B. F. Skinner has been one of the most important psychologists in the history of psychology . The greatest exponent of operative or instrumental conditioning, he is best known for his studies with mice and pigeons.

  • You can learn more about his theory in our post: “B. F. Skinner: life and work of a radical behaviorist”

B. F. Skinner’s Best Quotes

B. F. Skinner has left many famous quotes for history. In this article you will find 55 of his best quotes .

1. No one asks how to motivate a baby. A baby naturally explores everything he can, unless he is prevented from doing so. And even then, this tendency does not die alone, it is annihilated

The interaction with the environment allows us to learn and develop.

2. The most significant fact of our time is the increasing weakening of the family

A quote from Skinner talking about family.

3. To triumph over nature and oneself. But never over others

In his theory, Skinner talks about reinforcement and how it affects our behavior.

4. It is a surprising fact that those who most strongly oppose behavior manipulation nevertheless make the most vigorous effort to manipulate minds

Skinner, in his investigations, manipulated the environment in order to record the consequences on behavior.

5. We must not teach the great books; we must teach the love of reading. Knowing the content of some works of literature is a trivial achievement. To be inclined to keep reading is a great achievement

A reflection that allows for free interpretation.

6. What people feel is as important as what they do

Positive reinforcement causes us to repeat the behavior.

7. Science is a willingness to accept facts, even when they are opposed to desires

Skinner had a major influence on the development of psychology as a science.

8. The proposals and hypotheses of psychology should be tested exclusively through objective evidence

As a behaviorist, observable behavior is what has value in the study of psychology.

9. At this very moment an enormous number of men and women of good will are trying to build a better world. But problems are born faster than they can be solved

Skinner claims that the world is changing very quickly.

10. I didn’t run 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

Skinner was a behaviorist and therefore, according to him, the environment shapes our behavior.

11. If freedom is a requirement for human happiness, then all that is necessary is to provide the illusion of freedom

If we change the perception we have, we change what we feel.

12. Democracy is the spawn of despotism. And like father, like son. Democracy is power and rule. It is not the will of the people, remember; it is the will of the majority

Democracy refers to the will of the majority of the people.

13. There is no reason why a man cannot be taught to think

Thinking is also learning, explains Skinner

14. Education is what survives when everything learned is forgotten

Experiential learning has a greater effect than rote learning.

15. Society attacks early, when the individual cannot do anything

Society has a great impact on our development.

16. Not everyone is willing to defend a position of “I don’t know”. There is no virtue in ignorance

Ignorance is associated with inferiority.

17. A failure is not always a mistake; it may simply be the best thing to do in the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying

Failure, in fact, can be an opportunity for growth.

18. The concept of mind is a human invention, not a discovery

Behavioralists like Skinner despised the mind . They did not give it much importance, at least when it came to studying human behaviour.

19. The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do

A reflection of Skinner with a touch of irony.

20. Do not consider any practice as immutable. Change and be willing to change again. Do not accept the eternal truth. Try it.

People can change through experience.

21. Men act on the world, modifying it and are in turn modified by the consequences of their action

In clear reference to his concept of reinforcement.

22. We should not teach great books, we should teach a love of reading

Habits are learned. And reading, which brings many benefits to people, is a good habit.

23. Stable personal affection is more than a romantic rationalization of an economic unit

Affection is something that cannot be measured.

24. When something feels good, it is more likely to be repeated

In instrumental conditioning, pleasant or unpleasant consequences cause a behaviour to be repeated or not.

25. Men build society and society builds men

We act on the medium and the medium acts on us.

26. The consequences of an act affect the likelihood of it happening again

Again, a mention of the impact the consequences have on our behavior.

27. Science is above all a set of attitudes. It is a disposition to deal with facts rather than with what someone has said about them… Science is a disposition to accept facts even when they are opposed to desires

Science must be rigorous and objective, as Skinner explains

28. The world is at a mediocre level. Any society that is free from hunger and violence looks bright in this context

We humans are treating the world badly.

