J. E. R. Staddon

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J. E. R. Staddon
John Eric Rayner Staddon

19 March 1937
Academic background
Alma materUniversity College, London; Harvard University
ThesisThe effect of "knowledge of results" on timing behavior in the pigeon (1964)

John Eric Rayner Staddon (born 1937) is a British-born American psychologist. He has been a critic of Skinnerian behaviorism and proposed a theoretically-based "New Behaviorism".


Educated first at University College London, a three-year period interrupted by two years[1] in Central Africa (N. Rhodesia, now Zambia). After graduation from UCL, he went to the U. S., to Hollins College in Virginia for a year, and then to Harvard University where he studied under Richard Herrnstein, obtaining his PhD in Experimental Psychology in 1964 with a thesis The effect of "knowledge of results" on timing behavior in the pigeon.[2] He has done research at the MIT Systems Lab, University of Oxford, the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Ruhr Universität, Universität Konstanz, the University of Western Australia and York University, United Kingdom, and taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1967.

Since 1967, Staddon has been at Duke University; since 1983 he has been the James B. Duke Professor of psychology, and a professor of biology and neurobiology. He was an editor of the journals Behavioural Processes (1983-2002) and Behavior & Philosophy(1996-2004).


Theoretical Behaviorism[edit]

The 3rd edition of Staddon's book The New Behaviorism: Foundations of behavioral science (2021) describes the philosophical and empirical basis for behavioral science. It begins with the single-subject experimental method pioneered in the study of operant conditioning by B. F. Skinner and his students and colleagues. The theoretical starting point is a stimulus-response unit, a habit. This unit is not a stimulus-response link, as in earlier behaviorisms, but a state of the system/organism. The idea of state, or any other type of intervening variable, was explicitly rejected by Skinner’s radical behaviorism. But it is an unavoidable part of any scientific account, simply because it is part of the logic of historical systems.

Radical behaviorism was spectacularly successful empirically, but its failure to develop any theory which might include hypotheticals, things that that cannot be directly measured, prevented it from dealing adequately with many aspects of learning and memory. A suitable theoretical behaviorism can embrace all of scientific psychology. The paradigm for learning is Darwinian. The idea of state corresponds empirically to the repertoire of behavior available to the organism in a given stimulus situation at a given time. Reward and punishment select the active response from this repertoire. Learning is the result of the combined effects of behavioral variation (the repertoire) and selection (reinforcement).

We know much about reward (reinforcement), but too little about the sources of the repertoire — selection has been emphasized over variation. This book aims to shed some light on the way that repertoires develop, processes of variation, to remedy a long history when behaviorism was devoted almost exclusively to selection.

B. F. Skinner is still prominent, for three reasons. First, because the new behaviorism is in many respects an expansion of radical behaviorism. Second because BFS is uniquely identified with the single-subject experimental method that has revealed so much about the action of reward and punishment. And finally because Skinner speculated very publicly about how society should be organized and by whom it should be governed. The aftershocks of his speculations, in the form of behavioral economics and many established educational practices, are still rumbling. They deserve to be examined.


  • Science in an age of unreason Regnery (2022)
  • Handbook of Operant behavior Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: (1977) Prentice-Hall, co-edited with W. K. Honig
  • Handbook of Operant behavior: Classic Edition (2022) Routledge
  • Scientific Method: How science works, fails to work and pretends to work (Routledge, 2017)
  • The New Behaviorism: Foundations of behavioral science, 3rd Edition (Psychology Press, 2021)
  • Adaptive Dynamics: The Theoretical Analysis of Behavior (MIT/Bradford, 2001)
  • Adaptive Behavior and Learning, 2nd Edition (Cambridge University Press), 2016.
  • Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking. University of Buckingham Press. 2013. ISBN 9781908684370.
  • Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking (Second Edition) (2022) PsyCrit Press, with contributions by David Hockney and Alan Silberberg.
  • The Englishman: Memoirs of a Psychobiologist. University of Buckingham Press, 2016.
  • Staddon, J. E. R. (Ed.) (1980). Limits to action: The allocation of individual behavior. New York: Academic Press.

Writings on general topics[edit]


External links[edit]