B. F. Skinner Quotes

B. F. Skinner Quotes

Burrhus Frederic Skinner, commonly known as B.F. Skinner, was a prominent psychologist and behaviorist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in 20th-century psychology. He was born on March 20, 1904, in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.

Skinner received his undergraduate degree in English literature from Hamilton College and went on to study psychology at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1931. While at Harvard, Skinner was influenced by the work of behaviorist John B. Watson, who emphasized the importance of observable behavior in psychology.

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Skinner’s most significant contribution to psychology was the development of operant conditioning, a process by which behavior is shaped through rewards and punishments. In his famous Skinner Box experiments, he trained rats and pigeons to perform specific behaviors by rewarding them with food when they exhibited the desired behavior. This work laid the foundation for modern behaviorism and has had a significant impact on education, training, and therapy.

Skinner also developed the concept of the programmed instruction, which used a step-by-step approach to teaching and learning. He believed that students could learn more effectively if they were exposed to information in a particular order and at a pace that was appropriate for their level of understanding.

In addition to his work in psychology, Skinner was also an accomplished author, publishing several books on behaviorism, including “Walden Two” and “Beyond Freedom and Dignity.” He also received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to psychology, including the National Medal of Science in 1968.

Skinner died on August 18, 1990, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His ideas continue to influence the fields of psychology, education, and philosophy.

Skinner’s quotes are very intellectual and thought provoking. Read on to explore a compilation of some of the best known quotes by B. F. Skinner.

Famous B. F. Skinner Quotes

1. “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.”

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2. “Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.”

Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. - B.F. Skinner

3. “If there is any purpose or direction in the evolution of a culture, it has to do with bringing people under the control of more and more of the consequences of their behaviour.”

4. “Compare two people, one of whom has been crippled by an accident, the other by an early environmental history which makes him lazy and, when criticized, mean. Both cause great inconvenience to others, but one dies a martyr, the other a scoundrel.”

5. “I would have been glad to agree to let them all proceed henceforth in complete ignorance of psychology, if they would forget my opinion of chocolate sodas or the story of the amusing episode on a Spanish streetcar.

6. “Each of us has interests which conflict the interests of everybody else… ‘everybody else’ we call ‘society’. It’s a powerful opponent and it always wins. Oh, here and there an individual prevails for a while and gets what he wants. Sometimes he storms the culture of a society and changes it to his own advantage. But society wins in the long run, for it has the advantage of numbers and of age.”

7. “Any single historical event is too complex to be adequately known by anyone. It transcends all the intellectual capacities of men. Our practice is to wait until a sufficient number of details have been forgotten. Of course things seem simpler then! Our memories work that way; we retain the facts which are easiest to think about.”

8. “The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again.”

9. “The world’s a poor standard. any society which is free of hunger and violence looks bright against that background.”

10. “The tender sentiment of the ‘one and only’ has less to do with constancy of heart than with singleness of opportunity.”

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11. “The most effective alternative process [to punishment] is probably extinction. This takes time but is much more rapid than allowing the response to be forgotten. The technique seems to be relatively free of objectionable by-products. We recommend it, for example when we suggest that a parent ‘pay no attention’ to objectionable behavior on the part of his child. If the child’s behavior is strong only because it has been reinforced by ‘getting a rise out of’ the parent, it will disappear when this consequence is no longer forthcoming.”

12. “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.”

13. “The severest trial of oppression is the constant outrage which one suffers at the thought of the oppressor. What Jesus discovered was how to avoid the inner devastations. His technique was to practice the opposite emotion… [a man] may not get his freedom or possessions back, but he’s less miserable. It’s a difficult lesson.”

14. “Something doing every minute’ may be a gesture of despair–or the height of a battle against boredom.”

15. “Why did colleges make their students take examinations, and why did they give grade? What did a grade really mean? When a student “studied” did he do anything more than read and think– or was there something special which no one in Walden Two would know about? Why did the professors lecture to the students? Were the students never expected to do anything except answer questions? Was it true that students were made to read books they were not interested in?”

16. “Fame is also won at the expense of others. Even the well-deserved honors of the scientist or man of learning are unfair to many persons of equal achievements who get none. When one man gets a place in the sun, the others are put in a denser shade. From the point of view of the whole group there’s no gain whatsoever, and perhaps a loss.”

