Bf Skinner Essays

Skinner's Theories of Behaviorism Essay

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Behaviorism is by far one of the most interesting fields of psychology in my opinion. B.F. Skinner’s view on behaviorism was that a person’s actions are controlled by rewards and punishments. Relating this to a real life situation, a great example of this would be a parent and a child. Behavioral analysis is how a person’s behaviours are based on the individuals’ personal history and past experiences. This is different then radical behaviorism, which Skinner fell into. Skinner believed that mental events, such as thinking, were not needed to explain behavior. A parent raising a child deals with a lot of operant conditioning if they know it or not. A parent is always trying to teach a child right and wrong. From operant conditioning…show more content…

The changing of the channel is removing the unwanted television program. Punishment refers to a response with an unpleasant consequence. Punishment unlike reinforcement decreases the likelihood that the response will occur again. Positive punishment is any stimulus that, when added to a situation decreases the probability that a given behavior will occur. If a child is destroying the house by painting the walls and the parent catches them doing this act. The parent may spank the child adding an unpleasant consequence and hoping this behavior will not occur again. Negative punishment is any stimulus that, when removed from the situation decreases the probability that the behavior will occur again. A lot of times the negative punishment is called the response cost. If a child is hitting their sister instead of adding an action such as hitting the child a parent (mostly permissive parenting) will remove this action. Another way this can be seen is if you take away the child’s playtime and replace it with a timeout. The child is having a pleasant event removed, which will decrease the chance that the child will hit their sibling again. All of these reinforcements and punishments are shaping the child to grow into an individual who has the right morals in life. If a parent wants their child to do well in school and clean the house they need to set a series of gradual daily goals for their child. The parent then can reward them for

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Behaviorist BF Skinner’s work with behavior analysis which led him to develop his theory surrounding operant conditioning methods have had a profound impact on today’s educational system as it led him to research the method of programmed instruction; its use in contemporary education has shaped the minds of

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countless students and offered an alternative method of teaching through its concept of trying to achieve errorless learning through swift feedback. BF Skinner, the renowned psychologist was known for his controversial scientific approach to human behavior.

(Pierce & Cheney, 2003, p.9) The 1938 publication The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis became Skinner’s first professional work and contained almost 400 pages of the behaviorist’s research. It has since been described as “a significant volume in the history of the twentieth-century psychology. ” (Todd & Morris, 1995, p. 7) He wrote a number of books and essays focusing on his philosophy of behaviorism; however two of the most notable are Science and Behavior and Verbal Behavior. (Todd & Morris, 1995, p. xxi)

His theories offered a contemporary definition to the study of behavior and were not well received by his peers. Skinner proposed a “natural-science approach to human behavior” (Pierce & Cheney, 2004, p. 9) and this contradicted other accepted theories. He believed that the behavior of an organism was determined and a result of genetic and environmental factors. His hypothesis alleged that behavior caused emotions and described them as “additional activities of people that needed to be explained. ” (Pierce & Cheney, 2004, p.9)

The opposition believed that human behavior was a product of self-determination – a result of our feelings, thoughts and intentions. Skinner’s achievements were endless; however he’s most noted for his work with experimental behavior analysis, where he developed the theory surrounding Operant behavior. His theory consisted of operant conditioning or learning by consequences as its major concept. As he was not the first to approach the subject of operant conditioning, he labeled his philosophy, radical behaviorism to separate him from the others who had approached the same topic.


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& Cheney, 2004, p. 9) His analysis of behavior brought him to the conclusion that behavior was influenced by the environment and organisms responded in two fashions – emotional response and by the involuntary response of the nervous system. In order to change an organism’s behavior there must be a new stimulus introduced to the surrounding environment that influenced both areas of human nature. Operant behavior was learned via a series of reinforcements to strengthen the new response. (Staats, 1996, p. 40-41)

Skinner’s approach was to offer reinforcement when the organism displayed the defined behavior over a period of time and on a number of occasions – the process of operant conditioning. His theory stated that in order to obtain the appropriate response the conditioning process must determine “the strength of response. ” (Staats, 1996, p. 58) Though many of his peers advocated punishment as a deterrent to unwanted behavior Skinner did not agree. His negative response consisted of the simple process of deprivation. (Staats, 1996, p. 58) Through a series of animal experiments, Skinner continued to validate his theory.

The Skinner Box was his primary tool for his study of operational conditioning. He designed various versions of the tool to accommodate various species – for example, pigeons could peck to obtain the reinforcement and a rat could not. If the animal performed the desired behavior, a positive reinforcement was automatically provided, if not it was withheld. The box allowed him to study operant conditioning and the contingencies of reinforcement. (Leonard, 2002, p. 98) In the 1950’s Skinner’s behavior analysis research began to focus on teaching machines.

