Five Inspirational Quotes by Behavior Analysts

By Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

During my readings I often come across interesting passages; sometimes they are motivating, sometimes insightful, and sometimes even sad. I always think I will remember the quote based on the sheer impact it had on me at the time. But that rarely happens. I mean, let’s face it: I am lucky if I remember to pack a lunch each day. I now attempt to make physical (or electronic) notes about those impactful quotes when I run across them. I would like to share some with you. For this article, I have chosen quotes I find inspirational. There are so many inspiring things behavior analysts have said and written there is no way to cover them all or even to rank them, so please enjoy these five.

“Behavior analysis is not merely the sum of its basic and applied research Morris et al., 1990, Unity of BAand conceptual programs. It is their interrelationship, wherein each branch draws strength and integrity from the others. With the unity of behavior analysis clarified, the whole of behavior analysis emerges as greater than the sum of its parts.”    – Ed Morris, et al., 1990

This quote (Morris, et al., 1990, p. 136) describes the exquisiteness of a complex system, one in which the actors are each performing their unique roles in ways such that the products of their actions build exponentially upon one another to create something bigger – and often better – than any individual contribution alone could construct. This quote comes from a 1990 publication in The Behavior Analyst titled “The history of behavior analysis: Some historiography and a bibliography” by Edward K. Morris, James T. Todd, Bryan D. Midgley, Susan M. Schneider, and Lisa M. Johnson. In it, the authors address the discipline of historiography as it relates to behavior analysis and provide a very useful bibliography of important behavior analytic publications organized by type and topic. The inspirational quote aside, this publication is something every behavior analyst should have in their library. Call me a sentimental science nut, but I think this quote is beautiful!

“Indeed, positive recognition, especially from the women in my family… Sulzer-Azaroff, 2015, Positive Recognitionimpacted my life in significant ways.” – Beth Sulzer-Azaroff, 2015

Beth Sulzer-Azaroff began her chapter of the new book Behavioral Science: Tales of Inspiration, Discovery, and Service with the acknowledgement that she, like other humans, is influenced by positive social attention (Sulzer-Azaroff, 2015, p. 140). Her statement is a nice reminder that what we say to those around us can meaningfully impact their lives. Sulzer-Azaroff’s experience is not dissimilar to my own – I am heavily influenced by social praise – but it is also a reminder of changing culture. Sulzer-Azaroff was in primary school during the late 1930s (don’t worry, I am not outing her age; she says as much in her chapter). I was born post-women’s rights movements. I was raised when the majority of Americans considered it “normal” for women to go to college for their own enrichment and to further their own careers as opposed to simply establishing fall-back options. Sulzer-Azaroff’s description of her childhood, education, and career is a poignant example of why pioneers (of many kinds) are so important to future generations. It was relatively unusual for a woman to even consider–let alone earn–a Ph.D. when Sulzer-Azaroff was a student, but because of people like her, no one questioned my decision to pursue that same level of education.

“Man’s power appears to have increased out of all proportion to his Skinner, 1951, Wisdomwisdom. He has never been in a better position to build a healthy, happy, and productive world; yet things have perhaps never seemed so black.” – B. F. Skinner, 1951

Now, I know this quote (Skinner, 1951, p. 4) might not seem inspirational at first glance, and I would agree. However, I look at it as a reminder of two important things: 1) We really do have the tools we need to continue improving the human condition, and 2) perspective and how you frame an issue can change not only what you think of the problem but how you go about solving it. In this quote from Skinner’s Science and Human Behavior, he began Chapter I of the book with a story describing how Francesco Lana, a mid-seventeenth century scientist, predicted human flight could lead to aerial attacks in the form of a “‘Ship descending out of the Air’” (in Skinner, 1951, p. 3). Skinner observed that Lana’s prediction about air travel was remarkably accurate… this, more than 100 years before the first manned balloon flight (Gillispie, 1983) and more than 200 years before the Wright brothers’ first powered flight (McFarland & Renstrom, 1950). Skinner used this story to emphasize that despite good intentions, the discoveries of science are often used for ill. In the selected Skinner quote, he remarked on how much people currently know about the ways in which the natural world operates and the seeming lack of correspondence with our collective action to better the human condition. While in dire and stressful times this may appear to be the case, I would argue it is all a matter of perspective. Reframe the description of today’s current conditions and we can see how we really are much better off in many areas of life than we were a few hundred years ago. 