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

18. “Freedom is an illusion, but a valuable one.”

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

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

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21. “The amateur doesn’t appreciate the need for experimentation. He wants his experts to know.”

22. “Nowadays, everybody fancies himself an expert in government and wants to have a say.”

Nowadays, everybody fancies himself an expert in government and wants to have a say. -B.F. Skinner

23. “The rat is always right.”

24. “In a democracy, there is no check against despotism, because the principle of democracy is supposed to be itself a check. But it guarantees only that the majority will not be despotically ruled.”

25. “Once in a while a new government initiates a program to put power to better use, but its success or failure never really proves anything. In science, experiments are designed, checked, altered, repeated– but not in politics… We have no real cumulative knowledge. History tells us nothing. That’s the tragedy of a political reformer.”

26. “The hero is a device which the historian has taken over from the layman. He uses it because he has no scientific vocabulary or technique for dealing with the real facts of history– the opinions, emotions, attitudes; the wishes, plans, schemes; the habits of men. He can’t talk about them so he talks about heroes.”

27. “We can achieve a sort of control under which the controlled, though they are following a code much more scrupulously than was ever the case under the old system, nevertheless feel free. They are doing what they want to do, not what they are forced to do. That’s the source of the tremendous power of positive reinforcement– there’s no restraint and no revolt. By careful cultural design, we control not the final behavior, but the inclination to behave– the motives, desires, the wishes.”

27. “The final state of affairs may not have been foreseen. Perhaps we are merely reading a plan into the world after the fact.”

28. “In a pre-scientific society the best the common man can do is pin his faith on a leader and give him his support, trusting in his benevolence against the misuse of the delegated power and in his wisdom to govern justly and make war successfully.”

29. “The consequences of behavior determine the probability that the behavior will occur again”

30. “Science not only describes, it predicts. It deals not only with the past but with the future. Nor is prediction the last word: to the extent that relevant conditions can be altered, or otherwise controlled, the future can be controlled. If we are to use the methods of science in the field of human affairs, we must assume that behavior is lawful and determined. We must expect to discover that what a man does is the result of specifiable conditions and that once these conditions have been discovered, we can anticipate and to some extent determine his actions.”

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31. “Science is human behavior, and so is the opposition to science. What”

32. “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.”

33. “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. ”

34. “The only geniuses produced by the chaos of society are those who do something about it. Chaos breeds geniuses. It offers a man something to be a genius about.”

35. “Behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences.”

36. “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.”

37. “No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything it can get at, unless restraining forces have already been at work. And this tendency doesn’t die out, it’s wiped out.”

38. “The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do. The mystery which surrounds a thinking machine already surrounds a thinking man.”

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

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

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41. “A fourth-grade reader may be a sixth-grade mathematician. The grade is an administrative device which does violence to the nature of the developmental process.”

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

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

If freedom is a requisite for human happiness, then all that’s necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom. - B.F. Skinner

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

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

46. “The mob rushes in where individuals fear to tread.”

47. “A scientist may not be sure of the answer, but he’s often sure he can find one. And that’s a condition which is clearly not enjoyed by philosophy.”

48. “Democracy is the spawn of despotism. And like father, like son. Democracy is power and rule. It’s not the will of the people, remember; it’s the will of the majority.”

49. “The majority of people don’t want to plan. They want to be free of the responsibility of planning. What they ask for is merely some assurance that they will be decently provided for. The rest is a day-to-day enjoyment of life. That’s the explanation for your Father Divines; people naturally flock to anyone they can trust for the necessities of life… They are the backbone of a community–solid, trust-worthy, essential.”

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

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51. “Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless.”

52. “It is not a question of starting. The start has been made. It’s a question of what’s to be done from now on.”

53. “…not everyone is willing to defend a position of ‘not knowing.’ There is no virtue in ignorance for its own sake.”

54. “Going out of style isn’t a natural process, but a manipulated change which destroys the beauty of last year’s dress in order to make it worthless.”

55. “A piece of music is an experience to be taken by itself.”

56. “We do not choose survival as a value, it chooses us.”

57. “Promising paradise or threatening hell-fire is, we assumed, generally admitted to be unproductive. It is based upon a fundamental fraud which, when discovered, turns the individual against society and nourishes the very thing it tries to stamp out. What Jesus offered in return of loving one’s enemies was heaven on earth, better known as peace of mind.”

