B. F. Skinner
|B. F. Skinner|
Skinner at the Harvard Psychology Department, c. 1950
March 20, 1904|
|Died||August 18, 1990
|Fields||Psychology, linguistics, philosophy|
|Institutions||University of Minnesota
|Alma mater||Hamilton College
|Known for||Operant conditioning
Operant conditioning chamber
Henry David Thoreau
|Notable awards||National Medal of Science (1968)|
|Spouse||Yvonne (Eve) Blue (-after 1990)|
Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990), commonly known as B. F. Skinner, was an American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.
Skinner considered free will an illusion and human action dependent on consequences of previous actions. If the consequences are bad, there is a high chance the action will not be repeated; if the consequences are good, the actions that led to it being repeated become more probable. Skinner called this the principle of reinforcement.
Skinner called the use of reinforcement to strengthen behavior operant conditioning, and he considered the rate of response to be the most effective measure of response strength. To study operant conditioning he invented the operant conditioning chamber, also known as the Skinner Box, and to measure rate he invented the cumulative recorder. Using these tools, he and C. B. Ferster produced his most influential experimental work, which appeared in the book Schedules of Reinforcement.
Skinner developed a philosophy of science that he called radical behaviorism, and founded a school of experimental research psychology—the experimental analysis of behavior. He imagined the application of his ideas to the design of a human community in his utopian novel, Walden Two, and his analysis of human behavior culminated in his work, Verbal Behavior. Skinner was a prolific author who published 21 books and 180 articles. Contemporary academia considers Skinner a pioneer of modern behaviorism, along with John B. Watson and Ivan Pavlov. A June 2002 survey listed Skinner as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Contributions to psychological theory
- 3 Scientific inventions
- 4 Verbal Behavior
- 5 Influence on education
- 6 Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity
- 7 Political views
- 8 Superstition in the pigeon
- 9 Quotations
- 10 Criticism
- 11 List of awards and positions
- 12 In popular culture
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, to Grace and William Skinner. His father was a lawyer. He became an atheist after a Christian teacher tried to assuage his fear of the hell that his grandmother described. His brother Edward, two and a half years younger, died at age sixteen of a cerebral hemorrhage. He attended Hamilton College in New York with the intention of becoming a writer. He found himself at a social disadvantage at Hamilton College because of his intellectual attitude. While attending, he joined Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He wrote for the school paper, but, as an atheist, he was critical of the religious school he attended. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1926, he attended Harvard University, where he would later research, teach, and eventually become a prestigious board member. While he was at Harvard, a fellow student, Fred Keller, convinced Skinner that he could make an experimental science from the study of behavior. This led Skinner to invent his prototype for the Skinner Box and to join Keller in the creation of other tools for small experiments. After graduation, he unsuccessfully tried to write a great novel while he lived with his parents, a period that he later called the Dark Years. He became disillusioned with his literary skills despite encouragement from the renowned poet Robert Frost, concluding that he had little world experience and no strong personal perspective from which to write. His encounter with John B. Watson's Behaviorism led him into graduate study in psychology and to the development of his own version of behaviorism.
Skinner received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1931, and remained there as a researcher until 1936. He then taught at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and later at Indiana University, where he was chair of the psychology department from 1946–1947, before returning to Harvard as a tenured professor in 1948. He remained at Harvard for the rest of his life. In 1973, Skinner was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto II.
In 1936, Skinner married Yvonne (Eve) Blue. The couple had two daughters, Julie (m. Vargas) and Deborah (m. Buzan). He died of leukemia on August 18, 1990, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Skinner continued to write and work until just before his death. Just a few days before his death, he was given a lifetime achievement award by the American Psychological Association, and delivered a 15-minute address concerning his work.
A controversial figure, Skinner has been depicted in many different ways. He has been widely revered for bringing a much-needed scientific approach to the study of human behavior; he has also been vilified for attempting to apply findings based largely on animal experiments to human behavior in real-life settings.
Contributions to psychological theory
Skinner called his approach to the study of behavior radical behaviorism. This philosophy of behavioral science assumes that behavior is a consequence of environmental histories of reinforcement, (see Applied behavior analysis). In contrast to the approach of cognitive science, behaviorism does not accept private events such as thinking, perceptions, and unobservable emotions as causes of an organism's behavior. However, in contrast to methodological behaviorism, Skinner's radical behaviorism did accept thoughts, emotions, and other "private events" as responses subject to the same rules as overt behavior. In his words:
The position can be stated as follows: what is felt or introspectively observed is not some nonphysical world of consciousness, mind, or mental life but the observer's own body. This does not mean, as I shall show later, that introspection is a kind of psychological research, nor does it mean (and this is the heart of the argument) that what are felt or introspectively observed are the causes of the behavior. An organism behaves as it does because of its current structure, but most of this is out of reach of introspection. At the moment we must content ourselves, as the methodological behaviorist insists, with a person's genetic and environment histories. What are introspectively observed are certain collateral products of those histories.In this way we repair the major damage wrought by mentalism. When what a person does [is] attributed to what is going on inside him, investigation is brought to an end. Why explain the explanation? For twenty five hundred years people have been preoccupied with feelings and mental life, but only recently has any interest been shown in a more precise analysis of the role of the environment. Ignorance of that role led in the first place to mental fictions, and it has been perpetuated by the explanatory practices to which they gave rise.
