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 Small BAAM Logo Behavioral Essentials
Behaviorists' Bookshelf

Books recommended for behavior analysts and anyone interested in the science of behavior.

Basic Principles | Conceptual Issues | General Science

Behavior Classics

Darwin's Works

Contact BAAM to submit your own review.
Basic Behavior Principles

Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training (Revised Edition)
by Karen Pryor

The title does not do this book justice. It is not really about dogs. Don't Shoot the Dog is a well-written, highly accessible introduction to the basic principles of behavior. It is essentially a primer on applied behavior analysis. But rather than being a cookbook "training manual," Pryor's book teaches how to use reinforcement principles to analyze a behavior problem and then use those same principles to solve the problem. Reinforcement, extinction, stimulus control, punishment, and other principles are covered using many everyday examples. Pryor is sensitive to the errors that often cause reinforcement programs to fail. Pryor makes sure readers know how to select a good reinforcer that will not fade in power. She knows that a good program needs to work after the program is over. The transfer of reinforcement effects from those created for the program to those in everyday life is not ignored. Above all Pryor emphasizes the use of positive reinforcement over aversive methods. Parent, teachers, case managers, or anyone who deals with behavior, will find this book useful, even if they are already experienced with applied behavior analysis. It is an excellent book to give your staff, the parents you work with, and your students. (JTT; 07-24-2005)

Full reference:

Pryor, K. (1999). Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training (Revised Edition). New York: Bantam Books.

About the author:

Karen Pryor is a veteran animal trainer and author of several books about behavior and other topics.. She is largely responsible for popularizing "clicker training," a postive-reinforcement-based teaching method derived directly from the work of B.F. Skinner. She is CEO of a behavioral publishing company (Biography; Interview).

Conceptual and Theoretical Issues

Cumulative Record: Definitive Edition
by B.F. Skinner

Cumulative Record is a collection of B.F. Skinner's papers from the beginning of his career in the 1920s through the 1970s. It has become the standard source for anyone wanting to read Skinner's major articles. It also contains an excellent selection of articles that are not "major" but are nevertheless quite interesting and important for understanding Skinner, the science of behavior, and its history. Included in this collection are classics such as "The Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms," "Freedom and the Control of Men," "Are Theories of Learning Necessary?," "A Case History in Scientific Method," "Pigeons in a Pelican," "Superstition in the Pigeon, " and "The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching." These are essentials for anyone aspires to thoroughly understand the science of behavior. Articles such as "A Squirrel in the Yard," "Has Gertrude Stein a Secret," and "Creating the Creative Artist," show the breadth and depth of Skinner's knowledge and published output. This edition also includes the text of Skinner's last article, "Can Psychology Be a Science of Mind?," completed the evening before he died of leukemia on August 18, 1990. Because this the "Definitive Edition," it includes all the material from the previous three editions of the book. It was complied by Victor G. Laties and A. Charles Catania, who have also provided an interesting Foreword, a comprehensive index, and other historical and reference material. This book is required reading for all students of behavior analysis, and would be an excellent book for anyone who want a deeper, more technical understanding of behavior analysis. (JTT; 07-24-2005)

Full reference:

Skinner, B.F. (1999). Cumulative record: Definitive edition. Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Company.

About the author:

B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) was the founder of the experimental analysis of behavior, a natural science approach to the description, prediction, and control of the behavior of organisms. His work and ideas have had an impact on all areas of psychology and culture. Behavior principles derived from his work have been adopted throughout psychology and clinical psychology. His views have become foundational to the understanding of behavior in general. Reinforcement principles based on his work have revolutionized treatment of developmental disabilities, autism, head injuries, and other severe behavior problems. Before the advent of applied behavior analysis, these problems were generally considered intractable (Biography).

From Darwin to Behaviourism: Psychology and the Minds of Animals.
by Robert Boakes

From Darwin to Behaviourism is out of print but remains the best and most comprehensive account of the early history of comparative psychology and behaviorism available. If a trip to the used bookstore will not net a copy, a trip to the library might.