29. There are remarkable similarities between natural selection, operant conditioning and the evolution of the social environment. All three not only dispense with a prior creative design and a prior purpose, but also resort to the notion of survival as a value. The good thing for the species is that it favours its survival. What is good for the individual is what promotes his well-being. What is good for culture is what allows it to solve its problems

Unlike classical conditioning, operant conditioning is not based on an automatic response to an environmental stimulus, but has a direction and purpose, reflecting the subject’s knowledge of the consequences of his action.

30. We do not choose survival as a value, it is it that chooses us

The environment has a great influence on our lives.

31. It is said that the life of the mind requires and consumes psychic energy. This is simply another way of representing the probability of behavior derived from supervision or reinforcement contingencies

For behaviorists, observable behavior is more valuable than mental processes.

32. The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men think

There is a certain touch of humour in this quote by B. F. Skinner

33. The only geniuses are those produced by the chaos of society; they are the ones who do something about it. Chaos begets genius

Problem solving and adaptation to the environment is what makes us smart.

34. The person is not a generating agent; a point at which many genetic and environmental conditions converge in a common effect. No one else (unless they have an identical twin) has their genetic endowment, and no one else, without exception, has their same personal history. Therefore, no one else will behave in exactly the same way

The experiences mark our development and our personality

35. All people talk about the mind without hesitation, but are perplexed when asked to define it

Behavioralists like Skinner, Watson or Pavlov, underestimated the role of the mind in our behavior.

36. Each person is in contact with a small part of the universe contained within their own skin

A deep reflection that invites the reader to interpret it freely.

37. The main problem facing the world today can only be solved if we improve our understanding of human behavior

Understanding us is essential to live in harmony.

38. A piece of music is an experience that must be taken on its own

Skinner highlights the value of this art.

39. Do not intervene between a person and the consequences of his actions

Skinner argued that the main learning process was to associate acts with their perceived consequences.

40. I don’t believe in God, so I’m not afraid to die

One of Skinner’s phrases about his religious beliefs , or rather the absence of them.

41. When we say that a man controls himself, we must specify who controls whom

Skinner understood that human beings can intervene in the environment so that it influences them in the desired way, so controlling oneself can mean doing it this way or, on the contrary, not worrying about influencing oneself and letting everything take its course without taking advantage of the potential of operant conditioning.

42. My rats have taught me much more than I have taught them

This researcher developed most of his work by experimenting with animals.

43. The rat is always right

Rats express behavior that is not contaminated by bias

44. We have not yet seen what man can do to man

Another of Skinner’s phrases in which he talks about the potential of behavior modification technology .

45. Freedom is an illusion, but a valuable one

Skinner had a deterministic view of nature.

46. Instead of building a world in which one can live well, we should stop building one in which one cannot live at all

A phrase that captures the pessimism that Skinner showed on certain issues.

47. Problem solving typically involves stimulus discrimination

Distinguishing stimuli from each other is necessary to draw conclusions about the experience.

48. One of the advantages of education is simply to get to the end of it

Another of the phrases critical of the typical educational model.

49. If you are old, don’t try to change yourself, change your environment

There is a point where it is better to concentrate efforts on changing the outside.

50. A man who has been imprisoned for violent assault is not necessarily less prone to violence

Punishments do not have to work in any context.

51. Asking a citizen to take an oath is to lose some of the genuine loyalty he or she might develop, since any loyal behavior will be attributed to the oath

A clever observation based on the idea of operant conditioning.

52. The scientist may not be sure of the answer, but he is sure that he can find one

A reflection on the attitude that scientists usually have.

53. What is love if not another name for positive reinforcement? Or vice versa

One of B. F. Skinner’s phrases with a touch more biting and humorous at the same time.

54. A disappointment is not usually an oversight; it could be the best thing to draw from a particular situation. The wrong thing to do is to stop trying

Disappointments teach us to progress.

55. A permissive government is one that leaves control of society to other sources

A somewhat obscure view of politics: less government does not mean more freedom.