Burrhus Frederic Skinner

It was clear from childhood that B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) had unusually broad interests. As a boy, he invented a steam cannon and pursued the Theory that Francis Bacon had written the Shakespearean plays.

His love of literature and the encouragement of the poet Robert Frost led him to consider a career writing poetry when the influence of the philosopher Bertrand Russel pushed him toward science. In the mid-1920s, Skinner began graduate studies at Harvard University and the world of psychology gained one of its most towering figures. Skinner was taken with the notion of a mind dominated not by invisible, unconscious forces, but by observable patterns of cause and effect. He undertook a series of famous experiments involving white rats and reinforcement that built on the work of earlier behaviorists (such as Pavlov) and ultimately produced a complete theory of behaviorism based on the principle of operant conditioning.

Skinner's behaviorism viewed learning as a controllable process through which an organism's predictable responses to carefully designed stimuli could be shaped to produce the learning of any behavior-even a mental behavior like language. Skinner's work is popularly associated with his invention of the "Skinner Box," which was used with pigeons, monkeys, and even humans and was a feature of thousands of learning experiments.

Skinner defended his controversial theory against critics who objected to the potential for manipulation that it seemed to suggest, and expanded the applications of behaviorism to consciousness, language, politics, social issues, and morality. He worked to apply the principles of operant conditioning to education through the invention of teaching machines and programmed instruction and to health through the development of behavior therapy.

Skinner was a controversial figure in psychology for many decades, but in the eyes of his supporters, he did more to promote psychology as a science than any other thinker of his time.








It was clear from childhood that B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) had unusually broad interests. As a boy, he invented a steam cannon and pursued the theory that Francis Bacon had written the Shakespearean plays. His love of literature and the encouragement of the poet Robert Frost led him to consider a career writing poetry when the influence of the philosopher Bertrand Russel pushed him toward science. In the mid-1920s, Skinner began graduate studies at Harvard University and the world of psychology gained one of its most towering figures.

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