Skinner's behavioral theory was largely set forth in his first book, Behavior of Organisms. Here he gave a systematic description of the manner in which environmental variables control behavior. He distinguished two sorts of behavior—respondent and operant—which are controlled in different ways. Respondent behaviors are elicited by stimuli, and may be modified through respondent conditioning, which is often called "Pavlovian conditioning" or "classical conditioning," in which a neutral stimulus is paired with an eliciting stimulus. Operant behaviors, in contrast, are "emitted," meaning that initially they are not induced by any particular stimulus. They are strengthened through operant conditioning, sometimes called "instrumental conditioning," in which the occurrence of a response yields a reinforcer. Respondent behaviors might be measured by their latency or strength, operant behaviors by their rate. Both of these sorts of behavior had already been studied experimentally, for example, respondents by Pavlov, and operants by Thorndike. Skinner's account differed in some ways from earlier ones, and was one of the first accounts to bring them under one roof.
The idea that behavior is strengthened or weakened by its consequences raises several questions. Among the most important are these: (1) Operant responses are strengthened by reinforcement, but where do they come from in the first place? (2) Once it is in the organism's repertoire, how is a response directed or controlled? (3) How can very complex and seemingly novel behaviors be explained?[clarification needed]
Origin of operant behavior
Skinner's answer to the first question was very much like Darwin's answer to the question of the origin of a "new" bodily structure, namely, variation and selection. Similarly, the behavior of an individual varies from moment to moment; a variation that is followed by reinforcement is strengthened and becomes prominent in that individual's behavioral repertoire. "Shaping" was Skinner's term for the gradual modification of behavior by the reinforcement of desired variations. As discussed later in this article, Skinner believed that "superstitious" behavior can arise when a response[clarification needed] happens to be followed by reinforcement to which it is actually unrelated.
Control of operant behavior
The second question, "how is operant behavior controlled?" arises because, to begin with, the behavior is "emitted" without reference to any particular stimulus. Skinner answered this question by saying that a stimulus comes to control an operant if it is present when the response is reinforced and absent when it is not. For example, if lever-pressing only brings food when a light is on, a rat, or a child, will learn to press the lever only when the light is on. Skinner summarized this relationship by saying that a discriminative stimulus (e.g. light) sets the occasion for the reinforcement (food) of the operant (lever-press). This "three-term contingency" (stimulus-response-reinforcer) is one of Skinner's most important concepts, and sets his theory apart from theories that use only pair-wise associations.
Explaining complex behavior
Most behavior of humans cannot easily be described in terms of individual responses reinforced one by one, and Skinner devoted a great deal of effort to the problem of behavioral complexity. Some complex behavior can be seen as a sequence of relatively simple responses, and here Skinner invoked the idea of "chaining." Chaining is based on the fact, experimentally demonstrated, that a discriminative stimulus not only sets the occasion for subsequent behavior, but it can also reinforce a behavior that precedes it. That is, a discriminative stimulus is also a "conditioned reinforcer." For example, the light that sets the occasion for lever pressing may also be used to reinforce "turning around" in the presence of a noise. This results in the sequence "noise - turn-around - light - press lever - food." Much longer chains can be built by adding more stimuli and responses.
However, Skinner recognized that a great deal of behavior, especially human behavior, cannot be accounted for by gradual shaping or the construction of response sequences. Complex behavior often appears suddenly in its final form, as when a person first finds his way to the elevator by following instructions given at the front desk. To account for such behavior, Skinner introduced the concept of rule-governed behavior. First, relatively simple behaviors come under the control of verbal stimuli: the child learns to "jump," "open the book," and so on. After a large number of responses come under such verbal control, a sequence of verbal stimuli can evoke an almost unlimited variety of complex responses.
Reinforcement, a key concept of behaviorism, is the primary process that shapes and controls behavior, and occurs in two ways, "positive" and "negative." In The Behavior of Organisms (1938), Skinner defined "negative reinforcement" to be synonymous with punishment, that is, the presentation of an aversive stimulus. Subsequently, in Science and Human Behavior (1953), Skinner redefined negative reinforcement. In what has now become the standard set of definitions, positive reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the occurrence of some event (e.g., praise after some behavior is performed), whereas negative reinforcement is the strengthening of behavior by the removal or avoidance of some aversive event (e.g., opening and raising an umbrella over your head on a rainy day is reinforced by the cessation of rain falling on you).
Both types of reinforcement strengthen behavior, or increase the probability of a behavior reoccurring; the difference is in whether the reinforcing event is something applied (positive reinforcement) or something removed or avoided (negative reinforcement). Punishment is the application of an aversive stimulus/event (positive punishment or punishment by contingent stimulation) or the removal of a desirable stimulus (negative punishment or punishment by contingent withdrawal). Though punishment is often used to suppress behavior, Skinner argued that this suppression is temporary and has a number of other, often unwanted, consequences. Extinction is the absence of a rewarding stimulus, which weakens behavior.
Writing in 1981, Skinner pointed out that Darwinian natural selection is, like reinforced behavior, "selection by consequences." Though, as he said, natural selection has now "made its case," he regretted that essentially the same process, "reinforcement," was less widely accepted as underlying human behavior.
Schedules of reinforcement
Skinner recognized that behavior is typically reinforced more than once, and, together with C. B. Ferster, he did an extensive analysis of the various ways in which reinforcements could be arranged over time, which he called "schedules of reinforcement."
The most notable schedules of reinforcement studied by Skinner were continuous, interval (fixed or variable), and ratio (fixed or variable). All are methods used in operant conditioning.
- Continuous reinforcement (CRF) — each time a specific action is performed the subject receives a reinforcement. This method is effective when teaching a new behavior because it quickly establishes an association between the target behavior and the reinforcer.
- Interval Schedules — based on the time intervals between reinforcements
- Fixed Interval Schedule (FI): A procedure in which reinforcements are presented at fixed time periods, provided that the appropriate response is made. This schedule yields a response rate that is low just after reinforcement and becomes rapid just before the next reinforcement is scheduled.
- Variable Interval Schedule (VI): A procedure in which behaviour is reinforced after random time durations following the last reinforcement. This schedule yields steady responding at a rate that varies with the average frequency of reinforcement.
