J. E. R. Staddon

John Eric Rayner Staddon is a British-born American psychobiologist known for experimental and theoretical research on interval timing, Skinnerian "superstition," and behavioral economics (optimality) in rats, pigeons, and fish—and people. He has been a critic of Skinnerian behaviorism and proposed a theoretically based "New Behaviorism."[1] which shows that the state of the organism must be taken into account as well as the stimuli it experiences and the responses it makes. State in this case is neither physiological nor mental, but a summary of the organism's equivalent histories, a scheme based on the logic of historical systems developed by automata theorists.

Staddon has also written on social issues arguing against affirmative action in college admissions[2] and that profiling as a way to catch law-breakers can be both fair and efficient.[3][4] Another social topic is legal responsibility (The Atlantic Monthly; Feb 1995; pg. 88) which, Staddon argues, is perfectly compatible with the assumption that individual behavior is causally determined.

In 2014 Staddon published a small book, Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking, with illustrations by artist David Hockney. In addition to describing the tawdry legal and political history of smoking regulation, the book's main points are first that cigarette smoking is risky but not lethal, second that the evidence for harm from secondhand smoke is weak and finally that the cost of smoking is born by smokers and not by society at large.

In an analysis of traffic control,[5] Staddon notes that US traffic fatality rates are much higher than rates in other developed countries because of unpredictable speed limits and traffic signs that attempt to control rather than inform. The uniquely American "all-way stop" is the most blatant example of a wasteful confusing and completely unnecessary type of signal. Most US stop signs could be replaced by yield signs with gains in both efficiency and safety.

Staddon has written on the application of behavioral psychology to the function and malfunction of financial markets in The Malign Hand of the Markets. The book criticizes regulation by scrutiny where armies of underpaid bureaucrats try to figure out whether financial agents – smarter, more highly paid and certainly more motivated than the regulators – are doing things that might be ‘systemically hazardous’. A rash promise since it is precisely the failure to predict "systemic hazard" that led to the 2008 financial crisis. The alternative is a simpler system which ensures that financial agents are directly affected by the consequences of their actions.

In 2016 Staddon published a completely revised edition of his 1983 monograph Adaptive Behavior and Learning,[6] a theoretical synthesis of research on research on instinctive and learned behavior in animals. Among other topics, the book presents a new synthesis of research on R. J. Herrnstein's matching law and J. A. Nevin's concept of behavioral momentum. A long chapter discusses the success and failures of recent work on comparative cognition—the similarities and differences between the intelligence of animals humans. Other topics include comparisons between human and animal choice behavior (prospect theory) and the Darwinian selection/variation approach, feeding regulation and theoretical analysis of well-known data on reinforcement schedules.

Education and career

Educated first at University College, London, then after a year at Hollins College he studied under Richard Herrnstein, obtaining his PhD in Experimental Psychology at Harvard University in 1964. He has done research at the MIT Systems Lab, Oxford University, the University of São Paulo at Riberão Preto, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Ruhr Universität, Universität Konstanz, the University of Western Australia and York University, United Kingdom. He has also taught at the University of Toronto.

Since 1967, Staddon has been at Duke University; since 1983 he has been the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Biology and Neurobiology. He is an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of York (UK). He is a past editor of the journals Behavioural Processes and Behavior & Philosophy and present editor of PsyCrit, a journal of commentary. Work in the Staddon laboratory has focused on explaining interval timing in terms of memory, and explaining choice in terms of interval timing; work with past students and postdocs has included work on feeding regulation as well as spatial navigation, concurrent choice, and habituation.

Honors, etc.

Reflections on Adaptive Behavior, a festschrift to Honor John Staddon, held at Duke, May 2003, Papers in honor of John Staddon (MIT Press, 2004); Member, Psychological Round Table, Society of Experimental Psychologists; October 2004; Docteur Honoris Causa, Université Charles de Gaulle, Lille 3, France, Fellow, New York Academy of Science, American Psychological Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Honorary Editor, Behavioural Processes, 2002-; Trustee, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, 1996-; Fulbright Short-Term Senior Award—Distinguished Scholar, 1989; Alexander Alexander von Humboldt Prize, 1985; Phi Betta Kappa; Guggenheim Fellow, 1981-1982


He has written several books, including:


  1. The New Behaviorism: Mind, Mechanism and Society, (2nd edition Psychology Press, 2014).
  2. Have Race-Biased Admissions Improved American Higher Education? http://www.safs.ca/april2003/highereducation.html
  3. http://hdl.handle.net/10161/2883 Fair Profiling]
  4. http://psychweb.psych.duke.edu/department/jers/Profiling.pdf
  5. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/distracting-miss-daisy/306873/
  6. http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/psychology/biological-psychology/adaptive-behavior-and-learning-2nd-edition?format=PB

External links

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