B. F. Skinner

(Burrhus Frederic Skinner)

Quote Topics Cited
A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment. Human Nature
Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
For twenty five hundred years people have been preoccupied with feelings and mental life, but only recently has any interest been shown in a more precise analysis of the role of the environment. Ignorance of that role led in the first place to mental fictions, and it has been perpetuated by the explanatory practices to which they gave rise Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
I would rather not depend on sophisticated statistics to demonstrate behavior. I prefer to design experiments that will produce interocular effects—hit you between the eyes. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
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. Freedom & Liberty
Many instructional arrangements seem "contrived," but there is nothing wrong with that. It is the teacher's function to contrive conditions under which students learn. Their relevance to a future usefulness need not be obvious. It is a difficult assignment. The conditions the teacher arranges must be powerful enough to compete with those under which the student tends to behave in distracting ways. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
Physical restraint is an obvious condition, which seems particularly useful in defining freedom, but with respect to important issues, it is a metaphor and not a very good one. People are indeed controlled by fetters, handcuffs, strait jackets, and the walls of jails and concentration camps, but what may be called behavioral control--the restraint imposed by contingencies of reinforcement--is a very different thing. Freedom & Liberty
Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless. Society ;Families, Children & Parenting
The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
To acquire behavior, the student must engage in behavior Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
We must delegate control of the population as a whole to specialists—to police, priests, teachers, therapies, and so on, with their specialized reinforcers and their codified contingencies Management & Managing Government
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. Education, Learning, Knowledge & Training
A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. Failure
A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.
Behavior used to be reinforced by great deprivation; if people weren't hungry, they wouldn't work. Now we are committed to feeding people whether they work or not. Nor is money as great a reinforcer as it once was. People no longer work for punitive reasons, yet our culture offers no new satisfactions. Money, Coins & Minting ;Work, Workers & The Labor Force
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.
Give me a child and I'll shape him into anything.
Great scientific contributions have been techniques.
I am opposed to the military use of animals. I am also opposed to the military use of men.
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. Business, Commerce & Finance
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. Life
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. History
I don't know whether I want to improve religion or not. I prefer to get rid of it. Religion & God
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.
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.
I never really expected to be controversial.
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. Religion & God
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.
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. Life
If you insist that individual rights are the summum bonum, then the whole structure of society falls down. Society
If you're old, don't try to change yourself, change your environment.
I'm very pessimistic.
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? Future
No theory changes what it is a theory about; man remains what he has always been.
Properly used, positive reinforcement is extremely powerful.
Reinforcement is being right.
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. Work, Workers & The Labor Force
The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again.
The environment shapes people's actions.
The environment will continue to deteriorate until pollution practices are abandoned.
The feeling of being interested can act as a kind of neurological signal, directing us to fruitful areas of inquiry.
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.
The people who control the condition in which we live have no reason to think beyond more than the next five or 10 years.
The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do. Science, Mathematics, Engineering & Technology
Those few people who do respond to the dire conditions of the future - journalists, environmentalists, behavioral scientists - tend not to be powerful. Future
We have not yet seen what man can make of man.
We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. Love, Romance, Marriage & Sex
What is sought can never produce the seeking.
When you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.
You can get along very well in this world by simply coming up with a quantity of reasonably valid statements.