Skip to main content

An operant analysis of problem solving

  • B. F. Skinner (a1)

Behavior that solves a problem is distinguished by the fact that it changes another part of the solver's behavior and is strengthened when it does so. Problem solving typically involves the construction of discriminative stimuli. Verbal responses produce especially useful stimuli, because they affect other people. As a culture formulates maxims, laws, grammar, and science, its members behave more effectively without direct or prolonged contact with the contingencies thus formulated. The culture solves problems for its members, and does so by transmitting the verbal discriminative stimuli called rules. Induction, deduction, and the construction of models are ways of producing rules. Behavior that solves a problem may result from direct shaping by contingencies or from rules constructed either by the problem solver or by others. Because different controlling variables are involved, contingency-shaped behavior is never exactly like rule-governed behavior. The distinction must take account of (1) a system which establishes certain contingencies of reinforcement, such as some part of the natural environment, a piece of equipment, or a verbal community; (2) the behavior shaped and maintained by these contingencies; (3) rules, derived from the contingencies, which specify discriminative stimuli, responses, and consequences, and (4) the behavior occasioned by the rules.

Hide All
Adrian, E. D. (1928) The basis of sensations: The action of the sense organs. W. W. Norton. [taBFS]
Arbib, M. A. & Caplan, D. (1979) Neurolinguistics must be computational. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2:449–84. [EPS]
Bacon, F. (1620) Novum organum. J. Billius. [LJC]
Berlyne, D. E. (1966) Discussions of papers by Israel Goldiamond, B. F. Skinner, and Arthur W. Staats. In: Problem solving: Research, method and theory, ed. Kleinmuntz, B.. Wiley. [EH]
Berlyne, D. E. (1969) The reward-value of indifferent stimulation. In: Reinforcement and behavior, ed. Tapp, J. T.. Academic Press. [SG]
Bitterman, M. E. (1975) The comparative analysis of learning. Science 188:699709. [NEW]
Block, N., ed. (1981) Readings in philosophy of psychology, vol. 2. Methuen. [GK]
Bloomfield, T. M. (1969) Behavioral contrast and the peak shift. In: Animal discrimination learning, ed. Gilbert, R. M. & Sutherland, N. S.. Academic Press. [SG]
Bridgman, P. W. (1952) The nature of some of our physical concepts. Philosophical Library. [taBFS]
Bridgman, P. W. (1959) The way things are. Harvard University Press. [taBFS]
Brunswik, E. (1952) The conceptual framework of psychology. University of Chicago Press. [RMH]
Bunge, M. (1968) Scientific research, vol. 2, The search for truth. Springer. [PCD]
Camerer, C. F. (1981) The validity and utility of expert judgment. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago. [RMH]
Chi, M. T. H., Glaser, R. & Rees, E. (1982) Expertise in problem solving. In: Advances in the psychology of human intelligence, vol. 1, ed. Sternberg, R. J.. Erlbaum Associates. [EH]
Chomsky, N. (1959) Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal behavior. Language 35:2658. [PJ]
Chomsky, N. (1969) Comments on Harman. In: Language and philosophy, ed. Hook, S.. New York University Press. [EPS]
Chomsky, N. (1980) Rules and representations. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:161. [EPS]
Clark, H. H. & Haviland, S. E. (1977) Comprehension and the given-new contract. In: Discourse production and comprehension, ed. Freedle, R. O.. Ablex. [EH]
Clark, J. H. (1963) Adaptive machines in psychiatry. In: Nerve, brain and memory models, ed. Wiener, J. & Schade, J. P.. Amsterdam. [taBFS]
Cohen, L. J. (in press) Semantics and the computational metaphor. In: Logic, methodology and philosophy of Science, vol. 7, ed. Marcus, R. Barcan, Dorn, G. & Weingartner, P.. North-Holland. [LJC]
Dawes, R. M. & Corrigan, B. (1974) Linear models in decision making. Psychological Bulletin 81:95106. [RMH]
Dennett, D. C. (1978) Skinner skinned. In: Brainstorms, by Dennett, D. C.. Bradford/MIT Press. [EPS]
Dennett, D. C. (1981) Brainstorms: Philosophical essays on mind and psychology. MIT Press. [PJ, GK]
Dodwell, P. C. (1977) Criteria for a neuropsychological theory of perception. Cahiers de psychologic 20:175–82. [PCD]
Einhorn, H. J. (1980) Overconfidence in judgment. In: New directions for methodology of social and behavioral science: Fallible judgment in behavioral research, vol. 4, ed. Shweder, R.. Jossey-Bass. [RMH]
Einhorn, H. J. & Hogarth, R. M. (1982) Prediction, diagnosis, and causal thinking in forecasting. Journal of Forecasting 1:2336. [RMH]
Einhorn, H. J. & Hogarth, R. M. (1983) Diagnostic inference and causal judgment: A decision making framework. University of Chicago, Center for Decision Research. [RMH]
Epstein, W., ed. (1977) Stability and constancy in visual perception: Mechanisms and processes. Wiley. [SG]
Fantino, E., Dunn, R. & Meek, W. (1979) Percentage reinforcement and choice. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 32:335–40. [SG]
Fodor, J. A. (1975) The language of thought. Crowell. [LJC, EPS]
Fodor, J. A. (1980) Methodological solipsism considered as a research strategy in cognitive psychology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:63109. [LJC]
