Skinner, B. F.

The modern psychological theorist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904–1990), known to colleagues and the public as B. F. Skinner, was the originator of operant conditioning, a way of shaping the behavior of white rats and pigeons through “schedules of reinforcement.” The organism (rat or pigeon) was contained in the “operant chamber,” known as the “Skinner Box,” and given the opportunity to press a lever, the operation or operant, which delivered a food pellet. The schedule of food delivery that determined the rate of lever pressing was measured by a “cumulative recorder.” This device marked the frequency of lever pressing and became the basis for the science of behavioral analysis in the 1930s. Skinner believed that positive reinforcement could also shape human behavior and fashion a ...

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