PSYCH 413 Lecture 11: Radical Behaviorism

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9 Feb 2017

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October 11, 2016
Radical Behaviorism
B. F. Skinner
Life and education
Daniel Bjork, Biography (1993)
Multi-volume autobiography
Raised in Susquehanna, PA
Younger (popular, athletic) brother dies at 16; deeply affects Skinner
Always hard worker
Always avid reader
Arrogant, independent youth
Letters of recommendation to Hamilton College:
“…passionately fond of arguing with his teachers”
“…does not actually believe that he is wiser than his teachers, but I have found that he
gives that impression…”
Hamilton College, Clinton, NY (BA 1926)
Never took a psychology course
English major (creative writing)
Encouraged by encounter with Robert Frost
Met Frost at writers’ workshop
Sends him three stories
Got positive reviews from Frost
After graduation “dark year” (1927) as writer (at home, Greenwich Village, Paris)
Parents not happy about his becoming a writer
Suffers “writer’s block”
Reads popular articles about Behaviorism
Reads Pavlov and Watson (while in Greenwich Village)
Radical behaviorism
Opposes “theory building” (e.g. Hull and Tolman)
Intervening variables are “explanatory fictions”
Science entails inductive generalizations
The “Technological Ideal” and the control of behavior
Follows Bacon: Control - the true goal of science
No causal role for consciousness
Habitual behavior does not require conscious experience
Misguided arguments for animal consciousness
All animal behavior and most human behavior can be accounted for with Skinner’s
No distinction between public and private events
Thoughts are just another kind of behavior
All are functions of patterns of reinforcement
All can be scientifically studied via functional analysis
Opponent of cognitive psychology until the day he died
Eight days before he died gave speech at APA convention attacking cognitive
Referred to cognitive psychology as equivalent of “scientific creationism in biology”
Published (posthumously) as: “Can psychology be a science of the mind?” American
Psychologist, 45, 1990
Functional analysis of behavior
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