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Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,588 ratings  ·  243 reviews
Beginning with B. F. Skinner and the legend of a child raised in a box, Slater takes us from a deep empathy with Stanley Milgram's obedience subjects to a funny and disturbing re-creation of an experiment questioning the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. Previously described only in academic journals and textbooks, these often daring experiments have never before been nar ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published February 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 2004)
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Jul 17, 2007 rated it liked it
This is a fascinating, monumentally flawed, book. Its central conceit? Slater, a psychologist, "revisits" ten of the most (in)famous historical experiments conducted in psychology, work which has played a key role in establishing the prevailing dogma about human behavior. Each experiment gets its own chapter in the book.

Obviously, the success of this kind of gimmick depends critically on (a) the particular set of experiments chosen for inclusion, (b) the author's insight - her ability to interpr
Dave Comerford
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
The raw material of this book deserves 5 stars. The ten experiments that Slater has selected tell stories of the human condition as effectively as any art. But the experience of reading the book is like being guided through the most fascinating museum by someone who laughs like hyena, bursts into tears at random intervals and occasionally pisses on the exhibits.
May 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
The full title here is Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. Author Lauren Slater reviews 10 famous experiments from the various niches of psychology and attempts to understand them and their participants in new ways. It's really not very good.

And that's too bad, because these psychological experiments and the scientists involved with them are gold mines of fascinating stories --they're famous for a reason. Examples include getting average Joes to shock
Jul 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book is so bad in so many ways, where do I start?

p49 she interviews "Joshua Chaffin", in the endnotes I see this is a pseudonym to protect his privacy, Please, he was proud of what he did, he didn't want privacy,
that's why he responded, that is, if he really exists.
My opinion, 90% chance the interview is 100% fiction.

Chapter 3, she claims to go to 9 emergency rooms claiming she heard voices.
She says she gave a fake name,
Please....... Everyone in the medical world wants photo ID
to make su
Ahmed Samir
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book is a very good introduction to psychological aspects of the modern world. It takes the reader through 10 defining moments in psychology and presents them in a way that can basically direct you where you want to go.
The writing style is excellent and had me latched on to the book for as long as I had it. Highly recommend for psychology enthusiasts.
Many years ago, I wanted to be an educational psychologist. For various reasons, I didn't (and I'm now happy that I did what I did and became what I am), but it's experiments like this that drew me to the subject.

This describes great psychological experiments of the 20th century, told in a chatty, narrative style. Lots of fascinating food for thought, but the literary pretensions and irrelevant imaginings are an irritating distraction.
Abubakar Mehdi
The narrative description of Milgram’s experiment comes awfully close to fictionalising the whole thing. I appreciate her desire to make this dry subject more interesting but am not sure to what extend you can take these liberties. Same is the case with the first chapter on Skinner.

Its a well written book and a good insight on the history of some major breakthroughs in the study of human psychology, but her narrative inevitably raises some questions at to the authenticity and veracity of their
I see that the reviews on this book are very mixed, so I will add my own input to help any potential readers.

This book is written in 10 chapters, one per experiment. Slater's writing doesn't follow a single pattern and seems almost whimsical, with most chapters having different formats. This may annoy the structured reader, but to me it just kept things more interesting, as I would have gotten bored otherwise.
As for her prose, it can get a bit cheesy sometimes, as she makes some rather questiona
Aj Sterkel
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Likes: I took a psychology class in high school and absolutely hated it. The lectures were mostly tedious, and the teacher was arrogant. However, the class did make me curious about psychological experiments. It led me to Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and all of the follow-up studies that say Festinger’s conclusions are crap. I also read about Stanley Milgram and a few other well-known psychology pioneers. I guess my high school teacher inadvertently caused me to read the book I’m reviewi ...more
Opening Skinner’s Box
”The experiments described in this book, and many others, deserve to be not only reported on as research but also celebrated as story, which is what I have here tried to do.” p. 3

I found this to be an interesting read. I had read an essay by Slater in The Best American Essays 2008 and decided I wanted to read more of her writing.

I had a slight infatuation with B. F. Skinner when I was in high school. His novel, Walden Two seemed to hold the answers to many of my questions.
Bianca Sy
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this book for one of my Psychology classes. I liked how the situations flow, and I learned a lot. Even though I do still have the questions about a few experiments, I loved how this book turned me on.
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: white
I recently finished a collection of horror stories masquerading as psychology experiments, "Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century", by Lauren Slater. Here's what I thought.

