B. F. Skinner

Operant Conditioning Theory


He was born in 1904 in Pennsylvania and earned his doctorate at Harvard. He died in 1990, but left a legacy for many psychologists to come. He created the Skinner box where he did his experiments. He worked on voluntary responses rather than involuntary like other theorists researched.

Operant Conditioning

Skinner's theory is operant conditioning where one learns through positive and negative reinforcements. He experimented on pigeons and other animals by giving them food, but he would pair the food with something good or something bad. This caused the animal to either enjoy the food or hate and not eat the food.

Pros and Cons of the theory

  • Shaping- reinforce behavior over time to get desired response


  • Discrimination- can respond differently to a similar stimulative
  • Extinction- conditioned stimulus goes back to be a neutral stimulus


In the Classroom

This theory is used in the classroom to help students as well as discipline students. Teachers want their students to succeed, so they either reinforce with positive or negative things or use positive or negative punishment to learn. For example, a teacher may see that students are doing well so they give the students candy (positive) or they take away a homework assignment (negative). For punishment, the teacher could add more assignments for students who do not do their work (positive) or take away time to do the assignments during the class period (negative).