“Ultimately, knowing what drives us puts us in the driver’s seat.” – Susan M. Schneider, 2015, Driver's SeatSchneider, 2012

This Susan Schneider quote (Schneider, 2012, p. 15) is a nice counter-point to Skinner’s words above. In the preface to her recent book The Science of Consequences: How they Affect Genes, Change the Brain, and Impact Our World, Schneider lays out three major ways in which we can appreciate consequences and the systematic investigation of their impact on organisms, including humans: “Part 1: Consequences and how nature-nurture really works” (emphasis original), “Part 2: There’s a science of consequences?,” and “Part 3: Shaping destinies” (p. 13-15). It is no surprise this inspirational quote comes in the third section of the book about shaping our future world. During the rare times I feel I am losing control of certain things in my life, I repeat this line to myself as a reminder of how I can be an agent in my own life, how I can make an aversive situation enjoyable… or at least more bearable.

“The quality of human life, perhaps even the survival of life as we know it, Biglan, 2015, More Nurturingdepends on finding ways to make everyone’s environment more nurturing–less coercive and more caring, supportive of human development, and focused on doing what works.”

                    – Anthony Biglan, 2015

Anthony Biglan tackles the big issues in his new book The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior can Improve Our Lives & Our World. In this quote (Biglan, 2015, p. 213), he sets the stage for the important work behavior scientists have ahead of them. He argues, “We need a simple, unifying, and emotionally evocative vision of the kind of world we can create” (p. 212). I, for one, am on board. I hope you are, too.

I would love to hear about your favorite inspirational quotes by behavior analysts in the comments below, and remember to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Biglan, A. (2015). The nurture effect: How the science of human behavior can improve our lives and our world. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Gillispie, C. C. (1983). The Montgolfier brothers and the invention of aviation 1783-1784: With a word on the importance of ballooning for the science of heat and the art of building railroads. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

McFarland, M. W. & Renstrom, A. G. (1950). The papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions, 7(4). 22-34. 

Morris, E. K., Todd, J. T., Midgley, B. D., Schneider, S. M., & Johnson, L. M. (1990). The history of behavior analysis: Some historiography and a bibliography. The Behavior Analyst, 13, 131-158.

Schneider, S. M. (2012). The science of consequences: How they affect genes, change the brain, and impact our world. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Skinner, B. F. (1951). Science and human behavior. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc. 

Sulzer-Azaroff, B. (2015). The journey of a pioneer woman applied behavior analyst. In R. D. Holdsambeck & H. S. Pennypacker (Eds.), Behavioral Science: Tales of Inspiration, Discovery, and Service. Beverly, MA: Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 Comments on "Five Inspirational Quotes by Behavior Analysts"

  1. My compliments to Chelsea for these informative and inspirational quotes! I especially like quote #5 about making environments less coercive and more caring. Thank you!

  2. Martin Scherer | January 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Reply

    Let not the strong be cozened
    by is or isn’t,
    was or wasn’t,
    should or shouldn’t.
    Truths to be ought
    in Does and Doesn’t

    B F Skinner ‘A lecture on ‘Having’ a poem’

  3. Really great article Chelsea! I was not aware of the books by Susan Schneider and Anthony Biglan until reading your post. They both sound really interesting!As a graduate of a ABA masters course, I often find it tricky to know how to look at research from other fields of psychology. I was wondering, does Schneider’s book deal much with how behaviour analysis fits with cognitive and neuroscience research?

  4. I really enjoyed this article! Thank you very much 🙂

    I would like to share my favourite Skinner quotes, though: “Regard no practice as immutable. Change and be ready to change again. Accept no eternal verity. Experiment.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.