved primarily in transmitting information about reinforcement.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1984. The phylogeny and ontogeny of behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7:669–677.

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    This seminal paper by Skinner describes the contributions to behavior made by interacting phylogenic and ontogenic contingencies. A solid understanding of the main principles of behaviorism is necessary to understand this work.

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  • Thompson, T. 2007. Relations among functional systems in behavior analysis. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 87:423–440.

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    Describes and provides examples about the roles that biological variables may play in an experimental analysis. A thorough understanding of the three-term contingency is a prerequisite to understanding this work.

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Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy is based upon the principles of both classical and operant conditioning. Therapy achieves behavior change by determining the causes of undesired behaviors and then targeting these causes in treatment to produce change. Martin and Pear 2009 provides a comprehensive review of issues pertaining to the identification of both problem behaviors and their antecedents, as well as issues pertaining to the implementation and evaluation of behavior therapy programs. O’Donahue 1997 provides a comparable review, although this text contains a greater emphasis on the relevance of basic research for behavior therapy. Dougher 2000 covers the approach to treatment taken by behavior therapists, based on a behavioral view of psychological disorders. For example, early behavior therapists used techniques based on extinction procedures to eliminate fears and phobias. These techniques included systematic desensitization, in vivo exposure therapy, and (much less commonly) flooding. Contemporary behavior therapists also employ these techniques, and they have also incorporated techniques based on modern theories of verbal and symbolic behavior. This group of therapists, and the conceptual and empirical foundations supporting them, has been called the “third wave” of behavior therapy. Examples of these therapies include acceptance and commitment therapy and functional analytic psychotherapy. All major behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies are discussed in Spiegler and Guevremont 2010. Behavior therapists are trained to treat a wide range of psychopathology, including enuresis, childhood behavior problems, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, marital and relationship problems, and more. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies provides information regarding empirically supported behavioral and cognitive therapies that might be useful in treating these types of psychopathologies (among others).

  • Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

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    A useful website for consumers, researchers, and clinicians. Provides information about evidence-based therapies. One particularly interesting feature of this site is that it suggests separate links for public/media, educators/students, and ABCT members exclusively, making the site organized and easy to navigate for any visitor.

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  • Dougher, M. J. 2000. Clinical behavior analysis. Reno, NV: Context.

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    Discusses the assessment, classification, and treatment of psychological disorders from a behavioral perspective. Includes chapters on acceptance and commitment and functional analytic psychotherapy. This book is appropriate for behavior analysis students, as well as for practitioners seeking to either incorporate behavioral interventions in their therapies or to simply enhance their understanding of the relevance of behaviorism to clinical practice.

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  • Martin, G., and J. Pear. 2009. Behavior modification: What it is and how to do it. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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    Comprehensive overview of issues related to behavior modification, including the design, implementation, and evaluation of behavior modification programs. Several chapters at the end of the book are relevant to behavior therapy per se, including evaluations of large-scale clinical trials comparing behavioral and cognitive approaches.

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  • O’Donahue, W. 1997. Learning and behavior therapy. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    This is a helpful review of contemporary learning research and the relevance of this work for treating clinical disorders. One theme of the book is linking basic research with behavior therapy. Specific topics covered include classical conditioning, punishment, extinction, and stimulus equivalence. This book is targeted at clinicians and behavior therapists, though it would also be well understood by interested students of clinical or behavior-analytic psychology.

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  • Spiegler, M. D., and D. C. Guevremont. 2010. Contemporary behavior therapy. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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    This is a useful textbook for students new to behavioral psychology or behavioral therapy that discusses all major behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies. This book also addresses the most contemporary therapies being employed today. This broad and simplified overview of behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapies is an ideal textbook for undergraduates in psychology.

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Organizational Behavior Management

Applications of operant conditioning to business and industry are also prevalent. The field of organizational behavior management has emerged as a data-based, behaviorally driven field focusing on a range of behavior in a variety of business settings. For example, research and practice has included behavioral safety, performance management, worker satisfaction, and worker relations. Chase and Smith 1994 and Daniels and Daniels 2004 are recommended as overviews. Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies also has some good resources related to OBM. Organizational Behavior Network also supplies information and resources about research and practice.

