Cognitive science and behaviourism


  • B. F. Skinner

    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • B. F. Skinner is Professor of Psychology and Social Relations Emeritus at Harvard University, USA. He presented a version of this paper as the Distinguished Visitor's address to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, University of Swansea, March 1985.

Department of Psychology and Social Relations, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


In this paper it is argued that cognitive scientists, claiming the support of brain science and computer simulation, have revived a traditional view that behaviour is initiated by an internal, autonomous mind. In doing so, they have (1) misused the metaphor of storage and retrieval, (2) given neurology a misleading assignment, (3) frequently replaced controlled experimental conditions with mere descriptions of conditions and the assessment of behaviour with statements of expectations and intentions, (4) given feelings and states of mind the status of causes of behaviour rather than the products of the causes, and (5) failed to define many key terms in dimensions acceptable to science.