58. “But restraint is the only one sort of control, and absence of restraint isn’t freedom. It’s not control that’s lacking when one feels ‘free’, but the objectionable control of force.”

59. “Men build society and society builds men.”

60. “In the world at large we seldom vote for a principle or a given state of affairs. We vote for a man who pretends to believe in that principle or promises to achieve that state. We don’t want a man, we want a condition of peace and plenty– or, it may be, war and want– but we must vote for a man.”

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

62.“Behavior is determined by its consequences.”

63. “The strengthening of behavior which results from reinforcement is appropriately called ‘conditioning’. In operant conditioning we ‘strengthen’ an operant in the sense of making a response more probable or, in actual fact, more frequent.”

64. “The major difference between rats and people is that rats learn from experience.”

The major difference between rats and people is that rats learn from experience. - B.F. Skinner

65. “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything.”

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

67. “That’s all teaching is; arranging contingencies which bring changes in behavior.”

68. “I did not direct my life. I didn’t design it. I never made decisions. Things always came up and made them for me.”

69. “Do not intervene between a person and the consequences of their own behavior.”

70. “Science is a willingness to accept facts even when they are opposed to wishes.”

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

72. “Teachers must learn how to teach … they need only to be taught more effective ways of teaching.”

73. “To say that… behaviors have different ‘meanings’ is only another way of saying that they are controlled by different variables.”

74. “Unable to understand how or why the person we see behaves as he does, we attribute his behavior to a person we cannot see, whose behavior we cannot explain either but about whom we are not inclined to ask questions.”

75. “Chaos breeds geniuses. It offers a man something to be a genius about.”

76. “Old age is rather like another country. You will enjoy it more if you have prepared yourself before you go.”

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

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

79. “We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”

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

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81. “I’ve often said that my rats have taught me much more than I’ve taught them.”

82. “The simplest and most satisfactory view is that thought is simply behavior – verbal or nonverbal, covert or overt. It is not some mysterious process responsible for behavior but the very behavior itself in all the complexity of its controlling relations.”

83. “If you’re old, don’t try to change yourself, change your environment.”

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

Indeed one of the ultimate advantages of an education is simply coming to the end of it. - B.F. Skinner

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

86. “Was putting a man on the moon actually easier than improving education in our public schools?”

87. “Science, not religion, has taught me my most useful values, among them intellectual honesty. It is better to go without answers than to accept those that merely resolve puzzlement.”

88. “In the traditional view, a person is free. He is autonomous in the sense that his behavior is uncaused. He can therefore be held responsible for what he does and justly punished if he offends. That view, together with its associated practices, must be re-examined when a scientific analysis reveals unsuspected controlling relations between behavior and environment.”

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

90. “Twenty-five hundred years ago it might have been said that man understood himself as well as any other part of the world. Today he is the thing he understands least.”

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91. “I’ve had only one idea in my life – a true idee fixe. To put it as bluntly as possible – the idea of having my own way. ‘Control!’ expresses it. The control of human behavior. In my early experimental days it was a frenzied, selfish desire to dominate. I remember the rage I used to feel when a prediction went awry. I could have shouted at the subjects of my experiments, ‘Behave, damn you! Behave as you ought!”

92. “The juvenile delinquent does not feel his disturbed personality. The intelligent man does not feel his intelligence or the introvert his introversion.”

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

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

95. “When we say that a man controls himself, we must specify who is controlling whom.”

96. “Let men be happy, informed, skillful, well behaved, and productive.”

97. “To say that a man is sinful because he sins is to give an operational definition of sin. To say that he sins because he is sinful is to trace his behavior to a supposed inner trait. But whether or not a person engages in the kind of behavior called sinful depends upon circumstances which are not mentioned in either question. The sin assigned as an inner possession (the sin a person “knows”) is to be found in a history of reinforcement.”

98. “Better contraceptives will control population only if people will use them. A nuclear holocaust can be prevented only if the conditions under which nations make war can be changed. The environment will continue to deteriorate until pollution practices are abandoned. We need to make vast changes in human behavior.”

99. “I will be dead in a few months. But it hasn’t given me the slightest anxiety or worry. I always knew I was going to die.”

100. “A person’s genetic endowment, a product of the evolution of the species, is said to explain part of the workings of his mind and his personal history the rest.”

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