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B F Skinner’s Behaviorism

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B. F. Skinner
Burris Frederic Skinner was born on March 20th, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. His mother, Grace M. Burrhus, was a stenographer and a secretary, in a law office and later in a railroad chief executive’s office. His father, William A. Skinner, was an attorney, who studied law with another local attorney at a New York Law School. Skinner’s parents were both good students. His father had bought several sets of books, so there was a lot of reading material their children. Skinner said that his parents never used physical punishment, except for the time they washed his mouth out with soap for bad language. (Ulrich, 1997)
B. F. Skinner was very adventurous child. He lead a 300 mile canoe trip down the Susquehanna River when he was only 13 years old. He was a natural inventor and he loved build things. One of his inventions included a device that automatically reminded him to hang up his pajamas in the morning. He played the saxophone in a jazz band during high school and played piano until his failing eyesight made it hard for him to read the music. In college, he was very independent, and sometimes even a prankster. He graduated from Hamilton College in 1926 and later received his P.h.D. in psychology at Harvard University. (Ulrich, 1997)
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John B. Watson
John Broadus Watson was born in Greenville, South Carolina on January 9th 1878. He went to college at Furman University and the University of Chicago. Watson created “Psychological behaviorism” in 1912. He told the world about his theory of behaviorism in a 1913 paper entitled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.” In the paper he described Behaviorism as the part of psychology that shows behavior as “a series of observable movements in time and space”. (Turner, 1997) He rejected both conscious and unconscious mental activities and defined behavior as a response to a stimulus. A few of John B. Watson’s literary works include the following books and papers: Animal Education, Behavior, Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, Behaviorism, and Psychological Care of Infant and Child. (Turner, 1997)
Along with his own theories of behaviorism, Skinner developed the theory of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is based on the idea that “we behave the way we do because this kind of behavior has had certain consequences in the past.” (Demar, 1996) For example, if your parents give you a present when you do what your told, you will be likely to behave when you want to get a present. This means that basically- you do something to get a reward. Like Watson, Skinner
denied that feelings play any part in determining behavior. Instead, he claimed that
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the drive to be rewarded determines our behavior. (Demar, 1996)
Some critics feel that operant conditioning was a dangerous technique because Skinner was controlling people and could have manipulated them. In reply to their criticism, Skinner argued that control is not wrong. Control is very important and sometimes unavoidable in education, government, and therapy. (Bijou, 1994) What Skinner objects to is the fact that control is usually used in negative ways which include the use of threat, punishment or to use other people. Skinner argues that because of this, people are against control, because the people in control use their power it in a negative way. For instance, In the family, a child is controlled by the fear of punishment from his parents. In school, the students are placed in a threatening environment in which they can escape only by learning. Our government controls us through laws, rules, and regulations. Skinner claims that what is needed is not less control but better control. Better control could be used if society had adopted his psychological theories. If this where to happen there would be better ways of teaching, better working conditions, and a better system of government. (Skinner, 1938)
Skinner had many inventions that pertained to behaviorism. One of his most famous inventions was called a “Skinner box.” A Skinner box is a chamber made by Skinner which helps control animal behavior in laboratory experiments. In one
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experiment using the skinner box, he made it so if the chicken pecks on the yellow, green, or red buttons, he gets nothing. But if he hits the blue button, a small amount of food comes down the chute; therefor, the chicken is reinforced with food for hitting the correct button. He also created other inventions, including an air-crib for babies and the first cumulative recorder. (Bjord, 1990)
Skinners experiments with rats and pigeons raise the following question; Can rats and other animals replace human behavior in a laboratory? Critics claim, that the differences between humans and animals are large enough to make the results of some of his experiments highly reliable. (Henderson, 1990)
Positive Reinforcement
Skinner claims that positive reinforcement “strengthens and preserves the kind of behavior that produces the reward.” (Skinner, 1938) For example, when Skinners cat rings a bell from the inside door knob Skinner knows that the cat wants to go for a walk. His behavior (ringing the bell) is reinforced by Skinner taking him for a walk. Also, he notes that behavior that happens frequently must have been rewarded almost each time. (Skinner, 1938)
Negative Reinforcement
Skinner defines negative reinforcement as “something that strengthens and
maintains the kind of behavior that reduces the stimulus.”(Skinner, 1938) For
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example, Skinners cat tries to remove his flea collar because it irritates his sensitive skin. Skinner removes the collar from the cat as a form of negative reinforcement. (Skinner, 1938)
In his time, B. F. Skinner attempted to make a lot of changes in modern psychology. Made people didnt agree with his changes because he didnt think that psychology had to do with feels or emotions. He felt that psychology had suffered in the past because it tried to explain human behavior in terms of feelings and states of mind. Skinner thought that psychology had wasted a lot of time making theories about the mind and personality. He suggested that psychology should only deal with behavior that is “observable in the world in which it occurs.” (Henderson, 1990)
In conclusion, B. F. Skinner was a very intelligent man that viewed behavior as “a response to a stimulus.” Though he may have based his theories mostly on animal testing and he many have even portrayed man as a being without feelings, creativity, or morality, he was truly great and saw behaviorism like no one had seen it before. (Skinner, 1938)
Category: Biographies



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