• Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born March 20, 1904 (he died August 18th 1990 of
leukemia), in the small Pennsylvania town of Susquehanna.
• His father was a lawyer, and his mother a strong and intelligent housewife. His
upbringing was old-fashioned and hard-working.
• B. F. Skinner’s theory is based on operant conditioning. The organism is in the
process of “operating” on the environment, which in ordinary terms means it is
bouncing around its world, doing what it does. During this “operating,” the organism
encounters a special kind of stimulus, called a reinforcing stimulus, or simply a
• He innovated his own philosophy of science called radicalism, this was his particular
brand of behaviourism, which looked at the philosophy of science of behaviour.#
• Founded his own of experimental research psychology.
Skinner believed that the free will of human beings was an
illusion and the actions that they made was a consequence of
that action.
His research was built on shaping behaviour through positive
and negative reinforcement and demonstrated operant
A rat was placed in a special cage (aka the “skinner box”) that had
a bar or pedal on one wall that, when pressed, releases a food
pellet into the cage. The rat is moves around the cage and when it
accidentally presses the bar the result was, a food pellet falls into
the cage. The operant is the behaviour just before the reinforce,
which is the food pellet. In a relatively short period of time the rat
"learns" to press the bar whenever it wants food. This leads to one of
the principles of operant conditioning, A behaviour followed by a
reinforcing stimulus resulting in an increased probability of that
behaviour occurring in the future.
Operant conditioning is a method of learning that
occurs through rewards and punishments for
behaviour. Through operant conditioning, an
individual makes an association between a
particular behaviour and a consequence. (Skinner,
If the rat were to press the bar
continually and doesn’t get the
food, the behaviour becomes stops,
leading to another of the principles of
operant conditioning, A behaviour no
longer followed by the reinforcing
stimulus results in a decreased
probability of that behaviour
occurring in the future.
Skinner felt that he could simplify the process for parents and improve the experience for
children. Through some tinkering, he created the “air crib,” a climate controlled environment for
an infant.
The “Air Crib” was essentially a oversized metal crib but with a ceiling, three solid walls and a
safety-glass pane at the front which could be lowered to move the baby in and out of the crib.
The cribs were commercially produced and it is estimated that over 300 children were raised in
them. Psychology Today ran a short piece on the air crib where the authors tracked down 50
children that used the air crib. The results for these children were positive and the parents
enjoyed using the crib.
People were so concerned about the possible negative ramifications of this new type of crib that they
ignored its potential benefits. Skinner and his wife identified 19 different positive results for both them and
their daughter from use of the air crib.
Some began to make inferences about the nature of the crib based on the much more famous Skinner box.
The air crib therefore became associated with rewards, pellets, levers, and the like. People were also wary
of using science and technology as aids or perhaps replacements for the loving labour of the mother.
Although B.F. Skinner’s behaviourist methods are generally widely accepted as
basic teaching tools,
Most of skinners theories were supposed to be based on self- observation, which
caused him to become a strong supporter for behaviourism. An advocate for
behavioural engineering he thought that people should be controlled through
systematic allocation of external rewards, but because behaviourism doesn’t
require that an animal understand its actions, this theory can be somewhat
misleading about the degree to which an animal actually understands what it is
doing, when used to teach complex behaviours.
Skinner boxes have also been criticized by various animal welfare organizations as
cruel, both because they tend to be small and because they often deprive the
animal of all other stimuli, including species-appropriate social interaction.
• Operant conditioning ignores cognitive processes,
• assumes learning occurs only through reinforcement which is not true,
• overlooks genetic predispositions and species-specific behaviour patterns which
can interfere with it.
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