BF Skinner

Why Teaching Others May Be Our Greatest Legacy


By: Beth Garrison, Senior Consultant

I have been thinking a lot as I finish my first term as a PhD student about my own personal mission and vision for my future.  I want to make a difference in this world, to “save the world with behavior analysis,” as they say, but have no clue where to start.  Thinking back on our own beginnings in the field, which began with B.F. Skinner’s work, I realized, it starts with teaching.

In 1958, Skinner published "Teaching Machines,” in Science magazine after being inspired by observing his daughter’s math class in 1953, to where he did not observe individualized learning, nor immediate reinforcement for correct responding (Barrett, 2002).  It was here that one of his great, but not well-known work started  in The Technology of Teaching (Skinner, 1968).  Skinner envisioned a world where learners could learn at their own pace, and receive immediate feedback on work.  Unfortunately, he never saw this vision turn to reality, and in 1993, right before he died, he stated in personal correspondence, “I think education is the greatest disappointment of my life (Barrett, 2002, p. 42).”

Thinking on this today, I thought about my own personal mission and vision to “save the world with behavior analysis,” and realized that we may be able to do so by teaching others.  As teachers, supervisors, and mentors of aspiring behavior analysts, and also the people we support through our field, we are leaving a legacy….but “with that power comes great responsibility.”  Though we are the generation making contributions to the field of behavior analysis and beyond (social justice, business, education, psychology, social work, diversity, machine learning, and politics), we are also shaping the behavior of those who will come after us, who will continue our work when we are gone.

It is in teaching others that we may leave our greatest legacy, and in doing so, save the world with behavior analysis.

Schedule some time to talk to me about behavior analysis and mentorship! We also have coaching available for people who need support!


Barret, B.H. (2002). The technology of teaching revisited: a reader’s companion to B.F. Skinner’s book. Concord, MA: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Skinner, B.F. (1958). Teaching machines. Science. 128, 969-977

Skinner, B.F. (1968). The technology of teaching. East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

How I Found Behavior Analysis


I'll never forget the moment when my undergraduate work study supervisor handed me a book and said, "Here, read this. You will enjoy it after growing up in Philadelphia."

The book was Third and Indiana by Steve Lopez, and it came at an interesting time in my life.  I was going to school at a large Philadelphia university and had just been denied admission to the Music School for the second time, so I was feeling pretty lost considering I trained as a classical flutist for most of my life.  I had just enrolled in "An Intro to Psych" class.  It was an honors class, which meant a small intimate class where we would discuss psychology greats and argue about perspectives on the mind.   It was here I was also introduced to BF Skinner's books: Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two.

After reading Third and Indiana, which introduced me to a side of Philadelphia I knew existed but had not been exposed to (a side that has interestingly been shifted to other sections of the city as sections are gentrified and re-developed--ultimately just shifting the problem instead of addressing it), I wondered how we could help the larger problems of the city such as violence, drug addiction, and the struggle for 14 year olds who should be setting post high school goals versus learning business and social skills on the streets.  

Enter BF Skinner.  After reading Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two, and debating the possibility of a technology of behavior that could "save the world," and shape cultural development, I drank the Kool Aid.  I was introduced to a professor at Temple who studied with a student of Skinner, and the rest is history.  

Now, I focus on the mission of helping other organizations and people shape development through the principles outlined by BF Skinner.  Though my work has taken me to shape development of ABA therapy programs and businesses, I recently began thinking on how we can go back to the idea of using the technology of behavior to "save the world."  I am interested in cultural change as a whole, starting with my own city and the behaviors that occur on a daily basis.

The biggest question now remains is How?  How do we do this?  I'll explore this in the next few weeks so stay tuned! 



Lopez, S. (1995). Third and Indiana.  Penguin Books

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York, NY, US: Knopf/Random House.

Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden Two. Oxford, England: Macmillan




How Does Buddhism Relate to Behavior Analysis?


Recently, I started reading Jack Kornfield's Buddhism for Beginners.  As I listened to the tenets of Buddhism, I began to realize that there were many similarities between the science of behavior analysis and Buddhism, and after doing some research, I found I was not the only one who also held this opinion.

Hayes (2002) and Diller & Lattal (2008) also wrote articles outlining the similarities between the science of behavior analysis and Buddhism.  

So what are they?  Diller & Lattal (2008), wrote in their article, "Behaviorism and Buddhism: Complimentarities and Conflicts," that there appear to be many "complimentarities" between the two.  They argue that with Buddhism, there is the idea that the individual is connected with their environment just as in behavior analysis we look at the learner also being interactive with their environment.  Buddhism emphasizes the goal of gaining knowledge then applying that knowledge to generalize societal improvement.  As B.F. Skinner wrote in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, as he discusses the need to make socially significant behavioral change through our science, "What we need is a technology of behavior to prevent the catastrophe which the world seems to be inexorably moving,"

Steven Hayes (2002), also discusses in his article "Buddhisn and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy," that the empirically validated "third wave" behavior therapy Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Hayes, 2004) and Buddhism have many parallels, the main being looking at the behavioral characteristics of the human attachment to suffering.  In Buddhism, Kornfield argues that it is a part of life, but it is through the awareness of it and the compassion towards others we can free ourselves from the attachment of suffering.  In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, this comes in the form of cognitive defusion  or becoming unentangled from our thoughts and feelings (Hayes, 2004), yet still acknowledging that they are present.  This, Hayes argues, provides a scientific grounding for the practices of Buddhism.



Diller, J.W., Lattal, K. (2008). Radical behaviorism and Buddhism: complementarities and conflicts.  The Behavior Analyst, 31(2), 163-177

Hayes, S. C. (2004). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relational Frame Theory, and the third wave of behavior therapy. Behavior Therapy, 35, 639-665.

Hayes, S.C (2002). Buddhism and acceptance and commitment therapy. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 9(1) 58-66

Kornfield, Jack (2001). Buddhism for Beginners

Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity.


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