ABA 510: M2 Study Questions:
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: The Macmillan Company.
1. The application of science has contributed to problems that would lead some to wish it (science) away. In Skinner’s view, is this possible? Why or why not?
2. Skinner asserts that science, and the common view of science, has been tarnished. Explain his evidence for saying this.
3. Skinner is making the point that science can produce good things, but that humans have used science in nefarious ways. He says that now we should apply science to the study of human behavior. Why?
4. What will be the benefit of studying human behavior from a scientific point of view?
5. What are the essential components of science that are described by Skinner (there are two of them)?
6. Describe why Skinner believes that some people will resist the use of science to describe and predict human behavior.
7. In what way is the notion of free will in conflict with a scientific approach to human behavior? What human tendencies compete with a full acceptance of determinism?
8. Skinner contrasts the social sciences and the natural sciences and suggests that one of these more certainly assumes that events occur lawfully. Which one?
9. How does Skinner describe the current (at that time) practice of studying and learning about human behavior?
10. What is the traditional view of Western culture and how does that support or stand in opposition to a scientific study of human behavior?
1. Skinner writes that the “… characteristics of science are not restricted to any particular subject matter.” What is he saying here?
2. What does Skinner mean when he says that the products of science are not the same thing as science itself?
3. There seem to be three characteristics of science described by Skinner (intellectual honesty, skepticism, and search for order). Describe or define each, and give an example in your own words, and explain why each is important to science.
4. One of the characteristics of science is a rejection of authority and dealing with facts. Skinner wrote, “…the facts must stand and the expectations fall.” Why is this so important?
5. “…The value of remaining without an answer…” is related to the belief in skepticism– we do not jump to conclusions, we doubt findings that are based on dubious data, etc. What would you suspect the advantage of this characteristic, or trait, is?
6. Skinner talks about ‘control” of phenomena. What does he mean by this, and why is that a desired scientific outcome?
7. Does Skinner believe that we (before the writing of this book and the development of radical behaviorism and a natural science approach towards behavior) have developed theories and assumptions about why we do what we do that are based on careful data and analysis? Why or why not?
8. The passage on page 15 about a single behavioral event, biographies, and novels, are all examples of the first stage of science, which is “observation.” What does Skinner say about the importance of observation?
9. The second level of science is “prediction,” which Skinner discusses (not using that word) in the section about “uniformity.” He mentions “prediction” on page 16. What is the advantages of, or the importance of, prediction?
10. What does Skinner mean when he says that “behavior” is the focus of a scientific study, rather than something else? What is that something else? (14-16)
11. Skinner writes about how our knowledge, gained from a scientific study of behavior, will eventually begin conflicting with our assumptions, beliefs, prescientific conceptions of behavior. What is the problem with this? What is the outcome?
12. On page 17, Skinner begins writing about how some people find “limitations” of the scientific method. He mentions: the physical sciences unable (so some say) to maintain the philosophy of determinism; that knowledge is limited by the limitations of the knowing organism; the use of statistics; the extraordinary complexity of human behavior; the possibility of predictions about behavior might alter it alone; and finally, the practical application of scientific analysis of behavior. For each of these, be able to state the fundamental argument, but also be able to refute each argument based on Skinner’s information in this chapter.
1. Skinner begins by presenting two new terms (new in the book); “independent variable” and “dependent variable.” Make sure you know which term refers to “cause” and which term refers to “effect.” Define and give an example of each. He then introduces a 3rd term, “functional relation.” Know what phrase is replaced by this phrase.
2. What does Skinner mean that the field of behavior “…still has its astrologers and alchemists”?
3. Cite some of the problems associated with traditional perspective on causes of human behavior. In other words, what is wrong with the results of some of these culturally acceptable perspectives on what causes behavior?
4. Another popular cause of behavior is that of the ‘structure’ of the individual. Describe what this means or involves, and give examples.
5. Another important point Skinner makes about the role of genetics – since we cannot modify genetics, how do we use that genetic information that is proven to influence behavior?
6. Note what Skinner says about whether or not inner explanations can be observed. If they cannot be, what does Skinner conclude?
7. Describe what Skinner means as a “neural cause’ of behavior. What does ‘neural’ refer to? What behavior(s) are hypothesized to be caused by neural events? Can neural causes be observed or detected in any way? If not, what is the problem with that, according to Skinner?
8. Skinner wrote that psychologists often refer to psychic inner causes. Give an example, and be able to explain what Skinner means by that.
9. Summarize the point Skinner is making about the variables of which behavior is actually a function. He is talking about observable, “external” variables. How does he argue that these are better on which to focus than the internal hypothetical ones?
10. List the six sources of information that we can use for studying behavior. Which source is the weakest?