Beyond the Box: B.F. Skinner’s Technology of Behaviour from Laboratory to Life, 1950s-1970s

B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) is one of the most famous and influential figures in twentieth century psychology. A best-selling author, inventor, and social commentator, Skinner was both a renowned scientist and a public intellectual known for his controversial theories of human behavior. Beyond the Box is the first full-length study of the ways in which Skinner’s ideas left the laboratory to become part of the post-war public’s everyday lives, and chronicles both the enthusiasm and caution with which this process was received.

Using selected case studies, Alexandra Rutherford provides a fascinating account of Skinner and his acolytes’ attempts to weave their technology of human behavior into the politically turbulent fabric of 1950s-70s American life. To detail their innovative methods, Rutherford uses extensive archival materials and interviews to study the Skinnerians’ creation of human behavior laboratories, management programs for juvenile delinquents, psychiatric wards, and prisons, as well as their influence on the self-help industry with popular books on how to quit smoking, lose weight, and be more assertive.

A remarkable look at a post-war scientific and technological revolution, Beyond the Box is a rewarding study of how behavioral theories met real-life problems, and the ways in which Skinner and his followers continue to influence the present.

Alexandra Rutherford is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at York University.

‘No previous book on B.F. Skinner provides—or even attempts—such systematic coverage and in-depth historical research on Skinnerian technology as Beyond the Box. It will appeal to the educated public and historians of psychology, science, and American culture. I expect that it will be widely read and cited for years to come.’
—Laurence D. Smith, Department of Psychology, University of Maine

Beyond the Box is erudite, entertaining, and written with real style. Alexandra Rutherford, by investigating the impact of B.F. Skinner’s thought on the wider world outside his laboratory experiments, rediscovers a maverick and often misunderstood thinker. I enjoyed this book more than anything I have read this year.’
—Clive Wynne, Department of Psychology, University of Florida