First of all, the title is lame. It implies that the book is about Skinner, when in fact only the first chapter is. Each chapter is an essay on a different psychologist, telling us where they came from (literally and figuratively), what their Big Idea/Experiment was, and who was offended by
Sep 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual, quite personal, idiosyncratic take on some of the great psychological experiments of the 20th century. Some, such as Milgram's shock experiment and Skinner's conditioning are well known, but there are a number of less famous but no less fascinating inclusions present too.

One interesting element is that the author immerses herself into the story, for example she attempts to get herself admitted to a mental hospital as part of the chapter on Rosenhan's experiment. In places thi
Sonia  Belviso
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I can understand why this book gets such mixed reviews. I need to say I got hooked on it from the first page. This is how popularization of science should look like. I, for example, would not want to know all the details of the experiments, because most of them are quite disturbing. But I appreciated the insight into the experimenters' background and the historical context. I consider Slater a great storyteller and combined with facts, this book gave me some crazy dreams!
And it provided plenty o
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was actually a lot better than I expected it to be! The experiments in here were fascinating, and I learned a lot. I read this book for my AP Psychology class, and I think it gave me a great introduction to the subject of psychology. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book as a fun, casual read, but it it is a great read for anyone interested in learning about why we do what we do :)
Apr 20, 2020 rated it liked it
You have to be interested enough in psychology to stay engaged, but not so interested that you expect too much. I enjoyed a lot of this. No regrets - except maybe wishing that it had been a (free) library book.
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
The experiments in this book are explained so well! And my favorite in my opinion was Milgram’s shock experiment, the results of some of the experiments are surprising like this one (65% of people will blindly obey authority even if it means inducing death/pain)😬. Overall a great book even if it was just for a summer psych assignment :^)
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Lauren Slater’s “Opening Skinner’s Box” is an insightful recounting of the ten most influential psychological experiments of the twentieth century. From B.F. Skinner to Harry Harlow, Slater outlines all the most important experiments, leaving out extraneous details but adding enough that it is still an enjoyable read. Each chapter is devoted to a description of the experiment, an anecdote about her own research into the experiment and its goals, and an expansion of the ideas and conclusions glea ...more
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, engaging, and necessary book. Lauren Slater’s essays are empathetic, intelligent, and passionately curious. Her inquisitive, philosophical mind offers a wealth of rich perspectives and insights. Her writing is brilliantly accessible. An excellent primer.
Sep 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a strange book. While the experiments were interesting, Slater's attempt to "fill in the blanks" and add storylines to the lives of psychologists who performed the experiments often felt forced. more than once, as Slater narrated a scene, she would throw in a sharp word seemingly out of nowhere, jarring the reader. (I'll be happy never to read about scat again.) She also talked about herself, but failed to connect her experiences with the experiment or psychologist she was discussing. Fo ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the majority of this book immensely. What I felt made it interesting and original was its descriptive, engaging telling of factual scientific, often ground breaking psychological experiments.

However, I was disappointed by the final chapter ("Conclusion"), which seemed a complete digression into the author's own opinion about the field, which she tried to justify with questionable anecdotal statistics, almost as if to enhance the need for her book to be published? ("I interviewed twelve
Dennis Littrell
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Controversial reevaluations vividly presented

This is a remarkable book not only for its content, but for the way it is written. What Lauren Slater does extremely well is (1) provide a context for the experiments and personalize them; (2) insinuate herself into the narrative in meaningful ways; and (3) write the kind of prose that is vivid and psychologically engaging. She has the gift of the novelist, and she is not satisfied with the conventional surface of things.

