The Behavior Analyst

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 101–106 | Cite as

Simply Too Many Notes

  • J. E. R. Staddon

“Simply too many notes…” is the line reportedly suggested to Austrian Emperor Joseph II as a comment on Mozart’s brilliant first opera in Vienna. Well, the opera was brilliant but sometimes there really are too many notes—words—and much of operant conditioning seems to be made up of arguments about them. This is, presumably, a legacy of B. F. Skinner’s devotion to and skill in using language. But science is more than language, and we should surely begin a discussion of consequential learning with some actual examples.

What are we trying to explain? Killeen and Jacobs (2016) do not really make this clear, so an example may help. Here is one that makes more concrete some of the ideas there expressed. Many years ago, Derick Davis (Davis, Staddon, Machado, & Palmer 1993) looked again some data from an earlier experiment on reversal learning (Davis & Staddon, 1990; see also Staddon & Frank, 1974). The problem was simple: How best to explain the fact that pigeons trained on a daily...


Killeen Internal state Reversal learning Skinner 


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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