Misconceptions and Responses

Misconceptions about behaviorism are prevalent among non-behavioral psychologists and scientists outside the field. B. F. Skinner: Misunderstood Proponent of Behaviorism discusses some of the common misconceptions and provides responses to each of them using primary sources. The first chapter of About Behaviorism (Skinner 1974) also lists common misconceptions that non-behavioral psychologists have espoused about radical behaviorism. For example, one common misconception is that behaviorism denies the existence of internal states (e.g., feelings) and biological influences on behavior (e.g., that the brain is a “black box”). Morris, et al. 2004 addresses this latter misconception by discussing Skinner’s writings on topics such as evolution and genetics. As discussed by Dinsmoor 1992, Skinner’s social views have also been misrepresented in depictions of Skinner as a totalitarian who sought to control others’ behavior. Todd and Morris 1992 addresses this same misconception, in addition to two others. In reality, Skinner proposed eliminating the use of averse control tactics in favor of modifying peoples’ environments such that different reinforcers were sought and healthier, more sustainable cultures emerged. Misconceptions also abound with respect to Skinner’s views regarding language, and many of these issues are taken up in MacCorquodale 1970. Another misconception is that behaviorists disavow all theory: actually what behaviorists object to is not theory in general but rather the practice of conducting research to affirm theories rather than developing theories after adequate experimental analysis. Though many misconceptions exist with respect to radical behaviorism, textbooks about Skinnerian behaviorism that are free of such misconceptions and distortions do exist: Richelle 1993, a reappraisal of Skinner’s philosophy and research, is one of these texts.

  • B. F. Skinner: Misunderstood Proponent of Behaviorism.

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    Useful website for skeptics that addresses common misconceptions about Skinner, with quotations from Skinner provided as nice refutations of these misconceptions. This site is appropriate for individuals with little knowledge of radical behaviorism and an awareness of the fact that this philosophy has been met with some resistance. Citations are provided with Skinner’s refutations so that interested individuals can access complete sources.

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  • Dinsmoor, J. A. 1992. Setting the record straight: The social views of B. F. Skinner. American Psychologist 47:1454–1554.

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    Evaluates misconceptions about Skinner’s social views and hypothesizes which tenets of behaviorism gave rise to these misconceptions. Addresses potentially confusing aspects of behaviorism, behavioral methodologies that have generated negative reactions (e.g., animal research), and suggests that a proper understanding of Skinner’s views would contribute to a perception of him as libertarian rather than totalitarian.

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  • MacCorquodale, K. 1970. On Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 13:83–99.

    DOI: 10.1901/jeab.1970.13-83Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Addresses key misconceptions in Chomsky’s 1959 criticism of Skinner’s 1957 book Verbal Behavior. Understanding Skinner’s analysis of speech in terms of “controlling relations,” as well as Chomsky’s objections to a behavioral conception of verbal behavior, is a prerequisite to a thorough understanding of this article.

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  • Morris, E. K., J. F. Lazo, and N. G. Smith. 2004. Whether, when, and why Skinner published on biological participation in behavior. Behavior Analyst 27:153–169.

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    Counters the misconception that Skinner ignored or disavowed biological influences on behavior by reviewing his many articles on the contributions of genetics, physiology, and evolution on behavior. Citations are provided for readers interested in accessing any of these complete sources.

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  • Richelle, M. N. 1993. B. F. Skinner: A reappraisal. Hove, UK: Erlbaum.

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    This introduction to Skinner’s philosophy and work is absent of the distortions or misconceptions advanced by ill-informed critics of radical behaviorism. This article also discusses the relationship between psychology more generally and other disciplines (e.g., neuroscience, linguistics, etc.). This book targets psychology students of any concentration seeking an unbiased exposure to radical behaviorism.

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  • Skinner, B. F. 1974. About behaviorism. New York: Knopf.

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    Introduction to this book lists twenty misconceptions about behaviorism that are discredited in subsequent chapters. This book would also be an excellent first exposure to radical behaviorism for those who are unfamiliar with the philosophy, as it provides useful definitions of common behavioral terms and explains core tenets of this view in an easy-to-read, interesting, and relatively non-technical matter.

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  • Todd, J. T., and E. K. Morris. 1992. Case histories in the great power of steady misrepresentation. American Psychologist 47:1441–1453.

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    Refutes three misconceptions about behaviorism: its purported environmentalism, its totalitarianism, and its intellectual intolerance. References the works of Skinner in a way that assumes some familiarity with them; thus, this resource is recommended for students with a moderate knowledge of both the radical behaviorist view and the typical criticisms of this view made by nonbehavioral psychologists.

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LAST MODIFIED: 10/29/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199828340-0043

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