Joel Greenspoon

2011 TxABA Award - Pioneer of Behavior Analysis in Texas

1920 - 2004

From his undergraduate days, Dr. Greenspoon was interested in the learning process. In graduate school he was steered to Indiana University where B. F. Skinner was chairman of the Psychology Department. There his work became firmly rooted in scientific methodology and a lifelong involvement in behavior analysis.Joel Greenspoon

At Indiana Dr. Greenspoon was trained as a clinical psychologist and conducted a carefully controlled study on verbal condition. The results of this research became known as “The Greenspoon Effect” and is one of the few empirical studies mentioned in Skinner’s Verbal Behavior. He also conceived of the procedure known as “counterconditioning,” as a remedial behavioral procedure for anxiety disorders.

Joel Greenspoon was at Arizona State University when the Psychology Department there became known as “Fort Skinner in the Desert". His departmental colleagues at that same time included Fred Keller, Tom Verhave, Arthur and Caroline Staats, and Aaron Brownstein. Later Joel accepted the chairmanship of the Psychology Department at the newly opened University of Texas-Permian after being promised that this new UT extension would implement self-paced instruction. However, these promises were not kept: self-paced learning procedures were soon dropped and no monies were provided for on-campus research projects. Given this situation, Joel convinced the university president to provide him use of a mobile home on the campus wherein Greenspoon housed a rat lab, and an office from which he raised research funds by seeing clients. This mobile home became “The Center for Behavior Analysis.”

Joel’s “on-campus clinic/research facility” was financed via client payments for behavior therapy. Joel’s colleagues urged him to raise his fee from $20 to $40. He complied but told the clients that if they could not afford his services these would be free. Despite his generous offer he raised so much money that his department was still drawing on those funds 10 years after he left for UNT.

Greenspoon published 2 textbooks, co-authored a third, wrote chapters in several books, and published scores of experiments in psychological and behavioral journals. He was one of the behavior analysts in Texas invited by Dr. Robin Rumph to discuss formation of a state chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis (ABA). Joel was selected as past-president for TxABA’s first executive council, and he invited Dr. Aaron Brownstein as keynote speaker for the first TxABA conference in 1986. In 1987, Dr. Greenspoon invited another of his former colleagues, Dr. Fred Keller, to speak at TxABA. At that 1987 TxABA conference Greenspoon told Sigrid Glenn that he planned to retire in 1988. Sigrid invited him to join the Department of Behavior Analysis with an office and the title of “Visiting Research Professor.” This offer was readily accepted as it fulfilled Joel’s long-held “dream job”: no pay, no responsibilities.

However, before long Joel was teaching two classes each semester, participating in several labs including the North Texas Autism Project; serving as clinical supervisor for students working with school-aged children with autism. The department celebrated Joel’s career at the UNT reunion openhouse at ABA 2000.

While Joel Greenspoon died in 2004, he lives on in his books, articles, and in the repertoires of all the students he taught and all his colleagues.

Presented by Janet Ellis at the 2011 TxABA Annual Conference