But there is an edge to Slater
Jan 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
I use this book in my developmental reading-writing-critical thinking course, and it's great for that context. Each chapter tells the story of a different psychology experiment of the 20th century, some well-known (Milgram), others more off-the-beaten path (Rat Park, an intriguing study of the causes of addiction). Slater interweaves the stories of the experiments with background on the authors, along with discussions of the controversies, debates, and ethical dimensions of the work. It has some ...more
Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
I went into this book expecting it to be riveting or at least more enjoyable than a textbook. I was proven wrong on every chapter, especially the conclusion. A textbook leaves a story after it has been told, it does not add personal details (not IRB approved studies done by the author for fun or random stories from the author's life). As a psychology major I did not learn anything from this book that I did not learn in less than half the number of pages in a textbook. This book was disappointing ...more
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
I find myself agreeing with previous reviews, in that the raw material of this book deserves five stars. However, Slater's determination to include loosely related personal anecdotes and her consistent attempts to fill in the blanks or explain the inner dialogue of the researchers she discussed was grating. At certain points she wrote verbose, flowery lines in an attempt to set the scene of past experiments while interjecting her personal opinion of what the individual in the passage was thinkin ...more
Jan 31, 2008 rated it did not like it
Don't even bother dealing with this book. I realize that my perspective may be skewed because I am a psychologist, but this book is terrible. The author writes in flowery language and makes shallow observations. It seems like it were written for a very long high school project. Moreover, the author talked more about her life experiences than empirical research.

You would be better off reading from the original sources, or at least from a good history and systems of psychology text. Hergenhahn is
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
this book was a great read for all those people watchers. The part I liked the most was when some university shut down a project some democrat dubbed "too dangerous and cruel to rats" because of poor ventilation and generally poor sanitary conditions, three days after it was shut down a new wing of student services moved in without any cleaning or maintenance on the building.

The author cleverly keeps your interest through wildly different chapters that each talk about some ground-breaking exper
Mahlon Smith
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Some of the experiments mentioned in this book were more fascinating
than others, if I had to force rank them -- but they were all approached
with an objective viewpoint (even the ethically questionable ones) and
descriptions of the surrounding times and environments that made them

Hugely interesting, a great read -- especially for someone without any
psychology/psychiatric background whatsoever. I would have finished
it much sooner if it wasn't for Skyrim leeching from my reading time. :)

Dec 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
In this book, Slater reflects on 10 famous psychological experiments in a series of essays. While clearly well-researched, with fascinating raw subject matter to work with, this book is let down by the writer's awful flowery prose and grating personal reflections.

I did, however, find the chosen experiments interesting and engaging; and I've come away knowing more about Milgram, Skinner, Loftus et. al. than I did delving in.
Jess Van Dyne-Evans
I really liked this book a lot more before I read a statement from Skinner's daughter denouncing the author and stating that (despite her protestations to the contrary) the author had never tried to contact her to verify statements...
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Lauren Slater (born March 21, 1963) is an American psychotherapist and writer.

She is the author of numerous books, including Welcome to My Country, Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir, Opening Skinner’s Box, and Blue Beyond Blue, a collection of short stories. Slater’s most recent book is The $60,000 Dog: My Life with Animals.

Slater has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them a 2004 National E

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“those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” 12 likes
“Loftus grew up with a cold father who taught her nothing about love but everything about angles. A mathematician, he showed her the beauty of the triangle's strong tip, the circumference of the circle, the rigorous mission of calculus. Her mother was softer, more dramatic, prone to deep depressions. Loftus tells all this to me with little feeling "I have no feelings about this right now," she says, "but when I'm in the right space I could cry." I somehow don't believe her; she seems so far from real tears, from the original griefs, so immersed in the immersed in the operas of others. Loftus recalls her father asking her out to see a play, and in the car, coming home at night, the moon hanging above them like a stopwatch, tick tick, her father saying to her, "You know, there's something wrong with your mother. She'll never be well again. Her father was right. When Loftus was fourteen, her mother drowned in the family swimming pool. She was found floating face down in the deep end, in the summer. The sun was just coming up, the sky a mess of reds and bruise. Loftus recalls the shock, the siren, an oxygen mask clamped over her mouth as she screamed, "Mother mother mother," hysteria. That is a kind of drowning. "I loved her," Loftus says. "Was it suicide?" I ask. She says, "My father thinks so.
Every year when I go home for Christmas, my brothers and I think about it, but we'll never know," she says. Then she says, "It doesn't matter." "What doesn't matter?" I ask. "Whether it was or it wasn't," she says. "It doesn't matter because it's all going to be okay." Then I hear nothing on the line but some static. on the line but some static. "You there?" I say. "Oh I'm here," she says. "Tomorrow I'm going to Chicago, some guy on death row, I'm gonna save him. I gotta go testify. Thank God I have my work," she says. "You've always had your work," I say. "Without it," she says, "Where would I be?”
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