The Century Psychology Series: An Important Contribution to Behavior Analysis

Jun 27, 2023 | Historian

Historians’ Corner contributed by Dr. Andy Lattal

Kennon "Andy" Lattal

Dr. Andy Lattal is Centennial Professor of Psychology at West Virginia University, where, since 1972, he has taught and mentored 42 doctoral students. He has published research on a variety of topics related to the reinforcement and elimination of operant behavior and the history and philosophy of behavior analysis. A former Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, he also has held major leadership positions in many of the major organizations dedicated to advancing behavior analysis. His service to behavior analysis has been recognized with SABA’s Distinguished Service to Behavior Analysis and its International Dissemination of Behavior Analysis awards. 

Andy Lattal
West Virginia University
Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, Member, Board of Directors

Figure 1. Engraving of the printing press invented by Johannes Guttenberg in the mid-1400s (Getty Images). Source:

Long before the world wide web, for thousands of years books were the prime means of distributing knowledge. Books originally were created by hand and then by means of printing presses such as the one shown in Figure 1, invented by Johannes Guttenberg in Germany in the mid-1400s. Supplemented first by letters and later by letters organized more formally into journals, books were central to the growth of the sciences, including psychology. Within behavior analysis, one series of books has no equal in terms of its role in disseminating the ideas that formed modern behavior analysis. This series was launched with the 1929 publication of E. G. Boring’s A History of Experimental Psychology. Boring’s classic text was followed in the series by other important texts, not the least of which was Skinner’s Behavior of Organisms in 1938. Thereafter, many of Skinner’s seminal works appeared as part of the series, including Schedules of Reinforcement (1957, with C. B. Ferster), Verbal Behavior (1957; see Figure 2), Cumulative Record (1959, 1961, 1972), Technology of Teaching (1968),  and Contingencies of Reinforcement (1969). The series also contained books by other authors that were instrumental in shaping the discipline, including the two edited volumes by Werner Honig (Operant behavior: Areas of Research and Application [1966] and, with J. E. R. Staddon, Handbook of Operant Research [1977]), volumes on child development (1961 and 1965) by Sid Bijou and Don Baer, W. N. Schoenfeld’s Theory of Reinforcement Schedules (1970), and Travis Thompson and John Grabowski’s programmed textbook on Reinforcement Schedules and Multioperant Analysis(1972), to name but a few.

Figure 2. A first edition of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. The cover style, immediately recognizable to behavior analysts of a certain age, was standard for volumes in the Century Psychology Series of that period.

The series’ first, highly influential, editor was R. M. (“Mike”) Elliott (1887-1969; see Figures 3 and 4). Recommended for the position by none other than E. G. Boring, Elliott was, in 1924 at the time of his appointment,  professor and chair in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota. A remarkably talented psychologist and administrator (he was Department Chair from 1919-1951), Elliott was responsible for the inclusion in the series of not only for the aforementioned books, but also such classics as E. C. Tolman’s Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men (1932) and Clark L. Hull’s Principles of Behavior (1943). Skinner’s connection with Elliott was deep, for it was Elliott who hired Skinner as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota in 1936 and who lamented Skinner’s departure in 1945 to become Chair of Indiana University’s Psychology Department (Elliott, 1952, p. 90). Elliott uniquely recognized and attracted talented people to do interesting things in psychology. In 1952, he appointed another rising star of behavior analysis to the important role of assistant editor of the series. Kenneth MacCorquodale (1919-1986) first became influential in behavior-analytic circles for his analysis, with Paul Meehl, of the distinction between hypothetical constructs and intervening variables (MacCorquodale & Meehl, 1948) and subsequently for two classic analyses of Skinner’s book on Verbal Behavior (MacCorquodale, 1969; 1970). Of Skinner, MacCorquodale subsequently wrote to Elliott, in a letter dated February 8, 1964, as part of a discussion of several potential authors for books in the series: 

As for Fred’s writing, I am in total agreement with you: let us publish anything we can get our hands on, Science and Human Dignity if necessary, Technology of Teaching if possible (although I believe we have a firm contract for that?). As for demilitarizing him he is, as I know, completely intractable and will not change a comma so don’t waste your breath.” (Box 1, Folder 49, page 2; R. M. Elliott archival material, University of Minnesota Library)

Of his work as Editor of the Century Psychology Series, Elliott wrote that “nothing that I have ever put my hand to has been more satisfying” (Elliott, 1952, p. 91). Nothing that he could have put his hand to could have had greater influence on subsequent generations of behavior analysts.  

Figure 3. Richard M. Elliott at the time of his graduation from Dartmouth College in 1910. (University of Minnesota Archives)

Figure 4. Richard M. Elliott undated photo. (University of Minnesota Archives)


Elliott, R. M. (1952). Richard M. Elliott. In E. G. Boring, H. Werner, H. S. Langfeld, & R. M. Yerkes (Eds.), A History of Psychology in Autobiography, Vol. 4, pp. 75–95). Clark University Press.

MacCorquodale, K. (1969). B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior: A retrospective appreciation. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 12 (5), 831-841. 

MacCorquodale, K. (1970). On Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 13, 83-99.

MacCorquodale, K., & Meehl, P.E. (1948). On a distinction between hypothetical constructs and intervening variables. Psychological Review, 55, 95-107.