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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Episode 73: On the Folly of….Politics

On The Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping For B" is a well known article by Steven Kerr that appeared in The Academy of Management Executive. Kerr shows us that we need to carefully examine the rewards and punishments behind the behaviors we want to encourage in our society. An excellent example of how B.F. Skinner‘s ideas are so important. Steven Kerr’s article is still so relevant today.


In the "On The Folly…" article, Kerr states that,

Whether dealing with monkeys, rats or human beings…most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded.

In politics, official goals…may be relied on to offend absolutely no one…The American voter typically punishes (withholds support from) candidates who frankly discuss where the money will come from, rewards politicians who speak only of official goals but hopes that candidates (despite the reward system) will discuss the issues operatively [i.e., with specifics].


On The Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping For B

  • Click on this link: On The Folly… to download a Word document of Steven Kerr’s article.


Episode 47: The Little Albert Study: What You Know is…Mostly Wrong

What happened to Little Albert? If you think you know a lot about the little Albert experiment conducted by John Watson? Well, guess what – you’d be surprised at how much of the story is simply not true. If you’re wondering whatever happened to little Albert, whether the little Albert study created a lasting phobia in a small boy, or even what place this story has in the history of behaviorism, then I suggest you take a listen to this episode of The Psych Files and get the facts on this fascinating part of psychology’s history.



"Little Albert"’s real name has been identified! Go to video episode 114 to learn more about who was Little Albert.


Notes Regarding Little Albert’s "Phobia"

  • When Albert was conditioned again to the rat, 10 days after the initial trials, Albert…

    ..fell over to the left side, got up on all fours and started to crawl away. On this occasion there was no crying but strange to say, as he started away he began to gurgle and coo, even while leaning far over to the left side to avoid the rat…

    – in addition, on this same day he was again conditioned to fear the rabbit, albert’s response was reported as,

    …fear reaction slight. Turned to the left and kept face away from the animal but the reaction was never pronounced.

  • 31 days after being shown the rat, Watson reports that when in the same room as the rat "He allowed the rat to crawl towards him without withdrawing"

  • On the final day of testing when albert was exposed to the rabbit to which he had been conditioned to fear, he did not avoid the rabbit at all. Watson (1920) reports:

    ..after about a minute he [Albert] reached out tentatively and …touched the rabbit’s ear with his right hand…

  • Objects Albert was supposedly afraid of, but for which there is no evidence:

  • Cats
  • Fur muffs
  • White furry gloves
  • Albert’s aunt (who wore fur)
  • Albert’s mother’s fur coat
  • A teddy bear



Most overlooked facts:

  • The study is not an experiment (an experiment requires at least two levels of an independent variable). It is a pilot study at best.
  • The study had only one subject.
  • The study has never been replicated.

Resources for This Episode on Little Albert

  • Harris, B. (1979). Whatever Happened to Little Albert? American Psychologist, 34 (2), 151-160. Click here to download the article to your desktop.

  • Samuelson , F. (1980). J.B. Watson’s Little Albert, Cyril Burt’s Twins, and the Need for a Critical Science. American Psychologist, 35 (7).

  • Watson, J.B. & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned Emotional Reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1-14. This article is available online at Christopher Green’s excellent Psych Classics site.

  • If you’re interested in learning more about the history of psychology, Chris Green’s excellent podcast (which is no longer being produced but which is still available in iTunes) is called This Week In The History of Psychology.

  • Watson’s video of the little albert study is available on YouTube in several versions. Here’s one.


Episode 11: What Does Your Bowling Style Say About You?

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In this video episode we look at superstitions and how they develop. We’ll start with your bowling style. Your bowling style actually have a lot to say about superstitions – how you get them and why you keep them. For psychology students, here’s a good example of operant conditioning at work in the real world. And by the way, why do you keep pressing that elevator button?. We’ll look at that too.


Resources for this episode

  • From Academic Earth: Professor Bloom opens with a brief discussion of the value and evolutionary basis of unconscious processing. The rest of this lecture introduces students to the theory of Behaviorism, particularly the work of prominent behaviorist, B. F. Skinner. Different types of learning are discussed in detail, as well as reasons why behaviorism has been largely displaced as an adequate theory of human mental life.