On March 20, 1904, a man known as B.F. Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (Encarta 95). His real name was Burrhus Fredric, but he signed his name as B.F. since he was at the tender age of nine (World Authors 764). Skinner accomplished many things in his lifetime. He wrote several books, all about psychology.
B.F. Skinner was the first child of William A. and Grace Burrhus Skinner (World Authors 764). His father was a successful lawyer who wrote a legal standard textbook (World Authors 764). Because of this, B.F. Skinner grew up wealthy, but he still held a job as a shoe clerk (Markle 3). During high school, Skinner was involved in many activities, including writing for the local paper, playing the piano and saxophone, and inventing things (Markle 3).
After graduating high school, B.F. Skinner went to Hamilton College (World Authors 764). In 1926, Skinner graduated from Hamilton where he majored in English language and literature (Academic American 343). From there, he went on to Harvard University, where he received a Ph.D. degree in 1931(Encarta 95). B.F. stayed there until 1936 doing laboratory experiments (Academic American 343). He then joined the University of Minnesota in 1937 (Academic American 343). It was during this time that Skinner wrote his first book The Behavior of Organisms (Encarta 95). The book was quoted to be a “fairly comprehensive study of operant conditioning” (Academic American 343).
In this book, the theory of B.F. Skinner is based upon the idea that learning is a function of change in overt behavior (Markle 59). Changes in behavior are the result of an individual’s response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment (Markle 60). A response produces a consequence such as defining a word, hitting a ball, or solving a math problem (Markle 60). When a particular Stimulus-Response (S-R) pattern is reinforced (rewarded), the individual is conditioned to respond (Markle 60). The distinctive characteristic of operant conditioning relative to previous forms of behaviorism (for example Thorndike and Hull) is that the organism can emit responses instead of only eliciting response due to an external stimulus (Markle 61).
Reinforcement is the key element in Skinner’s S-R theory (Markle 61). A reinforcer is anything that strengthens the desired response (Skinner 47). It could be verbal praise, a good grade, or a feeling of increased accomplishment or satisfaction (Skinner 47). The theory also covers negative reinforcers (punishment) that result in the reduction of undesired responses (Markle 61). A great deal of attention was given to schedules of reinforcement and their effects on establishing and maintaining behavior (Markle 61).
After this book was written, Skinner married Yvonne Blue (Academic American 343). In 1938, he had his first daughter, Julie Vargas and his second one in 1944, named Deborah Buzan (Academic American 343). During World War II, Skinner was an associate professor for the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development (Encarta 95). He did important research, which eventually led to his development of the “Skinner Box” (Encarta 95). This research included training pigeon guided missiles (World Authors 764). Skinner was supported by General Motors, Inc. and the Office of Scientific Research and Development (Encarta 95).
It was also during this time in which he first designed his “baby box”, also called the Aircrib (World Authors 764). The baby box is a controlled environmental chamber for infants (World Authors 764). Skinner used his own daughter, Deborah, (along with two granddaughters), for this “baby box (World Authors 764). The Aircrib is a large, air-conditioned, germ-free, soundproof box made to give an ideal environment (World Authors 766). The baby put in the box could play or sleep without clothes or coverings (World Authors 766).
The result of this experiment prompted Skinner to write Walden Two (World Authors 766). It gave an account on a Utopian Society where traditional child raising techniques where replaced with “behavioral engineering” (World Authors 766). Skinner thought that human behavior is determined by a response to outside stimuli (World Authors 766). In Walden Two, Skinner’s utopia was said to be a world in a world (Mackle 79). The Walden Two experiment represents a kind of scientific exploration and the experimental code for good behavior is set (Mackle 79). Everyone in Walden Two is expected to follow the code, by doing so they are under the supervision of managers (Mackle 79). This was an ideal society where there isn’t any punishment and discipline (Mackle 79). But, happiness, goodness, and spontaneity come into play (Mackle 79). Walden Two, which has been read by many and discussed by many, is said to be well written but “too full of ethical abstractions” (World Authors 766). However, many readers were in awe for the thought of even using and experiment done with rats and applying it to human beings (World Authors 766).
Skinner wrote Science and Human Behavior for his general education course at Harvard in 1953 (Encarta 95). Science and Human Behavior explains his behaviorist psychology (Encarta 95). At the same time taking into account previous thoughts over human behavior (World Authors 767). Skinner says, “A science of human behavior could be expected to discover that what man does is the result of specifiable conditions and that once these conditions have been discovered, we can anticipate and to some extent determine his actions” (Skinner 68). Many of his readers said that the book was “strong, consistent, and all but exhaustive case for a natural science of human behavior” (World Authors 766).
Next came Verbal Behavior, in which he said language was just a type of behavior (World Authors 766). Skinner commented that all of the “contingencies of reinforcement influencing an individual would make possible the prediction and control of speech” (World Authors 766).
After Verbal Behavior, Skinner wrote his most controversial book. Beyond Freedom and Dignity was published in 1971 (Encarta 95). It extends the ideas in Walden Two and the book is said to make his definitive statement of man and society (Skinner 69). Skinner says if humanity is to survive “we must abandon such ‘pre-scientific’ ideals as freedom and dignity, and set about controlling our environment and ourselves by means of a ‘technology of behavior’ which will be comparable in power and precision to physical and biological ‘technology’ and which will induce people not to be good but to behave well” (Skinner 69). In the end, survival is “the only value according to which a culture can be judged” (Skinner 69).
The last definite thing found on B.F. Skinner is that he passed away on August of 1990 (Mackle 81). His daughter has said she has a sensation she was a happy baby and spending two and a half years in the Aircrib was a good thing (Mackle 81).
B.F. Skinner was a controversial and very interesting person. He did many things to try to help the human race. The main thing given for the field of biology is his development of operant conditioning. Trying to make society a much better thing seemed to be number one on his mind. Even though people didn’t see eye to eye with him and many of his thought were very controversial, it didn’t stop him from following what he thought would be right. Skinner was a much criticized man, he was also, however, and important man in psychology and the development of human thought. He gave this field of work a lot to look toward. Throughout all of his books and papers written there is much to talk about with Skinner has said and done.
Mackle, S. “Good Frames and Bad”. New York: Wiley, 1969.
“Skinner, B.F.”. Academic American. Novato, CA: Galahad Books, 1991.
“Skinner, B.F.”. Microsoft Encarta. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Corporation.
Skinner, B.F. Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillian, 1953.
“Skinner, B.F.”. World Authors. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.