Principles of Psychology by Fred S. Keller and William N. Schoenfeld: A Seminal Volume in the History of Behavior Analysis

Jul 1, 2024 | 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

Several things are needed for a scientific discipline to establish and evolve. It is not enough that there is a definable subject matter and a group of enthusiastic scientists, although without these two ingredients nothing is going to happen. B. F. Skinner’s early work  and the core of people associated with him in the 1930s and 1940s more than satisfied these criteria. Early gatherings of these peoples, such as the 1940s Conferences on the Experimental Analysis of Behavior held at Indiana University and Columbia University (Dinsmoor, 1996) provided a professional identity with the science, as well as means of formal communication about developments in the scientific subject matter. Such communication also comes through journals. In behavior analysis, there were the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, founded in 1958, and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, founded in 1968. Journals unquestionably are needed to stimulate the continued growth of a science, but such growth also depends on the recruitment of new students into the discipline. Such recruitment, as many readers of this piece can attest, begins with an introductory course delineating the subject matter of the discipline, both what it is and why it important. Such introductions usually require a textbook. Fred Keller and Nat Schoenfeld’s Principles of Psychology was the first systematic and comprehensive textbook devoted to what would become behavior analysis. It was a remarkable textbook, as a recent retrospective appreciation of it on its 70th “birthday” published in the Mexican Journal of Behavior Analysis (volume 46, number 1; attests.

Keller and Schoenfeld began teaching the introductory psychology course at Columbia University in the fall semester of 1946. The course innovatively included a “rat lab” component that, according to Keller’s obituary in the New York Times, “made Columbia University the first university in the world where undergraduates conducted experiments with living animals from the start to the finish of the course” (Saxon 1996). Because the course was the introduction to psychology for Columbia undergraduates, a textbook was needed. Who better to write it than the creators of the course? So, write it they did.

The title of the book, Principles of Psychology, harkens to early seminal volumes in the history of psychology. What is generally regarded as the first English-language textbook on psychology, The Principles of Psychology was written by British moral philosopher Herbert Spencer in 1855. The volume predates the beginnings of scientific psychology, so it was more a collection of observations and intuitions about human nature than a scientific survey of accumulated knowledge as modern readers have come to expect. Credit for the first American psychology textbook belongs to William James, who often is described as the father of American psychology. Much of James’s content was anchored in the physiology of his times, but, like Spencer’s content, it contained little empirical “psychological” research simply because so little was available at the time of its publication (1890). James also titled his book The Principles of Psychology, signaling the broad scope of his work. Perhaps the virtually identical title selected by Keller and Schoenfeld was a statement about what they believed about the scope and historical imperative of their volume – that of (re)defining psychology – as well as a reflection of their strong commitment to the position that the principles of learning first articulated by Skinner and his followers in the years preceding the publication of Principles were the true foundation of psychological science.

Keller and Schoenfeld’s version of Principles of Psychology profoundly affected the development of behavior analysis because it provided a model for virtually all subsequent courses and textbooks delineating behavior principles. Courses most often are built around textbooks. These textbooks provide the framework for organizing the subject matter. The behavior principles delineated by Keller and Schoenfeld, of course, subsequently have been kneaded, refined, experimentally fleshed out, further articulated, and related to problems in living over the years since they first put pen to paper (or perhaps rolled paper into a typewriter drum). Their general framework for developing and teaching behavior principles has held up remarkably well. This can be demonstrated by comparing their table of contents, shown in Table 1, to a contemporary version of this material. Their structure endures.

It seems fair to say that few textbooks in behavior analysis have had the impact of Keller and Schoenfeld’s. Clark Hull, the leading American learning theorist at the time the book was published, opined that Keller had “… made a teachable elementary psychology out of technical material in a way which I would not have believed possible if I had not seen the book” (Lattal, 2009, p. 215).  Skinner published Science and Human Behavior (SHB) in 1953, just three years after Principles of Psychology appeared (and dedicated it “To F. S. Keller”).  Skinner’s also- seminal volume was a “horse of a different color” as the old saying goes. Principles was concerned with the nitty-gritty of behavior analysis: characteristically, specific experimental analyses of aspects of behavior principles inductively organized into coherent conceptual frameworks and extrapolations, followed in turn by further experimental analyses and so on. Skinner’s volume similarly contained the results of his extensive experimental analyses of behavior, but in a more general way. SHB also differed in that it contained the now-well-known and still exciting extrapolations of his findings about the determinants of behavior to broader societal issues such as government, religion, and economics. His many insightful extrapolations anticipated developments in basic research, application, and conceptual development that continue to unfold into this first quarter of the 21st century. Together, these two books, like Skinner and Keller themselves, shaped our discipline into what it is. Keller and Schoenfeld belongs in the library of every behavior analyst!


Dinsmoor, J. A. (1987). A visit to Bloomington: The first conference on the experimental analysis of behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 48,441-445. doi:  10.1901/jeab.1987.48-441

Dinsmoor, J. A. (1990). Academic roots: Columbia University, 1943–1951. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 54, 129–149. https:// 129

Lattal, K. A. (2009). In his own words: Fred Keller’s At my own pace. PsycCRITIQUES (Contemporary Psychology) 54, n.p. 770

Saxon, W. (1996a, February 11). Fred S. Keller, 97, a professor and behaviorist. The New York Times.


Онлайн казино Вавада – это виртуальное азартное заведение, где каждый посетитель окунется в захватывающий мир азарта и фортуны. Зайти в казино можно через зеркало Вавада, регистрация проходит всего за несколько минут. Играйте в Вавада онлайн и выигрывайте крупные суммы вместе с нами.