B. F. Skinner

1904 - 1990


B. F. Skinner was born March 20, 1904, in a small Pennsylvania town. He was an active, out-going boy who loved the outdoors and building things, and actually enjoyed school. When he first went to school he wanted to become a professional writer, then he later enrolled at Harvard to study psychology.

Interesting Facts

  • Said to be an atheist early in life after losing his brother to a cerebral hemorrhage, and after his grandmother's teachings on hell.
  • In 1944, he worked on the Project Pigeon which trained pigeons during World War II to direct bombs by pecking at a target.

His Theory

Skinner believed that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this approach operant conditioning. He also introduced a new term into the Law of Effect - Reinforcement. Behavior that is followed by reinforcement (positive or negative) has an increased probability of re-occurrence. Behavior followed by punishment has a decreased probability of re-occurrence.

Example of their Theory

Imagine you put a rat in a Skinner box that has a bar or pedal on one wall that, when pressed, a little mechanism releases a foot pellet into the cage. The rat is bouncing around the cage, when he accidentally presses the bar and a food pellet falls into the cage. The operant is the behavior just prior to the reinforce, which is the food pellet. In no, the rat is furiously peddling away at the bar, hoarding his pile of pellets in the corner of the cage.

Experiments and Inventions

  • Operant conditioning chamber (A machine that could record behavior automatically by using graphics) (also known as Skinner box)
  • Cumulative recorder(measures the responses of organisms such as animals and birds to their interactions within the environment)
  • Pigeon Guided Missile (pigeons could be used to guide a large missile to the target accurately and in tests showed that it could be accomplished)

How it connects to child Development

Unlike animals, children often respond to verbal operants by: taking advice, listening to the warnings of others, and obeying given rules. Even without having personally experienced any negative consequences from disobeying. The knowledge of what could happen if certain behaviors are chosen can be enough to keep them from acting in certain ways.