Fodor, J. A. (1981) Representations. Harvester. [LJC]
Fodor, J. A., Bever, T. G. & Garrett, M. F. (1974) The psychology of language. McGraw-Hill. [EPS]
Freeman, W. J. (1979) EEG analysis gives model of neuronal template-matching mechanism for sensory search with olfactory bulb. Biological Cybernetics 35:221–34. [SG]
Gauld, A. & Shotter, J. (1977) Human action and its psychological investigation. Routledge & Kegan Paul. [JGR]
Grossberg, S. (1975) A neural model of attention, reinforcement, and discrimination learning. International Review of Neurobiology 18:263327. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1978a) Behavioral contrast in short-term memory: Serial binary memory models or parallel continuous memory models? Journal of Mathematical Psychology 17:199219. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1978b) A theory of human memory: Self-organization and performance of sensory-motor codes, maps, and plans. In: Progress in theoretical biology, vol. 5, ed. Rosen, R. & Snell, F.. Academic Press. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1980) How does a brain build a cognitive code? Psychological Review 87:151. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1982a) Processing of expected and unexpected events during conditioning and attention: A psychophysiological theory. Psychological Review 89:529–72. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1982b) A psychophysiological theory of reinforcement, drive, motivation, and attention. Journal of Theoretical Neurobiology 1:286369. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1982c) Studies of mind and brain: Neural principles of learning, perception, development, cognition, and motor control. Reidel Press. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1983a) The adaptive self-organization of serial order in behavior: Speech and motor control. In: Perception of speech and visual form: Theoretical issues, models, and research, ed. Schwab, E. C. & Nusbaum, H.. Academic Press. [SG]
Grossberg, S. (1983b) Some psychophysiological and pharmacological correlates of a developmental, cognitive, and motivational theory. In: Brain and information: Event related potentials, ed. Karrer, R., Cohen, J. & Tueting, P.. New York Academy of Sciences. [SG]
Harris, C. S., ed. (1980) Visual coding and adaptibility. Erlbaum Associates. [SG]
Held, R. (1961) Exposure-history as a factor in maintaining stability of perception and coordination. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 132:2632. [SG]
Herrnstein, R. J., Loveland, D. H. & Cable, C. (1976). Natural concepts in pigeons. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes 2:235311. [rBFS]
Hinson, J. M. & Staddon, J. E. R. (1978) Behavioral competition: A mechanism for schedule interactions. Science 202:432–34. [SG]
Hume, D. (1739) A treatise of human nature. J. Noon. [LJC]
Hunt, E. (1981) The design of a robot mind: A theoretical approach to some issues in intelligence. In: Intelligence and learning, ed. Friedman, M. P., Das, J. P. & O'Connor, N.. Plenum Press. [EH]
Hunt, E. & Pixton, P. (1982) A general model for simulating information processing experiments. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, pp. 164–66. [EH]
Julià, P. (1983) Explanatory models in linguistics: A behavioral perspective. Princeton University Press. [PJ]
Killeen, P. (1982) Incentive theory, 2: Models for choice. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 38:217–32. [SG]
Larkin, J. H., McDermott, J., Simon, D. P. & Simon, H. A. (1980) Expert and novice performance in solving physics problems. Science 208:1335–42. [EH]
Lewin, K. (1936) Principles of topological psychology. McGraw-Hill. [MK, taBFS]
Marr, D. (1982) Vision. Freeman. [EPS]
Maslow, A. (1962) Toward a psychology of being. Van Nostrand. [taBFS]
Michotte, A. (1946) La perception de la causalité. Vrin. [RMH]
Näätänen, R., Hukkanen, S. & Järvilechto, T. (1980) Magnitude of stimulus deviance and brain potentials. In: Progress in brain research, vol. 54, Motivation, motor and sensory processes of the brain, ed. Kornhuber, H. H. and Deecke, L.. Elsevier-North Holland. [SG]
Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83:435–50. [LJC]
Neisser, U. (1963) The imitation of man by machine. Science 138:193–97. [taBFS]
Newell, A. & Simon, H. A. (1972) Human problem solving. Prentice-Hall. [JMS]
Nisbett, R. E. & Ross, L. (1980) Human inference: Strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Prentice-Hall. [RMH, EPS]
Paige, J. M. & Simon, H. A. (1966). Cognitive processes in solving algebra word problems. In: Problem solving: Research, method, and theory. ed. Kleinmuntz, B.. Wiley. [EH]
Pelham, G. F. (1982) The psychological writings of B. F. Skinner. Doctoral dissertation, University of Bradford, England. [RH]
Polanyi, M. (1958) The study of man. Routledge. [taBFS]
Polanyi, M. (1960) Personal knowledge. University of Chicago Press. [taBFS]
Popper, K. (1963) Conjectives and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. Routledge & Kegan Paul. [PCD]
Pounds, W. (1969) The process of problem finding. Industrial Management Review 11(1):119. [GK]