- Ratio Schedules — based on the ratio of responses to reinforcements
- Fixed Ratio Schedule (FR): A procedure in which reinforcement is delivered after a specific number of responses have been made.
- Variable Ratio Schedule (VR): A procedure in which reinforcement comes after a number of responses that is randomized from one reinforcement to the next (ex. slot machines). The lower the number of responses required, the higher the response rate tends to be. Ratio schedules tend to produce very rapid responding, often with breaks of no responding just after reinforcement if a large number of responses is required for reinforcement.
Operant conditioning chamber
An operant conditioning chamber (also known as a Skinner Box) is a laboratory apparatus used in the experimental analysis of animal behavior. It was invented by Skinner while he was a graduate student at Harvard University. As used by Skinner, the box had a lever (for rats), or a disk in one wall (for pigeons). A press on this "manipulandum" could deliver food to the animal through an opening in the wall, and responses reinforced in this way increased in frequency. By controlling this reinforcement together with discriminative stimuli such as lights and tones, or punishments such as electric shocks, experimenters have used the operant box to study a wide variety of topics, including schedules of reinforcement, discriminative control, delayed response ("memory"), punishment, and so on. By channeling research in these directions, the operant conditioning chamber has had a huge influence on course of research in animal learning and its applications. It enabled great progress on problems that could be studied by measuring the rate, probability, or force of a simple, repeatable response. However, it discouraged the study of behavioral processes not easily conceptualized in such terms—spatial learning, in particular, which is now studied in quite different ways, for example, by the use of the water maze.
The cumulative recorder makes a pen-and-ink record of simple repeated responses. Skinner designed it for use with the Operant chamber as a convenient way to record and view the rate of responses such as a lever press or a key peck. In this device, a sheet of paper gradually unrolls over a cylinder. Each response steps a small pen across the paper, starting at one edge; when the pen reaches the other edge, it quickly resets to the initial side. The slope of the resulting ink line graphically displays the rate of the response; for example, rapid responses yield a steeply sloping line on the paper, slow responding yields a line of low slope. The cumulative recorder was a key tool used by Skinner in his analysis of behavior, and it was very widely adopted by other experimenters, gradually falling out of use with the advent of the laboratory computer. Skinner's major experimental exploration of response rates, presented in his book with C. B. Ferster, Schedules of Reinforcement, is full of cumulative records produced by this device.
The air crib is an easily cleaned, temperature- and humidity-controlled enclosure intended to replace the standard infant crib. Skinner invented the device to help his wife cope with the day-to-day tasks of child rearing. It was designed to make early childcare simpler (by reducing laundry, diaper rash, cradle cap, etc.), while allowing the baby to be more mobile and comfortable, and less prone to cry. Reportedly it had some success in these goals.
The air crib was a controversial invention. It was popularly mischaracterized as a cruel pen, and it was often compared to Skinner's operant conditioning chamber, commonly called the "Skinner Box." This association with laboratory animal experimentation discouraged its commercial success, though several companies attempted production.
A 2004 book by Lauren Slater, entitled Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychology Experiments of the Twentieth Century caused a stir by mentioning the rumors that Skinner had used his baby daughter, Deborah, in some of his experiments, and that she had subsequently committed suicide. Although Slater's book stated that the rumors were false, a reviewer in The Observer in March 2004 misquoted Slater's book as supporting the rumors. This review was read by Deborah Skinner (now Deborah Buzan, an artist and writer living in London) who wrote a vehement riposte in The Guardian.
The teaching machine was a mechanical device whose purpose was to administer a curriculum of programmed learning. The machine embodies key elements of Skinner’s theory of learning and had important implications for education in general and classroom instruction in particular.
In one incarnation, the machine was a box that housed a list of questions that could be viewed one at a time through a small window. (See picture). There was also a mechanism through which the learner could respond to each question. Upon delivering a correct answer, the learner would be rewarded.
Skinner advocated the use of teaching machines for a broad range of students (e.g., preschool aged to adult) and instructional purposes (e.g., reading and music). For example, one machine that he envisioned could teach rhythm. He wrote:
- A relatively simple device supplies the necessary contingencies. The student taps a rhythmic pattern in unison with the device. "Unison" is specified very loosely at first (the student can be a little early or late at each tap) but the specifications are slowly sharpened. The process is repeated for various speeds and patterns. In another arrangement, the student echoes rhythmic patterns sounded by the machine, though not in unison, and again the specifications for an accurate reproduction are progressively sharpened. Rhythmic patterns can also be brought under the control of a printed score.
The instructional potential of the teaching machine stemmed from several factors: it provided automatic, immediate and regular reinforcement without the use of aversive control; the material presented was coherent, yet varied and novel; the pace of learning could be adjusted to suit the individual. As a result, students were interested, attentive, and learned efficiently by producing the desired behavior, "learning by doing."
Teaching machines, though perhaps rudimentary, were not rigid instruments of instruction. They could be adjusted and improved based upon the students' performance. For example, if a student made many incorrect responses, the machine could be reprogrammed to provide less advanced prompts or questions—the idea being that students acquire behaviors most efficiently if they make few errors. Multiple-choice formats were not well-suited for teaching machines because they tended to increase student mistakes, and the contingencies of reinforcement were relatively uncontrolled.
Not only useful in teaching explicit skills, machines could also promote the development of a repertoire of behaviors that Skinner called self-management. Effective self-management means attending to stimuli appropriate to a task, avoiding distractions, reducing the opportunity of reward for competing behaviors, and so on. For example, machines encourage students to pay attention before receiving a reward. Skinner contrasted this with the common classroom practice of initially capturing students’ attention (e.g., with a lively video) and delivering a reward (e.g., entertainment) before the students have actually performed any relevant behavior. This practice fails to reinforce correct behavior and actually counters the development of self-management.
Skinner pioneered the use of teaching machines in the classroom, especially at the primary level. Today computers run software that performs similar teaching tasks, and there has been a resurgence of interest in the topic related to the development of adaptive learning systems.
During World War II, the US Navy required a weapon effective against surface ships, such as the German Bismarck class battleships. Although missile and TV technology existed, the size of the primitive guidance systems available rendered automatic guidance impractical. To solve this problem, Skinner initiated Project Pigeon, which was intended to provide a simple and effective guidance system. This system divided the nose cone of a missile into three compartments, with a pigeon placed in each. Lenses projected an image of distant objects onto a screen in front of each bird. Thus, when the missile was launched from an aircraft within sight of an enemy ship, an image of the ship would appear on the screen. The screen was hinged, such that pecks at the image of the ship would guide the missile toward the ship.
Despite an effective demonstration the project was abandoned, and eventually more conventional solutions, such as those based on radar, became available. Skinner complained that "our problem was no one would take us seriously." It seemed that few people would trust pigeons to guide a missile, no matter how reliable the system appeared to be.
Early in his career Skinner became interested in "latent speech" and experimented with a device he called the "verbal summator." This device can be thought of as an auditory version of the Rorschach inkblots. When using the device, human participants listened to incomprehensible auditory "garbage" but often read meaning into what they heard. Thus, as with the Rorschach blots, the device was intended to yield overt behavior that projected subconscious thoughts. Skinner's interest in projective testing was brief, but he later used observations with the summator in creating his theory of verbal behavior. The device also led other researchers to invent new tests such as the tautophone test, the auditory apperception test, and the Azzageddi[when defined as?] test.
Challenged by Alfred North Whitehead during a casual discussion while at Harvard to provide an account of a randomly provided piece of verbal behavior, Skinner set about attempting to extend his then-new functional, inductive approach to the complexity of human verbal behavior. Developed over two decades, his work appeared in the book Verbal Behavior. Although Noam Chomsky was highly critical of Verbal Behavior, he conceded that Skinner's "S-R psychology" was worth a review. (Behavior analysts reject the "S-R" characterization: operant conditioning involves the emission of a response which then becomes more or less likely depending upon its consequence–see above.).
Verbal Behavior had an uncharacteristically cool reception, partly as a result of Chomsky's review, partly because of Skinner's failure to address or rebut any of Chomsky's criticisms. Skinner's peers may have been slow to adopt the ideas presented in Verbal Behavior because of the absence of experimental evidence—unlike the empirical density that marked Skinner's experimental work. However, in applied settings there has been a resurgence of interest in Skinner's functional analysis of verbal behavior.
Influence on education
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Skinner's views influenced education as well as psychology. Skinner argued that education has two major purposes: (1) to teach repertoires of both verbal and nonverbal behavior; and (2) to interest students in learning. He recommended bringing students’ behavior under appropriate control by providing reinforcement only in the presence of stimuli relevant to the learning task. Because he believed that human behavior can be affected by small consequences, something as simple as "the opportunity to move forward after completing one stage of an activity" can be an effective reinforcer (Skinner, 1961, p. 380). Skinner was convinced that, to learn, a student must engage in behavior, and not just passively receive information. (Skinner, 1961, p. 389).
Skinner believed that effective teaching must be based on positive reinforcement which is, he argued, more effective at changing and establishing behavior than punishment. He suggested that the main thing people learn from being punished is how to avoid punishment. For example, if a child is forced to practice playing an instrument, the child comes to associate practicing with punishment and thus learns to hate and avoid practicing the instrument. This view had obvious implications for the then widespread practice of rote learning and punitive discipline in education. The use of educational activities as punishment may induce rebellious behavior such as vandalism or absence.
Because teachers are primarily responsible for modifying student behavior, Skinner argued that teachers must learn effective ways of teaching. In The Technology of Teaching, Skinner has a chapter on why teachers fail (pages 93–113): He says that teachers have not been given an in-depth understanding of teaching and learning. Without knowing the science underpinning teaching, teachers fall back on procedures that work poorly or not at all, such as:
- using aversive techniques (which produce escape and avoidance and undesirable emotional effects);
- relying on telling and explaining ("Unfortunately, a student does not learn simply when he is shown or told." p. 103);
- failing to adapt learning tasks to the student's current level;
- failing to provide positive reinforcement frequently enough.
Skinner suggests that any age-appropriate skill can be taught. The steps are
- Clearly specify the action or performance the student is to learn.
- Break down the task into small achievable steps, going from simple to complex.
- Let the student perform each step, reinforcing correct actions.
- Adjust so that the student is always successful until finally the goal is reached.
- Shift to intermittent reinforcement to maintain the student's performance.
Skinner's views on education are extensively presented in his book The Technology of Teaching. They are also reflected in Fred S. Keller's Personalized System of Instruction and Ogden R. Lindsley's Precision Teaching.
Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity
Skinner is popularly known mainly for his books Walden Two and Beyond Freedom and Dignity, (for which he made the cover of TIME Magazine). The former describes a fictional "experimental community" in 1940s United States. The productivity and happiness of citizens in this community is far greater than in the outside world because the residents practice scientific social planning and use operant conditioning in raising their children.
Walden Two, like Thoreau's Walden, champions a lifestyle that does not support war, or foster competition and social strife. It encourages a lifestyle of minimal consumption, rich social relationships, personal happiness, satisfying work, and leisure. In 1967, Kat Kinkade founded the Twin Oaks Community, using Walden Two as a blueprint. The community still exists and continues to use the Planner-Manager system and other aspects described in Skinner's book.
In Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner suggests that a technology of behavior could help to make a better society. We would, however, have to accept that an autonomous agent is not the driving force of our actions. Skinner offers alternatives to punishment, and challenges his readers to use science and modern technology to construct a better society.
Skinner's political writings emphasized his hopes that an effective and human science of behavioral control – a technology of human behavior – could help with problems as yet unsolved and often aggravated by advances in technology such as the atomic bomb. Indeed, one of Skinner's goals was to prevent humanity from destroying itself. He saw political activity as the use of aversive or non-aversive means to control a population. Skinner favored the use of positive reinforcement as a means of control, citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau's novel Emile: or, On Education as an example of literature that "did not fear the power of positive reinforcement."
Skinner's book, Walden Two, presents a vision of a decentralized, localized society, which applies a practical, scientific approach and behavioral expertise to deal peacefully with social problems. (For example, his views led him to oppose corporal punishment in schools, and he wrote a letter to the California Senate that helped lead it to a ban on spanking.) Skinner's utopia is both a thought experiment and a rhetorical piece. In Walden Two, Skinner answers the problem that exists in many utopian novels – "What is the Good Life?" The book's answer is a life of friendship, health, art, a healthy balance between work and leisure, a minimum of unpleasantness, and a feeling that one has made worthwhile contributions to a society in which resources are ensured, in part, by minimizing consumption.
If the world is to save any part of its resources for the future, it must reduce not only consumption but the number of consumers.— B. F. Skinner, Walden Two, p. xi.
When Milton's Satan falls from heaven, he ends in hell. And what does he say to reassure himself? 'Here, at least, we shall be free.' And that, I think, is the fate of the old-fashioned liberal. He's going to be free, but he's going to find himself in hell.— B. F. Skinner, from William F. Buckley Jr, On the Firing Line, p. 87.
Superstition in the pigeon
One of Skinner's experiments examined the formation of superstition in one of his favorite experimental animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon "at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior." He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions.
One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.
Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their "rituals," and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:
The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one's fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one's luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing—or, more strictly speaking, did something else.
Modern behavioral psychologists have disputed Skinner's "superstition" explanation for the behaviors he recorded. Subsequent research (e.g. Staddon and Simmelhag, 1971), while finding similar behavior, failed to find support for Skinner's "adventitious reinforcement" explanation for it. By looking at the timing of different behaviors within the interval, Staddon and Simmelhag were able to distinguish two classes of behavior: the terminal response, which occurred in anticipation of food, and interim responses, that occurred earlier in the interfood interval and were rarely contiguous with food. Terminal responses seem to reflect classical (as opposed to operant) conditioning, rather than adventitious reinforcement, guided by a process like that observed in 1968 by Brown and Jenkins in their "autoshaping" procedures. The causation of interim activities (such as the schedule-induced polydipsia seen in a similar situation with rats) also cannot be traced to adventitious reinforcement and its details are still obscure (Staddon, 1977).
"I do not admire myself as a person. My successes do not override my shortcomings."
"Ethical control may survive in small groups, but the control of the population as a whole must be delegated to specialists—to police, priests, owners, teachers, therapists, and so on, with their specialized reinforcers and their codified contingencies."
"It is a mistake to suppose that the whole issue is how to free man. The issue is to improve the way in which he is controlled."
"Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten."
"As the senses grow dull, the stimulating environment becomes less clear. When reinforcing consequences no longer follow, we are bored, discouraged and depressed."
J. E. R. Staddon
As understood by Skinner, ascribing dignity to individuals involves giving them credit for their actions. To say "Skinner is brilliant" means that Skinner is an originating force. If Skinner's determinist theory is right, he is merely the focus of his environment. He is not an originating force and he had no choice in saying the things he said or doing the things he did. Skinner's environment and genetics both allowed and compelled him to write his book. Similarly, the environment and genetic potentials of the advocates of freedom and dignity cause them to resist the reality that their own activities are deterministically grounded. J. E. R. Staddon (The New Behaviorism, 2nd Edition, 2014) has argued the compatibilist position; Skinner's determinism is not in any way contradictory to traditional notions of reward and punishment, as he believed.
Perhaps Skinner's best known critic, Noam Chomsky published a review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior two years after it was published. Chomsky argued that Skinner's attempt to use behaviorism to explain human language amounted to little more than word games. Conditioned responses could not account for a child's ability to create or understand an infinite variety of novel sentences. The 1959 review became better known than the book itself. Chomsky's review has been credited with launching the cognitive movement in psychology and other disciplines. Skinner, who rarely responded directly to critics, never formally replied to Chomsky's critique. Many years later, Kenneth MacCorquodale's reply was endorsed by Skinner.
Chomsky also reviewed Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity, using the same basic motives as his Verbal Behavior review. Among Chomsky's criticisms were that Skinner's laboratory work could not be extended to humans, that when it was extended to humans it represented 'scientistic' behavior attempting to emulate science but which was not scientific, that Skinner was not a scientist because he rejected the hypothetico-deductive model of theory testing, and that Skinner had no science of behavior.
Skinner has been repeatedly criticized for his supposed animosity towards Freud, psychoanalysis, and psychodynamic psychology. There is clear evidence, however, that Skinner shared several of Freud's assumptions, and that he was influenced by Freudian points of view in more than one field, among them the analysis of defense mechanisms, such as repression. To study such phenomena, Skinner even designed his own projective test, the "verbal summator" described above.