In the 1958 article titled Teaching Machines: From the Experimental Study of Learning Comes Devices Which Arrange Optimal Conditions for Self-Instruction, Skinner stated that the motivation to obtain more education existed and in order to meet that demand we needed to do more than continue to build more schools and train more teachers. He believed that “Education must become more efficient. ” (Skinner, 1958, p. 969) He created teaching devices that arranged specific “contingencies of reinforcement” that rewarded “specific forms of behavior. ” (Skinner, 1958, p. 970)

Once the desired behavior was exerted Skinner was convinced that the “resulting behavior can be maintained in strength for long periods of time. ” (Skinner, 1958, p. 970) Later in the article he addressed specific subjects, “Teaching spelling is mainly a process of shaping complex forms of behavior. In other subjects-for example, arithmetic- responses must be brought under the control of appropriate stimuli. ” (Skinner, 1958, p. 970) Skinner’s programmed instruction consists of three phases:

1) Small steps – obtain small information in a step-by-step fashion.

2) Overt responding – provide a clear response to generate reinforcement.

3) Self-pacing – working through programmed activity at his or her own pace. (Leonard, 2002, p. 90)

In 1958 Skinner incorporated his reinforcement methods into the first class of programmed instruction. (Lysaught & Williams, 1963, p. 10) In a speech titled Psychology in the year 2000 given in 1968 to the Department of Psychology of Wayne University, he not only expressed his opinion of the school system prior to his studies, he addressed what he believed to be the future of America’s schools.

He believed that prior to his research that “educational psychology was primarily a matter of measurement. Mental tests dominated the field. Teaching was generally left to common sense. ” (Skinner, 2004, p. 210) He felt that the students “studied because he feared the consequences of not studying. ” (Skinner, 2004, p. 210) He went on to conclude that student’s slow recognition was a result of teachers’ inappropriate approach to teaching. (Skinner, 2004, p. 210)

He felt that, “A good program is simply a reorganization of what is to be learned in such a way that the student is maximally reinforced for learning it in positive ways rather than as a means of escape from undesirable consequences. ” (Skinner, 2004, p. 210) Though primitive at the time of inception, over the years and combined with modern technology our students are benefiting from his methods by way of computer-based teaching. Programs have been developed to teach spelling, reading, math, and a number of other subjects, as well as colleges and Universities offer certain Internet-based courses.

The program models vary; some programs will not allow the student to advance without giving the appropriate response, others will offer more information to guide students to the appropriate response and universities are creating virtual classrooms that students have access to tools that perform a variety of functions. Though the approach has received mixed feedback, teachers are able to provide more of a one-on-one teaching, as well as further the efficiency of classroom procedure and in the case of universities, students are able to enjoy the convenience of online courses. (“Programmed Instruction,” 2004)

In conclusion, Skinner’s controversial approach to psychology changed the approach to behavior modification and his methods have shaped the educational setting. Student behavior has improved; as positive reinforcement is applied to the learning process builds confidence and a willingness to comply. Students of all ages are able to progress at their own pace, which provides and individualized education plan. College students report that they are able to attend college courses and maintain full time employment due to the convenience of online schooling.

Skinner’s over all concern for providing an environment to influence behavior combined with technology creates a setting that is unique to each student and he or she can learn at a pace appropriate for the individual.


Pierce, W. D. , & Cheney, C. D. (2003). Behavior Analysis and Learning. Mawwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Skinner, B. F. (1958). Teaching Machines: From the experimental study of learning come devices which arrange optimal conditions for self-instruction. Science, 128, 969 – 977.

Skinner, B. F. (2004). PSYCHOLOGY IN THE YEAR 2000 Harvard University. JOURNAL OF THE EXPERIMENTAL ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOR, 81, 207 – 213.

Programmed Instruction. (2004). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed. ). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=101265989.

Leonard, D. C. (2002). Learning Theories, A to Z. Westport, CT: Oryx Press. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=101313032

Lysaught, J. P. , & Williams, C. A. (1963). A Guide to Programmed Instruction. New York: Wiley. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=14538707.

Pierce, W. D. , & Cheney, C. D. (2004). Behavior Analysis and Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=104826262.

Skinner, B. F. (2003). Chapter 14 Radical Behaviorism. In An Introduction to Theories of Personality (pp. 311-339).

Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=104786837.

Staats, A. W. (1996). Behavior and Personality: Psychological Behaviorism. New York: Springer. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=101935859.

Todd, J. T. & Morris, E. K. (Eds. ). (1995). Modern Perspectives on B. F. Skinner and Contemporary Behaviorism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. Retrieved December 30, 2006, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=24397049.

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