B.F. Skinner

All The Things You Want to Know

A Short Biography

Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in Susquehanna Depot, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1904. While his father was a lawyer, his mother stayed home taking care of B.F. and his younger brother. Skinner showed an interest in building gadgets at a young age. In college, he found that he loved writing, where he'd later find little success in the profession. Later on, he enrolled at Harvard to study psychology. He studied behavior patterns in pigeons using The Skinner Box. He learned that some type of reinforcement was crucial in studying new behaviors. After working as a researcher at Harvard, Skinner's work gained attention due to similarities between him and Ivan Pavlov. But Skinner's work contained involved responses to the environment rather than involuntary responses to stimuli.


By 1945, Skinner was the chair of the psychology department at Indiana University, although he left two years later to return to Harvard as a lecturer. In 1948, Skinner came out with an interpretation of some of his views in a novel entitled Walden Two. Many questioned his focus on various scientific approaches to the aspects of human existence. He continued to be active as a behavioral psychologist for the next few years. In 1989, Skinner was diagnosed with leukemia, where he struggled for a year. He died in his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 18, 1990.

Skinner's Operant Conditioning

Skinner is known as the "Father of Operant Conditioning", though his work was inspired by Thorndike’s Law of Effect. He discovered a behavioral theory. He conducted experiments on various animals, viewing how the animal's behavior changed by the use of reinforcement based upon the desired response. This can be used in classrooms today when students' behavior is reinforced by a teacher. For example, positive reinforcement is used for students.
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