List of awards and positions
- 1926 A.B., Hamilton College
- 1930 M.A., Harvard University
- 1930−1931 Thayer Fellowship
- 1931 Ph.D., Harvard University
- 1931−1932 Walker Fellowship
- 1931−1933 National Research Council Fellowship
- 1933−1936 Junior Fellowship, Harvard Society of Fellows*1936-1937 Instructor, University of Minnesota
- 1937−1939 Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota
- 1939−1945 Associate Professor, University of Minnesota
- 1942 Guggenheim Fellowship (postponed until 1944-1945)
- 1942 Howard Crosby Warren Medal, Society of Experimental Psychologists
- 1945−1948 Professor and Chair, Indiana University
- 1947−1948 William James Lecturer, Harvard University
- 1948−1958 Professor, Harvard University
- 1949−1950 President of the Midwestern Psychological Association
- 1954−1955 President of the Eastern Psychological Association
- 1958 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, American Psychological Association
- 1958−1974 Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
- 1964−1974 Career Award, National Institute of Mental Health
- 1966 Edward Lee Thorndike Award, American Psychological Association
- 1966−1967 President of the Pavlovian Society of North America
- 1968 National Medal of Science, National Science Foundation
- 1969 Overseas Fellow in Churchill College, Cambridge
- 1971 Gold Medal Award, American Psychological Foundation
- 1971 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation for Mental Retardation International award
- 1972 Humanist of the Year, American Humanist Association
- 1972 Creative Leadership in Education Award, New York University
- 1972 Career Contribution Award, Massachusetts Psychological Association
- 1974−1990 Professor of Psychology and Social Relations Emeritus, Harvard University
- 1978 Distinguished Contributions to Educational Research Award and Development, American Educational Research Association
- 1978 National Association for Retarded Citizens Award
- 1985 Award for Excellence in Psychiatry, Albert Einstein School of Medicine
- 1985 President's Award, New York Academy of Science
- 1990 William James Fellow Award, American Psychological Society
- 1990 Lifetime Achievement Award, American Psychology Association
- 1991 Outstanding Member and Distinguished Professional Achievement Award, Society for Performance Improvement
- 1997 Scholar Hall of Fame Award, Academy of Resource and Development
Skinner received honorary degrees from:
- Alfred University
- Ball State University
- Dickinson College
- Hamilton College
- Harvard University
- Hobart and William Smith Colleges
- Johns Hopkins University
- Keio University
- Long Island University C. W. Post Campus
- McGill University
- North Carolina State University
- Ohio Wesleyan University
- Ripon College
- Rockford College
- Tufts University
- University of Chicago
- University of Exeter
- University of Missouri
- University of North Texas
- Western Michigan University
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In popular culture
Writer of The Simpsons Jon Vitti named Principal Skinner character after behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner.
Also on The Simpsons, it is mentioned that Superintendent Chalmers character's father was a psychologist who used the theories of B. F. Skinner on his son, forcing him to navigate a maze to get at his breakfast.
- The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis, 1938. ISBN 1-58390-007-1, ISBN 0-87411-487-X.
- Walden Two, 1948. ISBN 0-87220-779-X (revised 1976 edition).
- Science and Human Behavior, 1953. ISBN 0-02-929040-6. A free copy of this book (in a 1.6 MB .pdf file) may be downloaded at the B. F. Skinner Foundation web site BFSkinner.org.
- Schedules of Reinforcement, with C. B. Ferster, 1957. ISBN 0-13-792309-0.
- Verbal Behavior, 1957. ISBN 1-58390-021-7.
- The Analysis of Behavior: A Program for Self Instruction, with James G. Holland, 1961. ISBN 0-07-029565-4.
- The Technology of Teaching, 1968. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Library of Congress Card Number 68-12340 E 81290 ISBN 0-13-902163-9.
- Contingencies of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis, 1969. ISBN 0-390-81280-3.
- Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1971. ISBN 0-394-42555-3.
- About Behaviorism, 1974. ISBN 0-394-49201-3, ISBN 0-394-71618-3.
- Particulars of My Life: Part One of an Autobiography, 1976. ISBN 0-394-40071-2.
- Reflections on Behaviorism and Society, 1978. ISBN 0-13-770057-1.
- The Shaping of a Behaviorist: Part Two of an Autobiography, 1979. ISBN 0-394-50581-6.
- Notebooks, edited by Robert Epstein, 1980. ISBN 0-13-624106-9.
- Skinner for the Classroom, edited by R. Epstein, 1982. ISBN 0-87822-261-8.
- Enjoy Old Age: A Program of Self-Management, with M. E. Vaughan, 1983. ISBN 0-393-01805-9.
- A Matter of Consequences: Part Three of an Autobiography, 1983. ISBN 0-394-53226-0, ISBN 0-8147-7845-3.
- Upon Further Reflection, 1987. ISBN 0-13-938986-5.
- Recent Issues in the Analysis of Behavior, 1989. ISBN 0-675-20674-X.
- Cumulative Record: A Selection of Papers, 1959, 1961, 1972 and 1999 as Cumulative Record: Definitive Edition. This book includes a reprint of Skinner's October 1945 Ladies' Home Journal article, "Baby in a Box", Skinner's original, personal account of the much-misrepresented "Baby in a box" device. ISBN 0-87411-969-3 (paperback)
- Sobel, Dava (August 20, 1990). "B. F. Skinner, the Champion Of Behaviorism, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
- Smith, L. D.; Woodward, W. R. (1996). B. F. Skinner and behaviorism in American culture. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press. ISBN 0-934223-40-8.
- Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two.
The science of human behavior is used to eliminate poverty, sexual expression, government as we know it, create a lifestyle without that such as war.
- Skinner, B. F. (1972). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-553-14372-7. OCLC 34263003.
- "Skinner, Burrhus Frederic". behavioranalysishistory.pbworks.com.
- Schacter, Daniel L., and Gilbert Daniel. (2011). Psychology. (2 ed.). New York, 2011. Web. March 22, 2013.
- Schacter, Daniel (2011) . Psychology Second Edition. United States of America: Worth Publishers. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-4292-3719-2.
