B.F. Skinner has been quoted all over the place on the internet (e.g. PsychologyDegreeGuide) to say

Give me a child and I'll shape him into anything

I am starting to think he didn't as I am yet to find a reference to where he said it. The nearest I have found is

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. (Watson, 1925, p. 82)

I asked about this in Psychology.SE, and although the answers indicate that Skinner possibly did not say this, it is not definitive as it is possible he said it verbaly and not in writing.

Robert Charles Lee, BSc (Hons) Psych & Stats, 1981, Univ. of London did state that it

seems to have come from a TV interview in the 1960s and reused in an Open University (UK) programme in the 1970s and '80s.

I have yet to find this, so does anyone here know of the interview?

If not, did Skinner really say "Give me a child and I'll shape him into anything" somewhere else? If so, where?


Watson, J. B. (1925). Behaviorism. New York: Norton.

  • 2
    Well certainly the first quote is a reasonable paraphrase of the second. And it's unclear what you refer to when you say "this". Which quote are you asking about? Aug 4 '18 at 11:44
  • 1
    @DanielRHicks but the second is by Watson
    – DavePhD
    Aug 4 '18 at 12:28
  • 1
    @DavePhD - He makes it unclear whether Watson is "saying" that or quoting Skinner. Aug 4 '18 at 12:33
  • Its a paraphrase of a much older quote attributed to both St. Francis Xavier and Aristotle: “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man”. Aug 5 '18 at 10:48
  • @PaulJohnson I thought it was Horace "a home-born lad...shape him into anything" books.google.com/…
    – DavePhD
    Aug 6 '18 at 0:56

This is a 1972 television interview of Skinner https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5ir5znnr4Ok There are other audio and video recordings of Skinner on YouTube going back to at least 1962.

The earliest example I see of Skinner being cited for the quote is the Lebanon [Pennsylvania] Daily News 7 May 1976:

Barbara Mark, daughter of Mrs. Catharine Mark, 743 Monument St., and Raymond Mark, for her speech on child abuse, "Somewhere A Child Is Crying." ... said Barbara Mark. "B. F Skinner, a well-known child psychologist, once said. 'Give me a child and I can shape him into anything'. We are now only finding how true that statement really is. Child abuse is a problem caused by people and it must be stopped by people" she concluded.

A 1975 State University of New York journal titled Search says:

"Give me any baby and I'll make him into anything," said John Watson...Even today some behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner argue that the brain is capable of almost total manipulation.

So OP has a reasonable hypothesis that Skinner was confused with Watson, or Skinner said this in reference to Watson, at some point

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