Boakes' thorough treatment covers the influence of Darwinian, Lamarckian, and other views of evolution on the understanding of animal behavior in the twentieth century. The impact of Descartes, La Mettrie, Hartley, Mueller, and Helmholtz are not forgotten. Excellent groundwork is laid for understanding why Morgan, Romanes, Thorndike, Watson, Yerkes, and others adopted the viewpoints they did--ranging from the self-consciously behavioral position of Watson to the mentalistic animal psychologies of Kohler and Romanes. Boakes shines especially when he places the laboratory activities of Watson and other early twentieth century animal psychologists in their institutional contexts. These early psychologists were not simply trying to develop and advance theories of behavior. They were trying to create a new discipline of psychology distinct from philosophy on one side and physiology on the other. (JTT; 10-10-2006)

Full reference:

Boakes, R. (1984). From Darwin to behaviourism: Psychology and the minds of animals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies.
by Steven B. Smith

It might seem odd to recommend a book with the word "mental" in the title to behavior analysts. But this book is not really about "mental " activity. This book is about private calculating behavior. In fact, it is very clear that the people who perform the mathematical feats described in the book regard what they are doing as real work. There is no ineffable "information processing" going on behind the scenes. It is also very clear that the private behavior of calculating powers, roots, and other functions derives directly from the public versions of the same activities. People who learn to do "mental arithmetic" before they can read are "auditory" calculators. They speak or hear the problems silently to themselves, often with accompanying lip and facial movements. John B. Watson, and others before him, regarded such behavior as evidence for their motor theories of thinking. Those who learn to calculate after they learn to write are usually "visual" calculators. They see the calculations as they do them. Or, at least they visualize parts of the problem and intermediate answers.

Behaviorists interested in the study of private events and the relationship of private behavior to public behavior might make note how the calculations are done. The answers to mathematical problems can be uniquely related to the steps required to solve the problem. Mistakes can be used to infer, sometimes with great accuracy, what might have gone wrong in the private calculation. Putting some kind of reinforcement contingency on the private behavior of calculating could be done with a degree of precision not possible with other kinds of private behavior. That is, the analysis of the behavior of mathematics prodigies might be an excellent starting point for behaviorists who would like to make a foray into "cognitive psychology." (JTT; 10-10-2006)

Full reference:

Smith, S. S. (1983). The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies. New York: Columbia University Press.

General Science

The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
by Richard Dawkins

In The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins begins in the present and takes modern humans back through time to meet their evolutionary ancestors using a format based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Humans meet with groups of organisms at the point in time at which their evolutionary paths diverge, and these organisms then join with humans on their journey back in time to the very beginnings of life on earth. As in the Canterbury Tales, the organisms that join the journey have a story to tell their fellow travelers--with each story highlighting different aspects of evolutionary theory: sexual selection, speciation, geographical dispersion. Through this pilgrimage of organisms, Dawkins informs readers of the latest research in evolution and genetics in a very entertaining and accessible manner. Readers get a deep appreciation for the complexity of life and the great degree of relatedness of humans to all other forms of life.

Some of the stories may be of particular interest to individuals studying human behavior. The grasshopper's tale discusses the genetic and evolutionary research on race and racial classification. The beaver's tale discusses the concept of the extended phenotype, through which complex behaviors, such as dam and nest building, can be explained as a result of a history of natural selection for such behavior. The only shortcoming the book might have is Dawkins's tendency to comment on how interesting various concepts and ideas are, then leave them unexamined for, he states, he has discussed them at length in other books, But this is a minor quibble, and in no way should keep anyone from reading this thoroughly entertaining and informative mix of theory, research, and Dawkins's interesting take on evolution. (Amy K. Drayton; 10-26-2005)

Full Reference:

Dawkins, R. (2004). The ancestor's tale: A pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

About the author:

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and several other books on biology and evolution.

