behavioranalysishistory / Greenspoon, Joel
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Greenspoon, Joel

Joel Greenspoon

(October 11, 1920 - April 24, 2004)


Primary Areas of Study

Verbal conditioning, PSI, counterconditioning



Lamal, P. A. (2004). In Memoriam: Joel Greenspoon (1920-2004). The Behavior Analyst, 27(2), 287-289. (available online here)


Greenspoon, J. (1994). Reminiscences. Behavior and Social Issues, 4(1&2), 1994. (available online here)


2011 TxABA Award - Pioneer of Behavior Analysis in Texas.



Selected Papers

Greenspoon, J., & Brownstein, A. J. (1967a). Awareness in verbal conditioning. Journal of Experimental Research in Personality, 2, 295-308.


Greenspoon, J., & Brownstein, A. J. (1967b). Psychotherapy from the standpoint of a behaviorist. Psychological Record, 17, 401-416.



Selected Books









Intellectual Ancestry

Bachelor's Degree from the University of Virginia in 1941

Master's Degree in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania

Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Indiana University in 1952 under B.F. Skinner, William Verplanck, and J. R. Kantor


Additional Information

     Joel Greenspoon was a graduate student at Indiana University when B.F. Skinner was Chairman of the Department of Psychology.  Dr. Skinner's landmark research with animals, depicted in The Behavior of Organisms:an Experimental Analysis, inspired Greenspoon to apply the principles of behaviorism to human beings.

     At that time Carl Rogers'  "non-directive therapy" was popular, but Greenspoon argued that those therapists' responses, such as "um-hmm" and "uh-huh",  actually reinforced behaviors.

     He set out to test his hypothesis with a large, carefully controlled experiment and published the results under the title "The Reinforcing Effect of Two Spoken Sounds on the Frequency of Two Responses". Colleagues nicknamed him "The Father of Verbal Conditioning"
His research, Paul Fuller's conditioning of a vegetative human and others' experiments soon led to the therapeutic method known as Behavior Modification.

     After graduation Dr. Greenspoon published scores of research papers and two books related to behavior analysis, one of which was The Sources of Behavior, Abnormal and Normal.

     In the seventies while teaching full time at the University of Texas Permian Basin, he financed his experiments by seeing clients at a small office on campus which he titled the Center of Behavior Analysis. He raised  enough money to pay for research there long after he retired. No doubt he made use of the "Greenspoon Effect" and other empirical findings gleaned during his long fascination with human learning.
He was offered a position of professor emeritus but chose instead to take an unpaid office as research consultant in the Department of Behavior Analysis at the University of North Texas.  Before long he was paid to teach a couple of classes each semester.  Dr. Shala Alai-Rosales also employed him as a consultant with her grant for autism research.

     Despite suffering from leukemia and other health problems, he remained productive until he was almost 80 and continued to discuss behavior analysis with former colleages until his death at age 83.