Burrhus Frederic Skinner
Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born March 20th, 1904 in small town named Susquehanna located in central Pennsylvania. Son of a lawyer and educated housewife, Skinner was always encouraged to do well in school. He rather enjoyed his studies and eventually attended Hamilton College in upstate New York. Burrhus Skinner chose not to attend school football games or parties. He found solace in writing for the school paper and faculty until he graduated with a BA English. Skinner used his degree to seek out employment for a newspaper in which he wrote columns on labor issues. Unsatisfied with his occupation, Skinner decided to go back to college in 1925, this time the school would be Harvard. After 5 years of studies, Burrhus achieved his masters in psychology; a year later he received his doctorate. Skinner stayed for 5 more years after receiving his doctorate to do research until he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where he taught Psychology. In 1945 B. F. Skinner assumed position of Chairman of Psychology at Indiana University until 1948 when we was invited to Harvard where he remained until his death. August 18, 1990, B. F. Skinner died of leukemia after becoming perhaps the most celebrated psychologist since Sigmund Freud.
Thought Skinner may have been a great teacher of Psychology, he will always be best remembered for his work with operant conditioning and radical behaviorism. Nearly all of Skinners studies were based on operant conditioning. Operant Conditioning was the theory that all actions occur based on the external reaction or stimulus. That reaction either reinforces or punishes the behavior which in turn results in an increase or decrease in the behavior. In the words of Skinner this can be explained as: “the behavior is followed by a consequence, and the nature of the consequence modifies the organism’s tendency to repeat the behavior in the future.” Burrhus Skinner’s first experiments testing this theory came when he invented the “Skinner Box”. The Skinner box was a special cage that had a switch on one wall that released food pellets when triggered. When a rat was introduced to the cage it would explore its new surrounding and eventually discovered the lever that controls the food. One the button and pressed and the food is released the rat then begins to associate the food with the pressing of the button which reinforces the behavior. As long as the food pellets continued to be released the rat would persist with the behavior. Skinner then tested the rats’ response once the food source had been eliminated. The rat continued pressing the button for a short time but soon learned that it no longer would be rewarded with food for the action and eventually the behavior ceases all together. This is what Skinner referred to as Extinction. Extinction occurs when the reinforcer is taken away from the behavior. The rat no longer receives any reward and the action itself provides no pleasure so it becomes extinct. Intrigued by his findings, Skinner decided to test how they rats would react to different ratios of food and thus lead to findings of schedule reinforcement.
Scheduled reinforcement tests the outcome of rationing the amount of reinforcement the operant received. In the case of the rats, Skinner found that when the rat still would use the lever, even if the reinforcement wasn’t always consistent. The behavior remained the same for a rationed reinforcer as it did for the continuous reinforcer (reward every time). Skinner then made variations of the rationed method. At first, Skinner tested what would happen when the rats received a food only on the third time. The rats continued the behavior even when the reinforcer had been raised from one reward every twenty times. Skinner named this schedule fixed ratio.