Pylyshyn, Z. (1980) Computation and cognition: Issues in the foundation of cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3:11169. [EPS]
Raaheim, K. (1961) Problem solving: A new approach. Acta Universitatis Bergensis, Series Humaniorum Litterarum, no. 5 [KR]
Raaheim, K. (1974) Problem solving and intelligence. Universitetsforlaget. [KR]
Rein, J. G. & Svartdal, F. (1979) Limitations of Skinner's concept of an “operant.” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 20:6570. [JGR]
Rogers, C. (1961) On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin. [taBFS]
Roughead, W. G. & Scandura, J. M. (1968) “What is learned” in mathematical discovery. Journal of Educational Psychology 59:283–89. [JMS]
Salaman, R. A. (1957) Tradesmen's tools. In: A history of technology, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. [taBFS]
Seandura, J. M. (1964) An analysis of exposition and discovery modes of problem solving instruction. Journal of Experimental Education 33:145–48. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1969) New directions for theory and research on rule learning. II. Empirical research. Acta Psychologica 29:101–33. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1970) The role of rules in behavior: Toward an operational definition of what (rule) is learned. Psychological Review 77:516–33. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1971) Deterministic theorizing in structural learning: Three levels of empiricism. Journal of Structural Learning 3:2153. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1973) Structural learning, vol. 1, Theory and research. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1976) ed. Structural learning, vol. 2, Issues and approaches. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1977) Problem solving. Academic Press. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1981) Problem solving in schools and beyond: Transitions from the naive to the neophyte to the master. Educational Psychologist 16:139–50. [JMS]
Seandura, J. M. (1982) Structural (cognitive task) analysis. I. Background and empirical research. Journal of Structural Learning 7:101–14. [JMS]
Scandura, J. M. & Scandura, A. B. (1980) Structural learning and concrete operations: An approach to Piagetian conservation. Praeger. [JMS]
Schick, K. (1974) Operants. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 15:413–23. [JGR]
Schneider, W. & Shiffrin, R. M. (1977) Controlled and automatic human information processing. 1. Detection, search and attention. Psychological Review 84:166. [EH]
Skinner, B. F. (1938) The behavior of organisms. Appleton-Century. [JGR]
Skinner, B. F. (1953) Science and human behavior. Macmillan. [JGR, rBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1957) Verbal behavior. Appleton-Century-Crofts. [PJ, tarBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1963a) Behaviorism at fifty, Science 140:951–58. [taBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1963b) Operant behavior. American Psychologist 18:503–15. [taBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1966) Preface to paperback ed. of The behavior of organisms. 1st ed. 1938, Appleton-Century-Crofts. [taBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1968) The technology of teaching. Appleton-Century-Crofts. [taBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1969) Contingencies of reinforcement. Appleton-Century-Crofts. [JGR]
Skinner, B. F. (1971) Beyond freedom and dignity. Knopf. [rBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1974) About behaviorism. Knopf. [rBFS]
Skinner, B. F. (1983) A matter of consequences. Knopf. [rBFS]
Squires, K., Wickens, C., Squires, N. & Donchin, E. (1976) The effect of stimulus sequence on the waveform of the cortical event-related potential. Science 193:1142–46. [SG]
Stabler, E. P. (1983) How are grammars represented? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 6:391421. [EPS]
Sternberg, R. J., ed. (1982) Handbook of human intelligence. Cambridge University Press. [KR]
Stinessen, L. (1983) Intentionality, problem solving, and rule-governed behavior. Doctoral dissertation, University of Trondheim. [JGR]
Taube, M. (1961) Computers and common sense: The myth of thinking machines. Columbia University Press. [taBFS]
Taylor, C. (1964) The explanation of behavior. Routledge & Kegan Paul. [PJ]
Tecee, J. J. (1972) Contingent negative variation (CNV) and psychological processes in man. Psychological Review 77:73108. [SG]
Thomas, L. (1983) The youngest science: Notes of a medicine watcher. Viking Press. [RMH]
Ullman, S. (1979) The interpretation of visual motion. MIT Press. [EPS]
Verplanck, W. S. (1962) Unaware of where's awareness: Some verbal operants–notates, monents, and notants. In: Behavior and awareness. Duke University Press. [WSV]
Wallach, H. & Karsh, E. B. (1963) Why the modification of stereoscopic depth-perception is so rapid. American Journal of Psychology 76:413–20. [SG]
Wanner, E. & Gleitman, L. R. (1982) Language acquisition: The state of the art. Cambridge University Press. [EPS]
Wisdom, J. (1938) Metaphysics and verification, 1. Mind 47:452–98. [PCD]
Woolridge, D. (1963) The machinery of the brain. McGraw-Hill. [EPS]
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed