Misunderstandings about Behavior Analysis and Radical Behaviorism

Unfortunately, behavior analysis and behaviorism are being widely misunderstood. We are concerned about it. People who misunderstand the science of behavior also misunderstand Los Horcones.

If you read about psychology it is very likely that you find false statements about the science of behavior and its philosophy radical behaviorism. More than 90 % of psychology text books misrepresent behavior analysis and behaviorism.

On this page we would like to clarify some of these misunderstandings.

Note for psychology faculty


If you are presenting behavior analysis or behaviorism to your students, if you are talking about B. F. Skinner’s work or about his novel “Walden Two”, please read more about these topics before presenting them, go directly to Skinner’s books. If you read Skinner’s books you will realize that he never denied that people feel and think; that he never considered human beings as robots.



Behavior Analysis is misunderstood when:

1. It is said to be mechanistic, to consider human beings as machines, or robots without feelings, emotions or thoughts. See Behavior Analysis

2. It is said to be reductionistic, to consider psychological events as biological or physical.

3. It is said that it reduces human psychology to stimuli and responses. It is said to be based on Pavlov’s ideas. It is said that human behavior is conditioned reflex.

4. It is said to deny freedom and dignity, asserting that human behavior is predestined. It is said that human beings are slaves of circumstances and that nobody has dignity because nobody has merit.

5. It is said to be based on logical positivism, which means that we are able to study only what can be observed and verified by two people. It is said to deny the existence of feelings and thoughts because they can not be observed by others. It is said that human beings are black boxes.

6.It is said that it is not a science but Skinner’s theory alone, that it is based on his very personal way of conceiving human behavior.

7. It is said that behavior scientists are interested in manipulating or controlling people.

8. It is said that it is a cold and dehumanizing science.

9. It is said that it denies the uniqueness of the individual,meaning that every person respond to the same stimulus in the same way.It is said that humans are machines.



 Maybe you can ask yourself why Los Horcones is trying to clarify misunderstandings about a science of behavior and its philosophy. Perhaps you think : “A community does not have anything to do with psychology.” May we explain it to you; if a community is a group of people who are not concerned with offering an alternative society to the present one, then it does not need to be concerned about psychology. But if a community is an experiment to discover how to design a better society, then it need to be concerned with psychology.

Since human behavior is the central point of any society, and psychology is the science that studies human behavior.We need to apply psychology. In the case of Los Horcones, we are applying behavioral psychology (science of behavior), but unfortunately it has been very misunderstood. So we need to clarify that.



Why we need a science of behavior to build a communitarian and ecological society?

The answer is very simple. To live in society implies social interaction, social interaction is human behavior, human behavior is the subject matter of the science of behavior.



Radical Behaviorism is misunderstood when:

1. It is said radical behaviorism does not take into consideration(or ignores) feelings and thinking –cognitive processes (thoughts, expectations,language, perception, problem solving, consciousness, creativity, etc).

Clarification. Behaviorism does not ignore affective and cognitive processes. Precisely, because behaviorism does take into account thinking and feeling it is classified as “radical”.

2. It is said to neglect biological heredity.

Clarification. Radical behaviorism recognizes that part of our total behavior is inherited, this is to say, unlearned.

3. It is said to consider human beings as any other animal.

Clarification. Human behavior is much more complex then the behavior of other animals. Our verbal repertory enables us to do what other animals cannot do. From a behavioristic perspective human behavior should be objectively studied, but this does not mean that it considers human beings like rats or apes.

4. It is said to consider human behavior only as a response to stimuli.

Clarification. Human organisms are not passive before the environment. We can change our environment. Behaviorism is misunderstood when it is taken as a stimulus-response psychology. Human beings change their environment. We are in a constant relationship with our environment.It affects us and we affect it. We are not machines.

