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."[2] 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.

J. E. R. Staddon

Academic background
Alma materHarvard University
ThesisThe effect of "knowledge of results" on timing behavior in the pigeon (1964)

Education and career

Educated first at University College London,a three-year period interrupted by two years[3] in Central Africa (N. Rhodesia, now Zambia). After graduation from UCL, he went to the U. S., to Hollins College in Virginia for a year, and then to Harvard University where he studied under Richard Herrnstein, obtaining his PhD in Experimental Psychology in 1964 with a thesis 'The effect of "knowledge of results" on timing behavior in the pigeon' .[4] He has done research at the MIT Systems Lab, Oxford University, the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Ruhr Universität, Universität Konstanz, the University of Western Australia and York University, United Kingdom. He taught at the University of Toronto from 1964 to 1967.

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. 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. Since retirement, he has written general-interest pieces for web-sites.

Honors and affiliations

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.

Research and Writing

An experimental project initiated at the University of Toronto in 1965 demonstrated that the then much-cited frustration effect is the result of time discrimination.[5] The effect is shown by hungry rats running in a runway with two goal boxes (double runway): one a short way from the start box and the second a larger distance after that. In training, the rat runs to the first goal box and gets a bit of food, then he runs to second goal box and gets another bit of food. The experimenter measures how fast the rat runs in the first part of the long second runway. The experiment is in two phases. The rat always gets food in the second goal box (the endbox). In the first phase, he also gets food in the first goal box (the mid-box) on every trial, so that he learns to expect food in the mid-box. In the second phase, he gets food in the mid box on only half the trials: rewarded on half, ‘frustrated’ on half.

The key finding is that rat runs faster in the second alley when there is no food in the mid-box compared to when there is food, especially in the first third of the long runway. This is the frustration effect (FE).

There is a non-frustration explanation for the FE which takes account of the fact that the long second runway enforces a delay between leaving the mid box and getting food in the endbox. Such a delay should induce a pause, signaled by a time marker – in this case the food in the mid-box during the training period. Omission of the food will then disinhibit the running on non-reward trials – so-called 'frustration' effect. Staddon and collaborators showed in numerous studies (summarized in [6]) that the FE and related effects can all be explained by (inhibitory) temporal control by food.

In 2016 Staddon published a completely revised edition of a 1983 monograph Adaptive Behavior and Learning,[7] a review of theoretical and experimental research on instinctive and learned behavior in animals from the point of view of both causal and functional (optimality) theories. Among other topics, the book presents a new generalized synthesis of 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 and 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.

Staddon has also written on social issues arguing against affirmative action in college admissions[8]—because it is a form of racial discrimination—and that profiling as a way to catch law-breakers can be both fair and efficient.[9][10] 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 point is that smoking is not a public- but a private-health issue . The reasons 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 borne by smokers and not by society at large.

In an analysis of traffic control,[11] 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.[12] 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.



  • Handbook of Operant behavior Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: (1977) Prentice-Hall, co-edited with W. K. Honig
  • Scientific Method: How science works, fails to work and pretends to work (Routledge, 2017)
  • The New Behaviorism, 2nd Edition (Psychology Press, 2014)
  • Adaptive Dynamics: The Theoretical Analysis of Behavior (MIT/Bradford, 2001)
  • Adaptive Behavior and Learning, 2nd Edition (Cambridge University Press), 2016.
  • Unlucky Strike: Private Health and the Science, Law and Politics of Smoking. University of Buckingham Press. 2013. ISBN 9781908684370.
  • The Englishman: Memoirs of a Psychobiologist. University of Buckingham Press, 2016.
  • Staddon, J. E. R. (Ed.) (1980). Limits to action: The allocation of individual behavior. New York: Academic Press.



  1. https://viaf.org/viaf/39551575/
  2. The New Behaviorism: Mind, Mechanism and Society, (2nd edition Psychology Press, 2014).
  3. Staddon, John (2016). The Englishman: Memoirs of a Psychobiologist. Legend Press Ltd. p. 106. ISBN 9781908684660.
  4. http://id.lib.harvard.edu/alma/990039676860203941/catalog
  5. Amsel, Abram; Roussel, Jacqueline (1952). "Motivational properties of frustration: I. Effect on a running response of the addition of frustration to the motivational complex". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 43 (5): 363–368. doi:10.1037/h0059393. ISSN 0022-1015. PMID 14946348.
  6. Staddon, J. E. R. (1974). Temporal control, attention and memory. Psychological Review, 81, 375-391.
  7. "Adaptive behavior and learning 2nd edition | Biological psychology".
  8. Have Race-Biased Admissions Improved American Higher Education? "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-05-23. Retrieved 2006-08-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Fair Profiling
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2006-08-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. "Distracting Miss Daisy". July 2008.
  12. Staddon, John (2012). The Malign Hand of the Markets: The Insidious Forces on Wall Street that are Destroying Financial Markets – and What We Can Do About it. McGraw Hill Professional. ISBN 9780071797412.
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