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"The consequences of behavior determine the probability that the behavior will occur again" --B. F. Skinner
B.F. Skinner aka Burrhus Frederic Skinner
Born March 20, 1904 (Susquehanna, Pennsylvania)
Died August 18, 1990 at the age of 86
Burrhus Frederic "B. F." Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American
, author, inventor, and
] He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at
from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.
General Theory was Behaviorism.
Operant conditioning is a learning method that occurs through rewards and punishment for behavior. Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behavior. Instead of internal factors, he suggested at viewing the external, observable causes of human behavior. The tem operant was referred “any behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences” (1953).
Key concepts for Operant Conditioning:
Reinforcement: Increases the behavior that follows.
Positive Reinforcersare favorable events or outcomes that are presented after the behavior. A response or behavior is strengthened by the addition of something, such as praise.
Negative Reinforcersare the removal of an unfavorable events or outcomes after the display of a behavior. A response or behavior is strengthened by the removal of something unpleasant.
Punishment:Causes a decrease in the behavior.
Positive Punishment a unfavorable event or outcome to minimize the response it follows.
Negative Punishment a favorable event or outcome is removed after a behavior occurs.
Schedules of Reinforcement
presented by Wikipedia at
Part of Skinner's analysis of behavior involved not only the power of a single instance of reinforcement, but the effects of particular schedules of reinforcement over time.
The most notable
schedules of reinforcement
presented by Skinner were interval (fixed or variable) and ratio (fixed or variable).
Continuous reinforcement — constant delivery of reinforcement for an action; every time a specific action was performed the subject instantly and always received a reinforcement. This method is impractical to use, and the reinforced behavior is prone to extinction.
Interval Schedules : based on the time intervals between reinforcements
Fixed Interval Schedule (FI) : An operant conditioning principle in which reinforcements are presented at fixed time periods, provided that the appropriate response is made.
Variable Interval Schedule (VI) : An operant conditioning principle in which behaviour is reinforced based on an average time that has expired since the last reinforcement.
Both FI and VI tend to produce slow, methodical responding because the reinforcements follow a time scale that is independent of how many responses occur.
Ratio Schedules : based on the ratio of responses to reinforcements
Fixed Ratio Schedule (FR) : An operant conditioning principle in which reinforcement is delivered after a specific number of responses have been made.
Variable Ratio Schedule (VR) : An operant conditioning principle in which the delivery of reinforcement is based on a particular average number of responses (ex. slot machines).
VR produce slightly higher rates of responding than FR because organism doesn’t know when next reinforcement is. The higher the ratio, the higher the response rate tends to be.
The Baby Tender
Not to be confused with the “Skinner Box” experiment with lab rats, Skinner invented a heated crib. The heated crib was enclosed with plexiglass window. The invention was in response to his wife’s request to create an alternative to the traditional crib that would be safer. Due to the enclosed nature of the crib, misunderstandings by the public caused an uproar.
Ladies Home Journal
reported on the “baby tender” which lead readers to misunderstand the intended use of the crib.
1958 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, American Psychological Association
1964−1974 Career Award, National Institute of Mental Health
1966 Edward Lee Thorndike Award, American Psychological Association
1968 National Medal of Science, National Science Foundation
1971 Gold Medal Award, American Psychological Foundation
1971 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation for Mental Retardation International award
1972 Humanist of the Year,
American Humanist Association
1972 Creative Leadership in Education Award, New York University
1972 Career Contribution Award, Massachusetts Psychological Association
1978 Distinguished Contributions to Educational Research Award and Development, American Educational Research Association
1978 National Association for Retarded Citizens Award
1985 Award for Excellence in Psychiatry, Albert Einstein School of Medicine
1985 President's Award, New York Academy of Science
1990 William James Fellow Award, American Psychological Society
1990 Lifetime Achievement Award, American Psychology Association
1991 Outstanding Member and Distinguished Professional Achievement Award, Society for Performance Improvement
1997 Scholar Hall of Fame Award, Academy of Resource and Development
Ball State University
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Johns Hopkins University
Long Island University C. W. Post Campus
North Carolina State University
Ohio Wesleyan University
University of Chicago
University of Exeter
University of Missouri
University of North Texas
Western Michigan University
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Examples of how theory applies in education/training
He believed the classroom had disadvantages because the rate of learning for different students was variable and reinforcement was also delayed due to the lack of individual attention. Developed a theory of programmed learning that was to be implemented by teaching machines.
The teaching machine is a program, which is a system of combined teaching and test items that carries the student gradually through the material to be learned. The "machine" is composed by a fill-in-the-blank method on either a workbook or in a computer. If the subject is correct, he/she gets reinforcement and moves on to the next question. If the answer is incorrect, the subject studies the correct answer to increase the chance of getting reinforced next time.
The program will do all the teaching through a response/reward mechanism. Skinner also noted that the learning process should be divided into a large number of very small steps and reinforcement must be dependent upon the completion of each step. Skinner suggested that the machine itself should not teach, but bring the student into contact with the person who composed the material it presented. He believed this was the best possible arrangement for learning because it took into account the rate of learning for each individual student.
Skinners programmed instruction became a major education and commercial enterprise that flourishes today.
Teaching Machines Video
B. F. Skinner homepage
National Academy of Sciences biography
B.F. Skinner profile, NNDB
I was not a lab rat
, response by Skinner's daughter about the "baby box"
Society for Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Skinner and Teaching Machine
Superstition in the Pigeon by B.F. Skinner (Full Text)
"B. F. Skinner"
] reprint of "the Minotaur of the Behaviorist Maze: Surviving Stanford's Learning House in the 1970s: Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 51, Number 3, July 2011. 266-272.
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