Background Information

1904 Born March 20th.
1930 Initiated research in reflexes.
1930-31 Received Harvard Fellowship.
1936 Married Yvonne Blue.
1938 The Behavior of Organisms was published.
1942 Awarded the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists.
1945 Skinner took over the Psychology Department at the University of Indiana
1948 Skinner began his research with pigeons.
1949 Elected president of the Midwestern Psychological Association
1950 (Late 1950’s) Psychology: A study of a science
1953 The Analysis of Behavior; American Psychologist.
1956 Fixed interval schedule of reinforcement described.
1957 Introduced the term “Verbal Behavior”.
1966 Skinner introduced the concept of critical period in reinforcing an event.
1966 Elected president of the Pavlovian Society.
1968 Skinner identified the critical characteristics of programmed instruction.
1972 Received the Humanist of the Year Award by the American Humanist Association.
1974 Retired as Harvard’s Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology.
1990 Skinner died on August 18th.

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Influencing Factors

  • Worked as a bookstore clerk in New York City for a few months; happened to find books by Pavlov and Watson
  • Skinner found their books impressive and exciting; wanted to learn more
  • World War II was an influencing factor; Project Pigeon (“the research that I described in The Behavior of Organisms appeared in a new light. It was no longer merely an experimental analysis. It had given rise to a technology.”)
  • Wife’s pregnancy; The Baby Tender
  • Observation of child’s classroom (“through no fault of her own the teacher was violating almost everything we knew about the learning process.”); Teaching Machines and Programmed Instruction
Learning: Classical Conditioning & Operant Conditioning

Main Theory of Social Change

Operant Conditioning


1. Behaviour that is positively reinforced will reoccur, reinforcement is particularly effective

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2. Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced (“shaping”)

3. Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli (“stimulus generalization”) producing secondary conditioning

  • Reinforcement and punishment molds behaviour
  • Children are conditioned by their experiences
  • Changes in behaviour are the result of an individual’s response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment
  • A response produces a consequence
  • When a Stimulus-Response pattern is reinforced/rewarded, the individual is conditioned to respond

Teaching Machines and Programmed Instruction

  • Skinner constructed his first teaching machine; came across idea while attending his child’s grade 4 math class for father’s day
  • Observing he noticed that the teacher gave everyone the same worksheet to do and some students knew what they were doing while others sat not knowing what to do
  • Understood that it was difficult for teachers to sit one on one with each student to make sure they understood, but it was necessary for them to get feedback
  • Skinner came up with his teaching machine; the teaching machine provided questions in random order and the students would solve the question and get feedback after each one was completed
  • The machine did not teach behaviour; all it did was give more practice to the lessons that had already been taught
  • After three years Skinner developed programmed instruction, where through sequencing, students responded to material broken into small parts
  • The first responses of each sequence was prompted, but as performance improved, less and less help was given
  • By the end of it students were doing what they couldn’t do in the beginning
B.F. Skinner: Biography, Theories, Contributions

The Skinner Box (Operant conditioning chamber)

  • One of Skinner’s best known inventions
  • Contains one or more levers which an animal can press, one or more stimulus light and one or more places in which reinforcements like food can be delivered
  • In one of Skinners experiments a starved rat was introduced to the box
  • When the lever was pressed by the rat a pellet of food was dropped onto a tray
  • The rat soon learned that when it pressed the lever food would come out
  • In this experiment the lever pressing behaviour is reinforced by food. In this experiment Skinner demonstrated the ideas of “operant  conditioning” and shaping behaviour”
  • Operant conditioning is the rewarding of an act that approaches a new desired behaviour

The Baby Tender

  • 1943; Skinner’s wife was pregnant again
  • She wondered whether Skinner could design a crib that would be safer than the typical crib with its bars that could trap a leg and blankets that could suffocate a baby
  • Skinner created it; proud of his new invention, an enclosed and heated crib with a plexiglass window, he sent an article to the popular magazine the Lady’s Home Journal
  • The article came out as “Baby in a Box“; the “baby tender”, as Skinner called his crib, was used only as a bed for the new baby
  • Deborah had a playpen and spent as much time out of her bed as other infants; inevitably confusion occurred between the baby tender and the “Skinner Box.”

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