How Superstition Won and Science Lost: Popularizing Science and Health in the United States
by John C. Burnham

Burnham explores the history of science popularization from 1830 to the present. He convincingly shows that the nature of science writing has changed from presenting science as an objective, naturalistic process to presenting science as a kind of magic or superstition. Gone are the days of writers such as Isaac Asimov who were self-consciously and unapologetically scientific, concentrating on the process of discovery--not afraid to include math and technical terminology in their carefully developed expositions. In their place, modern science writers and journalists, often untrained in science, concentrate on the products of science, adopting a fragmented, gee-whiz style of presentation that emphasizes outcomes and avoids putting discoveries in an empirical or conceptual context. Science journalism, especially as it appears on television, increasingly relies on appeals to authority, often placing a scientific viewpoint on an equal plane with a non-expert opposing opinion. The result has been the growth and spread of superstitious modes of thinking and acceptance of pseudoscience. (JTT; 07-23-2005)

Full Reference:

Burnham, J. C. (1987). How Superstition Won and Science Lost: Popularizing Science and Health in the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutger's University Press.

About the author:

John C. Burnham is Professor of History at Ohio State University

The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions
by Robert Todd Carroll

The Skeptic's Dictionary is not really a dictionary. It is really an encyclopedia of terms and concepts from all areas of pseudoscience, from acupuncture to zombies. In between, there is a wealth of information on topics of interest to psychologists such as dianetics and scientology, facilitated communication, false memories, the Myers-Briggs indicator, neurolinguistic programming, and the Rorschach test. As a bona-fide scientific approach to behavior, behavior analysis is not mentioned. But mainstream psychology finds itself in the embarrassing position of having its concepts well represented, and not being too different from those things that are widely acknowledged to the pseudosciences. In these days of the ascendancy of pseudoscience, this is a very valuable book to help keep those remaining rational thinkers one step ahead of the forces of superstition. (JTT; 07-23-2005)

Full reference:

Carroll, R.T. (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

About the author:

Robert Todd Carroll is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Sacramento City College.

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.
by Michael Shermer

Shermer's book, Why People Believe Weird Things, is really less about why people and more about what people believe. It is still a good read. Shermer describes people who believe in the reality of ESP even when they cannot seem to make it work. He discusses near-death experiences that are exactly like near-sleep experiences--hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations. A chapter on alien abductions starts with an account of Shermer's own abduction experience, which was actually his rescue from a grueling bicycle race by his crew. The witch hunts of the 1600s are compared to the epidemic of false accusations of Satanic ritual abuse in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Ayn Rand's cult of personality provides a break from the psychics and psychological victimizers. Then Shermer deals with creationists, Holocaust deniers, Bell Curve racists, and concludes with bizarre cosmologies believed by earnest university physicists who predict our eventual resurrection by an omniscient and omnipotent supercomputer of the future. Much of this involves accounts of Shermer's personal interactions with the believers, all of whom seem to find his science-based doubts wholly unconvincing. Behavior analysts will even find the Foreword interesting. Written by the late Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, it includes a poignant indictment of facilitated communication by the scientist-father of an autistic child. He understood why facilitated communication is a sham and its tremendous potential for harm. As for the why, behavior analysts already know that verbal behavior is often far more affected by social contingencies than by its correspondence with the relevant events. Thus, it is possible for an ESP believer to never see a demonstration work, but insist that ESP is real. More frightening is that the same contingencies give rise to the behavior of Holocaust deniers and health scammers. (JTT; 07-23-2005)

Full reference:

Shermer, M. (2002). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (Revised edition). New York: Henry Holt & Company.

About the author:

Michael Shermer is editor of The Skeptic magazine.

Behavior Classics

Full text downloads of classic books in the history of behavioral psychology from Google, Classics in the History of Psychology, and other sources.

(What happened to some of the links?)

Special Charles Darwin Section
(Links to Cambridge University Darwin Collection)

Behaviorists bookshelf