5. It is said it does not believe in freedom.

Clarification. The behavioristic concept of freedom differs from the traditional concept. Traditionally, the concept of freedom has been that human being behave independent of their environment. The behavioristic concept of freedom is: Human behavior is a product of our interaction with our environment. When we realize that our behavior is influence by the environment we become more free, and we are more capable of changing our behavior.

6. It is said it considers that man does not have dignity.

7. It is said it denies the uniqueness of the individual.

8. It is said to be anti-democratic.

Clarification. When we analyze political behavior from a behavioristic perspective, we discover that democracy needs to be more open and participational. Behaviorism offers a governmental system that really gives people political power and the right to manage their own communities.A society which applies the science of behavior in its organization, is one where citizens manage cooperatively their own affairs.

Political theories that promote local government, direct democracy, municipalization, town meetings or assemblies, etc., are compatible with the type of government proposed by Walden Two. See Personocracy.

9. It is said it denies the existence of mind.

10. It is said it denies the existence of spirit. See Religion.

Clarification: The science of behavior has nothing to say about supernatural entities. Behaviorists respect beliefs. However, when people try to explain a behavior (human action) appealing to supernatural forces, behaviorists do not accept this explanation. For example, saying that evil spiritual influences are causing misbehavior.



“About Behaviorism”

If you want to read directly from Skinner what are the most frequent misunderstandings about the science of behavior and behaviorism, you can read the book he wrote in 1974 titled: About Behaviorism .

The following misunderstandings were taken from B.F. Skinner’s book: About Behaviorism (1974.Alfred A.Knopf: New York. Pp. 3,4,5.) in which Skinner wrote: “Here for example,are some of the things commonly said about behaviorism or the science of behavior.They are all, I believe, wrong.”

“1. It ignores consciousness, feelings, and states of mind.

2. It neglects innate endowment and argues that all behavior is acquired during the lifetime of an individual.

3. It formulates behavior simply as a set of responses to stimuli thus representing a person as an automaton, robot, puppet or machine.

4. It does not attempt to account for cognitive processes.

5. It has no place for intention or purpose.

6. It cannot explain creative achievements -in art, for example, or in music, literature, science or mathematics.

7. It assigns no role to a self or sense of self.

8. It is necessarily superficial and cannot deal with the depths of the mind or personality.

9. It limits itself to the prediction and control of the behavior and misses the essential nature of being of man.

10. It works with animals, particularly with white rats, but not with people and it’s pictures of human behavior is therefore confirmed to those features which human beings share with animals.

11. It’s achievements under laboratory control cannot be duplicated in daily life and what it has to say about human behaviorism the world at large is therefore unsupported mutations.

12. It is oversimplified and naive and its facts are either trivial or already well known.

13. It is scientistic rather than scientific. It merely emulates the sciences.

14. It’s technological achievements could have come about through the use of common sense.

15. If its contentions are valid, they must apply to the behavioral scientist himself and what he says is therefore only what he has been conditioned to say and cannot be true.

16. It dehumanizes man; it is reductionistic and destroys man qua man.

17. It is concerned only with general principles and therefore neglects the uniqueness of the individual.

18. It is necessarily anti-democratic because the relation between experimenter and subject is manipulative and its results can therefore be used by dictators but not by man of goodwill.

19. It regards abstract ideas such as morality or justice as fictions.

20. It is indifferent to the warmth and richness of human life and it is incompatible with the creation and enjoyment of art, music and literature and with love for one’s fellow men.”

Note to students:

It is very sad that the Science of Behavior and its philosophy,Radical Behaviorism have been and continues to be misunderstood. Please help us clarify misunderstandings about this science and philosophy telling your teachers what you have read in this page and giving them our e-mail and home page addresses.

Please if you hear about another misunderstanding not included in this page, please send it to us.



Here we will write your opinions why Behavior Analysis and Radical Behaviorism have been so misunderstood. Please send your comments.


We have almost finished a book titled: “Radical Behaviorism:Personal Implications.” If you are interested, please let us know