Kenneth Wartinbee Spence , a neobeahvioral psychologist, was known for
his theoretical and experimental studies of conditioning and learning.
His analyses and interpretations of the theories of other psychologists
also were very influential. Spence was elected to the National Academy
of Sciences in 1954 and was a fellow of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association (APA).
Spence's contributions fall into three major categories: (1) learning and motivation theory, (2) the experimental psychology of learning and motivation, and (3) methodology and philosophy of science. (In some of the writings on methodology and philosophy of science Gustav Bergmann was a major collaborator.) In this latter area one of Spence's contributions was to help clarify for all of us the role in psychology of operationism and the nature of theory construction, and to point out the difficulties that exist in the formulation of psychological theories. Among his insights was that psychologists, unlike physical scientists, are faced with the necessity of constructing theories even at the level of trying to establish the basic laws of behavior; because of the nature of their observations and the fact that they do not work in closed systems, psychologists cannot in most cases begin with simple empirically derived generalizations.