- Schacter D, L., Gilbert D, T., & Wegner D, M. (2011)
- B. F. Skinner, (1938) The Behavior of Organisms.
- C. B. Ferster & B. F. Skinner, (1957) Schedules of Reinforcement.
- B. F. Skinner, About Behaviorism
- Skinner, B.F. (1948). Walden Two. Indianapolis: Hackett. ISBN 0-87220-779-X.
- Skinner, B. F. (1958) Verbal Behavior. Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group. ISBN 1-58390-021-7
- Lafayette.edu, accessed on 5-20-07.
- BFSkinner.org, Smith Morris Bibliography
- Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Renee; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.11.
- "Within a year I had gone to Miss Graves to tell her that I no longer believed in God. 'I know,' she said, 'I have been through that myself.' But her strategy misfired: I never went through it." B.F. Skinner, pp. 387-413, E.G. Boring and G. Lindzey's A History of Psychology in Autobiography (Vol. 5), New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1967.
- B.F. Skinner: A Life [Paperback]. by Daniel W. Bjork, ISBN 9781557984166: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., n.d. Web. June 4, 2013.
- B. F. Skinner: a Life.
- "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 9, 2012.
- Skinner, Deborah. "About". Horses by Skinner. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
- Buzan, Deborah Skinner (March 12, 2004). "I was not a lab rat". The Guardian. Retrieved September 4, 2014.
- Bjork, D.W. (1993). B.F. Skinner, A Life. New York: Basic Books.
- "Skinner, Burrhus Frederic (1904 - 1990).". Credo Reference, Topic Pages. Credo Reference, Gale. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
- About Behaviorism Ch. 1 Causes of Behaviour § 3 Radical Behaviorism B. F. Skinner 1974 ISBN 0-394-71618-3
- ibid. pp. 18−20 of the paperback edition which had the redacted typo s/it/is/.
- Skinner, B.F. (1938). Behavior of Organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned Reflexes. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
- Thorndike, E. L. (1911). Animal Intelligence: Experimental Studies. New York: Macmillan.
- Jenkins, H.M. "Animal Learning and Behavior", Ch. 5, in Hearst, E. "The First Century of Experimental Psychology" (1979) Erlbaum: Hillsdale, N. J.
- Skinner, B. F.(1966) Contingencies of Reinforcement, New York; Appleton-Century-Crofts. reprinted 2013, B. F. Skinner Foundation.
- Skinner, B. F. Science and Human Behavior (1953) New York: Macmillan
- Skinner, B.F (July 31, 1981). "Selection by Consequences" (PDF). Science 213 (4507): 501–504. Bibcode:1981Sci...213..501S. doi:10.1126/science.7244649. PMID 7244649. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
- Ferster, C. B. and Skinner, B. F. Schedules of Reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1957
- "Different Types of Reinforcement Scedules" (PDF). autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu. National Professional Development Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
- Psychology 2nd Edition
- Daniel L. Schacter, Daniel T. Gilbert, Daniel M. Wegner.(2011).Schedules of Reinforcement. Psychology second edition.
- Air-crib photograph in "What Man Can Make of Man", by James Bennet. The Atlantic, June 2012.
- Snopes.com "One Man and a Baby Box", accessed on 12-29-07.
- "Burrhus Fredrick Skinner". Skinner, Burrhus Frederic (1904 - 1990). Gale, Credo Reference. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
- Slater, L. (2004) Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century, London, Bloomsbury
- Buzan, Deborah Skinner (March 12, 2004). "I was not a lab rat". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
- Skinner, B. F. (1961). "Why we need teaching machines". Harvard Educational Review 31: 377–398.
- "Programmed Instruction and Task Analysis". College of Education, University of Houston.
- Skinner,B.F. 1961. "Teaching machines." Scientific American, 205, 90-112. doi:10.2307/1926170, p. 381
- Skinner, B. F. and Holland, J. "The Analysis of Behavior: A Program for Self Instruction", 1961, p.387
- Philip McRae, Ph.D.
- Skinner, B. F. (1960). Pigeons in a pelican. American Psychologist, 15, 28−37. Reprinted in: Skinner, B. F. (1972). Cumulative record (3rd ed.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts,pp. 574−591.
- Described throughout Skinner, B. F. (1979). The shaping of a behaviorist: Part two of an autobiography. New York: Knopf.
- "Nose Cone, Pigeon-Guided Missile". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved June 10, 2008.
- "Skinner's Utopia: Panacea, or Path to Hell?". TIME. September 20, 1971.
- Richard Dawkins. "Design for a Faith-Based Missile". Free Inquiry magazine 22 (1). The project was also featured by "Top secret weapons revealed". Military Channel. August 14, 2012.
- Skinner, B. F. (1936). "The Verbal Summator and a Method for the Study of Latent Speech". Journal of Psychology 2 (1): 71–107. doi:10.1080/00223980.1936.9917445.
- Rutherford, A., B. F. Skinner and the auditory inkblot: The rise and fall of the verbal summator as a projective technique, History of Psychology, 2003,4,362-378.
- B. F. Skinner, (1957) Verbal Behavior. The account in the appendix is that he asked Skinner to explain why he said "No black scorpion, Carter is falling upon this table."
- "Skinner, Burrhus Frederick(1904 - 1990).". Credo Reference, Gale. Credo Reference, Gale. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
- A. N. Chomsky, (1957) "A Review of BF Skinner's Verbal Behavior." in the preface, 2nd paragraph
- Richelle, M. (1993). B. F. Skinner: A reappraisal. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
- Michael, J. (1984). "Verbal behavior". Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 42 (3): 363–376. doi:10.1901/jeab.1984.42-363. PMC 1348108. PMID 16812395.
