Kenneth Spence

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Kenneth Wartenbe Spence (May 6, 1907 – January 12, 1967) was a prominent American psychologist whose theoretical work on learning and motivation complemented the efforts by Clark L. Hull to develop quantitative theories of behavior and came to be known as neo-behaviorism. Spence's analysis of discrimination learning (1936, 1937) in terms of gradients of excitation and inhibition provided was one of the first to show that mathematical deductions from a quantitative theory could generate interesting and empirically testable predictions (Wagner, 2008).

Spence was a professor at University of Iowa and then at the University of Texas.

Spence did his doctoral work at Yale, where his research was directed by Robert Yerkes, not by Clark Hull, although Spence contributed a great deal to Hull's theory. Indeed, their approach was often referred to as the Hull-Spence theory. His major contributions were his theory of discrimination learning, which is still current, his interpretation of inhibition, and his emphasis on incentive motivation rather than biological drive.


  • Spence, K.W. (1936). The nature of discrimination learning in animals. Psychological Review, 43, 427-449.
  • Spence, K.W. (1937). The differential response in animals to stimuli varying in a single dimension. Psychological Review, 44, 430-444.
  • Wagner, A.R. (2008). Some observations and remembrances of Kenneth W. Spence. Learning & Behavior, 36, 169-173.