Gail B Peterson

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Gail Peterson joined the University of Minnesota faculty in 1973. His area of expertise is behavioral psychology, with special interests in applied behavior analysis, animal behavior, and biological and evolutionary psychology, as well as the history of psychology and philosophy of science. He is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Professor Peterson teaches courses at all levels of the curriculum, but is principally committed to undergraduate offerings. He is a recipient of the Walter D. Mink Undergraduate Teacher Award from the Minnesota Psychological Association, the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Teacher Award, and the prestigious Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. He is a member of the selective University of Minnesota Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He served as the Department of Psychology's Director of Undergraduate Studies for several years and was heavily involved in the general administrative leadership of the department from 1984 to 1996, serving as Assistant Chair, Associate Chair, and Chair during that period. He has been extensively involved in a variety of administrative service and governance functions at the College and University levels, having been elected, for example, to the CLA Assembly and the University Senate.

Originally a basic-mechanisms animal laboratory researcher, Professor Peterson now focuses his attention instead on translational work, i.e., extending basic behavioral science findings and principles to the solution of practical problems in both human and animal behavior. For example, over the past several years he has collaborated with licensed community service agencies to provide an undergraduate internship program in support of in-the-home, science-based behavior therapy and educational programming for young children in the area who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders. He takes seriously the basic concept and distinctive mission of a Land Grant institution.

Raised on a farm in south central Minnesota near the town of New Ulm, the love of animals and outdoor life he acquired there is reflected in his pastimes and hobbies. He is an avid fancier of Birmingham Rollers, a variety of pigeons bred for their high flying and aerial acrobatic abilities. He also keeps a small backyard flock of Wyandotte Bantam chickens. In addition, he raises, trains, and shows purebred Siberian Huskies. He enjoys horseback riding, biking, canoeing, camping, cross-country skiing, dogsledding, and ballroom dancing. For quiet relaxation, he enjoys music and books. Gail retires from the U of M in 2013 and expects to live happily ever-after, spending more time with his family and friends, and pursuing his various hobbies, interests, and causes.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • Ph.D: Indiana University, 1972.


  • animal learning and behavior
  • applied behavior analysis
  • behavior therapy for autism
  • general behavior theory
Courses Taught
  • Psy 3011 - Introduction to Learning and Behavior
  • Psy 4012 - Behavior Analysis and Autism
  • Psy 4011 - Applied Behavioral Psychology
  • Psy 1001 - Introduction to Psychology
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Director of Undergraduate Studies: Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA): International professional credential for work as behavior analyst , 2003 -


  • Translating behavior science to everyday life: Adapting basic science findings to the solution of practical behavior problems, 1997 -
  • Family and paraprofessional education strategies for teaching applied behavior analysis: Assessing of the efficacy of different pedagogical models for teaching families and paraprofessionals to be competent and sophisticated caregivers of children with autism, 1997 -


  • University/Community partnerships for improving ABA services accessibility and effectiveness: Collaborations with formal service-provider agencies in the Twin Cities in the creation of service-learning internship sites for U of m students and general ABA staff training, 1998 -
  • In-the-home behavior therapy for children with autism: Parent and paraprofessional training for in-the-home behavior therapy for children with autism, 1995 -
  • Humane education and research programs: Through Center for the Study of Human-Animal Interrelationships and Environments (CENSHARE), 1980 -
  • Founding Board Member: Autism Recovery Foundation, 2009 - 2013


  • Days of Great Illumination: B.F. Skinner in the Gold Medal Flour Mill: Invited lecture at the Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, MN, 2004
  • Peterson, G. B., & Newman, F. L. (1970). Differential human eyelid conditioning as a function of the probability of reinforcement and CS similarity. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 318-320, 85.
  • Peterson, G. B., Ackil, J. E., Frommer, G. P., & Hearst, E. S. (1972). Conditioned approach and contact behavior toward signals of food or brain-stimulation reinforcement. Science, 177, 1009-1011.
  • Peterson, G. B., Linwick, D. C., & Overmier, J. B. (1987). On the comparative efficacy of memories and expectancies as cues for choice behavior in pigeons. Learning and Motivation, 18, 1-20.
  • How expectancies guide behavior: Peterson, Gail, Animal Cognition, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 135-148, 1984.
  • A conceptual toolkit for intensive early behavioral intervention teachers: Peterson, Gail, Larsson, E., Riedesel, K., Journal of Behavioral Education, 12 131-146, 2003.
  • College of Liberal Arts Teaching Award, University of Minnesota, 1986
  • Midwestern Region Psi Chi Certificate of Recognition Award, 1982
  • Golden Key National Honor Society Honorary Membership Award, 1987
  • Horace T. Morse/University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education, 2005
  • Walter D. Mink Undergraduate Teacher Award, Minnesota Psychological Association, 2004
  • Academy of Distinguished Teachers, University of Minnesota, 2005
  • President's Distinguished Faculty Mentor Program, 1991 - 1998
  • Residential College Faculty Mentor, 1995 - 1998