- The Analysis of Verbal Behavior (Journal)
- Holland, J. (1992). B.F Skinner. Pittsburgh: American Psychologist
- "B.F. Skinner Sep. 20, 1971". Time.
- B. F. Skinner, (1968). "The Design of Experimental Communities", International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Volume 16). New York: Macmillan, 1968, pages 271-275.
- Ramsey, Richard David, Morning Star: The Values-Communication of Skinner's Walden Two, Ph.D. dissertation, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, December 1979, available from University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, MI. Attempts to analyze Walden Two, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and other Skinner works in the context of Skinner's life; lists over 500 sources.
- see Beyond Freedom and Dignity, 1974 for example
- Asimov, Nanette (January 30, 1996). "Spanking Debate Hits Assembly". SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle). Retrieved March 2, 2008.
- A matter of Consequences, p. 412.
- ECON 252, Lecture 8 by Professor Robert Schiller at Yale University
- Skinner, B. F. "'Superstition' in the Pigeon", Journal of Experimental Psychology #38, 1947.
- Classics in the History of Psychology — Skinner (1948)
- Timberlake & Lucas, (1985) "JEAB"
- "Derren Brown: Trick or Treat - 4oD". Channel 4. Retrieved November 7, 2012.
- Journal of Humanistic Psychology Spring 1991 vol. 31 no. 2 112-113
- Beyond Freedom and Dignity, New York: Knopf, 1971 p. 155
- "I have been misunderstood" An interview with B.F.Skinner 1972 March/April Center Magazine, pp. 63−65
- New methods and new aims in teaching, B.F. Skinner, New Scientist, May 1964, No. 392, pp. 484
- Staddon, J. (1995) On responsibility and punishment. The Atlantic Monthly, Feb., 88−94. Staddon, J. (1999) On responsibility in science and law. Social Philosophy and Policy, 16, 146-174. Reprinted in Responsibility. E. F. Paul, F. D. Miller, & J. Paul (eds.), 1999. Cambridge University Press, pp. 146−174.
- Chomsky, Noam (1959). "Reviews: Verbal behavior by B. F. Skinner". Language 35 (1): 26–58. JSTOR 411334.
- B. F. Skinner, (1970) "On 'Having' A Poem" talks about the poem, its publication, and contains the poem and a reply to it as well. Real Audio mp3 Ogg
- On Chomsky's Review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior
- A. N. Chomsky, (1972) "The Case Against B. F. Skinner."
- Toates, F. (2009). Burrhus F. Skinner: The shaping of behavior. Houndmills, Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Rutherford, A. (2003). "B. F. Skinner and the auditory inkblot: The rise and fall of the verbal summator as a projective technique". History of Psychology 6 (4): 362–378. doi:10.1037/1093-4510.6.4.362.
- Reiss, Mike. (2002). Commentary for "Principal Charming", in The Simpsons: The Complete Second Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- Chiesa, M. (2004).Radical Behaviorism: The Philosophy and the Science ISBN
- Epstein, R. (1997) Skinner as self-manager. Journal of applied behavior analysis. 30, 545-569. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on: June 2, 2005 from ENVMED.rochester.edu
- Pauly, Philip Joseph (1987). Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504244-1. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
- Sundberg, M.L. (2008) The VB-MAPP: The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program
- Basil-Curzon, L. (2004) Teaching in Further Education: A outline of Principles and Practice
- Hardin, C.J. (2004) Effective Classroom Management
- Kaufhold, J. A. (2002) The Psychology of Learning and the Art of Teaching
- Bjork, D. W. (1993) B. F. Skinner: A Life
- Dews, P. B. (Ed.)(1970) Festschrift For B. F. Skinner.New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
- Evans, R. I. (1968) B. F. Skinner: the man and his ideas
- Nye, Robert D. (1979) What Is B. F. Skinner Really Saying?. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
- Rutherford, A. (2009) Beyond the box: B. F. Skinner's technology of behavior from laboratory to life, 1950s-1970s.. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
- Sagal, P. T. (1981) Skinner's Philosophy. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.
- Skinner, B. F. (1953) The Possibility Of A Science Of Human Behavior. NY: The Free House.
- Skinner, B. F. (1976) Particulars of my life: Part 1 of an Autobiography
- Skinner, B. F. (1979) The Shaping of a Behaviorist: Part 2 of an Autobiography
- Skinner, B. F. (1983) A Matter of Consequences: Part 3 of an Autobiography
- Smith, D. L. (2002). On Prediction and Control. B. F. Skinner and the Technological Ideal of Science. In W. E. Pickren & D. A. Dewsbury, (Eds.), Evolving Perspectives on the History of Psychology, Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
- Swirski, Peter (2011) "How I Stopped Worrying and Loved Behavioural Engineering or Communal Life, Adaptations, and B.F. Skinner's Walden Two". American Utopia and Social Engineering in Literature, Social Thought, and Political History. New York, Routledge.
- Wiener, D. N. (1996) B. F. Skinner: benign anarchist
- Wolfgang, C.H. and Glickman, Carl D. (1986) Solving Discipline Problems Allyn and Bacon, Inc
|Library resources about
B. F. Skinner
|By B. F. Skinner|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: B. F. Skinner|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to B. F. Skinner.|
- B. F. Skinner Foundation homepage
- National Academy of Sciences biography
- Works by or about B. F. Skinner at Internet Archive
- Works by B. F. Skinner at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- I was not a lab rat, response by Skinner's daughter about the "baby box"
- Audio Recordings Society for Experimental Analysis of Behavior
- Youtube Video Skinner and Teaching Machine
- Superstition in the Pigeon by B.F. Skinner (Full Text)
- Reprint of "the Minotaur of the Behaviorist Maze: Surviving Stanford's Learning House in the 1970s: Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 51, Number 3, July 2011. 266–272.