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American Psychologist born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He attended The University of Minnesotta, Indiana University, Harvard University, Alma Mater and Hamilton College. He died of leukemia/cancer at the age of 86 in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 18,1990.

Famous for his contributions to:
  • Behavior analysis
  • Operant conditioning
  • Radical behaviorism
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Operant conditioning chamber
  • Skinner Box

Influenced by:
  • Charles Darwin
  • Ivan Pavlov
  • Ernst Mach
  • Jacques Loeb
  • Edward Thorndike
  • William James
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born and raised in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He earned his BA in English and hoped to be a writer. However, this profession did not work out, and at the age of 24, he applied and was excepted to the psychology graduate program at Harvard. Here he happened to meet William Crozier in the physiology department. Young Skinner was taken by Crozier, an ardent advocate for animal studies and behavioral measures, and began to tailor his studies according to Crozier's highly functional, behaviorist framework. Working across disciplines, he integrated methods and theories from psychology and physiology and developed new ways of recording and analyzing data.
As he experimented with rats, Skinner noticed that the responses he was recording were influenced not only by what preceded them but also by what followed them. The common behavioral approach at the time was influenced by the work of Pavlov and Watson, both of whom focused on the stimulus-response paradigm. Their form of classical conditioning focused on what occurred prior to a response and how these stimuli affected learning. Skinner, however, focused on what occurred after a behavior, noting that the effects or repercussions of an action could influence an organism's learning. By 1931, he had his PhD in psychology and was well on his way to developing operant conditioning, the behaviorist paradigm that ruled for the second part of the 20th century.
He continued to do research at Harvard until 1936, when he moved to Minneapolis with his new wife. In 1945, he and his family moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where he served as the chair of the psychology department until 1948, when he was offered a position at Harvard. He remained at Harvard for the rest of his intellectual career. During the 1950s and 60s, Skinner published and experimented extensively. Working with numerous graduate student who themselves became eminent psychologists, he formalized his theory or schedules of reinforcement and operant conditioning.
In 1957, Skinner published his book Verbal Behavior, in which he attempted to account for language development in humans. During his later years, Skinner turned his attention to the social implications of his theory until he of leukemia in 1990.



Skinner understood the development of behavior as occurring through the effects of positive and negative reinforcement as well as punishment and extinction. Reinforcement processes were emphasized by Skinner, and were seen as necessary to the development of behaviour . It is a common misconception that negative reinforcements are something negative, they are not. A negative reinforcement is simply the removal of something negative in your environment because of something that you do (the removal of rain from your environment because you opened your umbrella). Also, positive reinforcement is the addition of something beneficial to your environment because of something you have done (the addition of light to a dark room because you turned on a light). Both types of reinforcement strengthen behavior, or increase the probability of a behavior reoccurring, the difference is in whether the reinforcing event is something applied (positive reinforcement) or something removed or avoided (negative reinforcement). Punishment and extinction have the effect of weakening behavior by the addition of a negative event (punishment) or the removal of a rewarding event (extinction).

Skinner also conducted pioneering research and created his own school of Radical Behaviorism, which seeks to understand behavior as a function of environmental histories of reinforcing consequences. He is known as the inventor of the operant conditioning chamber (or Skinner box), a research tool used to examine thh relationship between organisms and their environment. He is the author of The Behavior of Organisms, Walden Two, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Verbal Behavior, Science and Human Behavior and numerous other books and articles. He discovered what is now called operant conditioning and articulated the now widely accepted term reinforcement as a scientific principle of behavior. His position reflects the extension of the influence of physicist Ernst Mach's The Science of Mechanics to the subject of psychology.[13] Skinner's pioneering research reflected the dual influence of whole organism research in Ivan Pavlov and Jacques Loeb.[14]



Skinner believed that changes in behavior were the result of an individuals response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment. When the stimulus response pattern is reinforced (rewarded) the individual becomes conditioned to respond. Reinforcement is the key element in Skinners stimulus response theory. A reinforcement is anything that strengthens the desired response; it could be a verbal praise, a good grade, or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction. The theory also covers negative reinforcers. So if someone is punished or receives a negative reinforcement, they will be less likely to repeat the behavior.

Operant conditioning has been widely accepted in clinical settings (behavior modification) as well as in teaching (classroom management) and instructional development (programmed instruction).



Behavior that is positively reinforced will reoccur.
2. Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced.
3. Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli producing secondary conditions.



Skinner invented the Skinner Box after he witnessed one of his fourth grade daughter's math classes. He realized that some of the class was moving through the exercises with ease and not learning anything, while others were struggling and not learning anything because the teacher was not able to help them. He also noticed that it would take a couple of days for students to get reinforcement (either positive or negative) from the teacher for what they had done and even then, it was reinforcement on a whole bunch of questions and not just one that they could focus on. This being said, Skinner decided that a better way to "teach" would be to be able to give reinforcement as soon as an action is made. So he made the Skinner box.

A Skinner box, invented by B.F. Skinner, is typically used to study concepts of shaping and operant conditioning. This is a box that an animal is housed in which offers both unconditioned and conditioned response levers or keys that serve to monitor the animals behavior. The Skinner box may be fairly simple, with only one lever or key, or it may be quite complex, with a variety of stimuli and ways of monitoring responses. The most classic example of the skinner box is when skinner trained rats and pigeons to presss a lever in order to obtain a food reward.

B.F. Skinner has been accused of raising his daughter in a skinner box, leading her to mental illness and suicide, this is NOT true. in reality, Skinner had designed a special air-crib intended to make childcare easier, but he did not conduct psychological experiments on her or abuse her. Skinners daughter is still alive and has refuted every point of these rumors. When Skinners second daughter, Deborah, was born in 1944 he constructed a crib for her which was similar to a large hospital incubator. He called it the "baby tender". The "baby tender" provided his daughter with a place to sleep which would remain comfortably warm throughout the cold night without having to be constricted and wrapped in clothing and blankets. He claimed that blankets and clothing may cause the child to be uncomfortable, restrain movement during sleep, when the blankets come uncovered the child may be chilled, or cause a rash or suffocation. When in the "baby tender", Deborah was able to see out the glass while keeping a comfortable temperature and humidity while wearing only a diaper. The girl slept in this bed until she was two and a half years old and grew to be a happy and healthy child.


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Skinner's daughter in her "baby tender"

Skinner box references: