B. F. SKINNER
Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904–1990), a boy who enjoyed tinkering, built a wide variety
of gadgets and models while growing up in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. This facility with
his hands presaged his various inventions that reshaped the study of behavior. As a student
at Hamilton College, Skinner wrote for a range of college publications, including humor-
ous tracts by “Sir Burrhus de Beerus.” Graduating in 1926 with a bachelor's degree in En-
glish literature, Skinner returned home with dreams of becoming a professional writer but
instead found loneliness, depression, and writer's block in the remodeled family attic.
Skinner first encountered behaviorism through a critique by philosopher Bertrand Russell
of John B. Watson's (p. 332) book Behaviorism. Further reading, including Ivan Pavlov's
(p. 178) recently translated works, led Skinner to realize that he “was interested in human
behavior, but had been investigating it the wrong way.” Following graduate school at Har-
vard University, Skinner taught at the University of Minnesota, where he started to exam-
ine behavior with pigeons. Later he worked at Indiana University and then returned to Har-
vard, first as a William James lecturer and the next year as a professor. His focus on the
control of behavior from environmental contingencies led him to question the validity of
an individual's experience of freewill, which garnered him some unpleasant publicity. Giv-
en this dry perspective on human existence, some may find it odd that Skinner enjoyed
music—particularly the romantic composers Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner.
In a given verbal community, certain responses are characteristically followed by certain consequences. Wait! is followed by someone's waiting and Sh-h! by silence. Much of the verbal behavior of young children is of this sort. Candy! is characteristically followed by the receipt of candy and Out! by the opening of a door. These effects are not inevitable, but we can usually find one consequence of each response which is commoner than any other. There are nonverbal parallels. Out!, as we have seen, has the same ultimate effect as turning a knob and pushing against a door. Both forms of behavior become part of the repertoire of the organism through operant conditioning. When a response is characteristically reinforced in a given way, its likelihood of appearing in the behavior of the speaker is a function of the deprivation associated with that reinforcement. The response Can dy! will be more likely to occur after a period of candy deprivation, and least likely after candy satiation. The response Quiet! is reinforced through the reduction of an aversive condition, and we can increase the probability of its occurrence by creating such a condition—that is, by making a noise.
It will be convenient to have a name for the type of verbal operant in which a response of given form is characteristically followed by a given consequence in a verbal community. The basic relationship has been recognized in syntactic and grammatical analyses (expressions such as the “imperative mood” and “commands and entreaties” suggest themselves), but no traditional term can safely be used here. The term “mand” has a
From B. F. Skinner, “The Mand.” In Verbal Behavior (pp. 35–51). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957.