Development History of Psychology Learning/Memory Teaching Tools

Ep 191: What Was B. F. Skinner Really Like?


Would you be surprised to learn that B.F. Skinner was a very likable guy and that you may actually be very much in agreement with his ideas? Many people who study psychology have a negative impression of Skinner. Well, I’m about to challenge those impressions by presenting a side of Skinner you probably haven’t been exposed to. In these sound bytes you’ll hear his ideas about learning to play music, about discovery, having fun and becoming the most that you can be.





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    March 11, 2013

    My apologies – I am moving the episodes over to a different hosting service and the process isn’t complete yet. I’ll prioritize getting this one live. Shouldn’t take more than an hour. I’ll email you when it’s live. Thanks for getting in touch about it! – Michael Britt

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    March 11, 2013

    I’ve used this podcast (191) in class for several years, but the link to audioboom is now saying “access denied”. Is there another platform that might work?

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    March 11, 2013

    I’ve done a bunch of episodes in which I talk about Skinner. As far as I know they’re still up. There’s this one, and this one:

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    March 11, 2013

    Is the podcast for bf skinner down?


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    John Burton

    March 11, 2013

    Nice episode. In my experience no one reads Skinner any more or any radical behaviorists for that matter. They read someone, who read someone, who heard a lecture about behaviorism in which the tenets of selectivism were run together with Pavlov's and Watson's "Classical" conditioning and all behaviorist become positivists, learners are seen as passive (really? – in operant/instrumental learning), and cues become causal rather than consequences as causes. When the notion of constructivism broke on the scene I told my colleagues that while the construction of meaning (and all perception and memory) was certainly "true," it would become clear that the way it happens is best explained by behaviorism (or social behaviorism if you prefer). I didn't think we would all join hands and sing Kumbaya but I did think the two groups would come together as an alternative to the current structural approaches. Wow – was I wrong.
    I did not know Skinner although I met him at a session he gave for graduate students (I was a faculty member and he allowed me to stay, but he made me sit away from the table and promise not to speak – the session was for the students;-). I heard him and Fred Keller present (humorously) together two or three times. Skinner was gracious and had a great sense of humor – he was able to "take it" and indeed to poke fun at himself. In the end, he said and wrote that he wished he hadn't spent so much time answering his critics who bombarded him with "challenges" such as "how does radical behaviorism explain masochism" or "how does behaviorism explain altruistic behavior," etc. Although many of his writings related to "how does behaviorism…" are interesting and useful, he seemed to think that they became a distraction to his larger purpose the promotion of a scientific approach to learning in the face of what he believe to be the "creationism" of cognitive psychology.

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    Eric Sotnak

    March 11, 2013

    This was a terrific episode. I especially appreciated the “de-stereotyping” of Skinner. So often a complex and nuanced point of view ends up being oversimplified to the point of caricature, and then dismissed on the basis of arguments against the caricature. Someone like Skinner becomes, merely, “that guy who thought that people are just stimulus-response machines” and the attitude taken toward him becomes “thank goodness we all now know better.”

    I especially appreciated the debunking of the rumor that Skinner’s parenting had been warped by his theoretical views to disastrous effect. It might have been worthwhile, also, to debunk the urban legend of the “conditioned professor” since the last time heard it repeated, Skinner, himself, was in the professor role. (

    I hope you will consider doing more episodes with a similar historico-biographical theme.

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    March 11, 2013

    This episode is really good! I´m listening for the third time and learning more each time.
    What amazed me the most is that the majority of critics against BF Skinner and behaviorism are wrong.
    There´s always the “new cool theory” and behaviorism. Behaviorism is wrong and the opposite is always right, but when you listen Skinner explain, you realize that “the new cool theory” it´s the same on a new package.
    Thank you very much for this episode. If you find more material, perhaps you could do another one?

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    March 11, 2013

    Glad you like the episode Susan. It’s a real eye (and ear) opener to hear and see him in his own words. It helps you get a sense for some of the reasons why his ideas were hard to accept by many people. His choice of words can be complex and off-putting to some, but if you get past this, I think most of us would heartily agree with what he has to say about learning to read, to play music and to become the most we can be.

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    Susan Mundy

    March 11, 2013

    Michael, thanks so much for this podcast.

    It was wonderful getting this personal insight into Skinner. Like you, I learned so much more about the man…I have now fallen ever deeper in admiration for this great man and father of behavioural psychology. It was especially poignant to hear his ‘personal’ side, especially when he taked about his children (my personal favourite!) 🙂

    I’m going to post this on my university Moodle page in the current 3rd year unit I’m doing ‘Behaviour Modification’ to share with my peers. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it too.

    Thanks again,
    Best wishes from Susan in Australia 😉

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    Matthew Of Canberra

    March 11, 2013

    A really great episode. Thanks! 🙂

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