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Unformatted text preview: Looking for Skinner and Finding Freud Geir Overskeid University of Oslo Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner are often seen as psy- chology’s polar opposites. It seems this view is fallacious. Indeed, Freud and Skinner had many things in common, including basic assumptions shaped by positivism and de- terminism. More important, Skinner took a clear interest in psychoanalysis and wanted to be analyzed but was turned down. His views were influenced by Freud in many areas, such as dream symbolism, metaphor use, and defense mechanisms. Skinner drew direct parallels to Freud in his analyses of conscious versus unconscious control of behav- ior and of selection by consequences. He agreed with Freud regarding aspects of methodology and analyses of civilization. In his writings on human behavior, Skinner cited Freud more than any other author, and there is much clear evidence of Freud’s impact on Skinner’s thinking. Keywords: B. F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud, history of psy- chology, psychoanalysis, behaviorism W ithout two men, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and B. F. Skinner (1904–1990), the psychol- ogy of the 20th century would have looked very different. Freud and Skinner are found at, or very close to, the top of every list of influential or eminent psychologists (e.g., Haggbloom et al., 2002; Hoefer, War- nick, & Knapp, 2003). Though they both belonged to the universe of psychology, their home regions are often as- sumed to be so far apart that contact is virtually unthink- able. Skinner was an American behaviorist with his roots in animal experimenting and the functionalist tradition, whereas Freud was a continental European brought up on German philosophy and the budding medical science of the late 19th century. Textbooks tend to concentrate on the differences be- tween Skinner and Freud (e.g., Passer & Smith, 2004; Smith, Nolen-Hoeksema, Fredrickson, & Loftus, 2003), and Skinner has been dubbed “one of the least psychoan- alytic thinkers in twentieth-century psychology” (Westen, 1997, p. 530). Other authors have also been unable to see that the two had anything whatsoever in common (e.g., Gardner, 1979; Stanovich, 1992). In outlining a system designed to unify psychology theoretically, Henriques (2003) used the Freudian and the Skinnerian perspectives as the two poles of his system—perspectives, he said, that “appear to be wholly incompatible,” as “there is not cur- rently [i.e., before Henriques’s, 2003, own attempt] a way to blend the insights of the two together in a coherent fashion” (Henriques, 2003, p. 152). Freud’s research and Skinner’s research were in dif- ferent fields. To the extent that their domains overlapped, there are many obvious disagreements. However, behind the differences in theory, application, and terminology, a string of similarities between Freud and Skinner appears— some of which have seldom, if ever, been discussed....
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This note was uploaded on 02/22/2011 for the course PHILO 101 taught by Professor Hurewitz during the Spring '11 term at CUNY Hunter.
- Spring '11