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BF Skinner's Research
BF Skinner's Bio
Who is BF Skinner?
BF Skinner's Research
What is Operant Conditioning?
Principles of Operant Conditioning
Reinforcement Schedule
Generalization and Discrimination
Applications of Operant Conditioning


American psychologist B. F. Skinner became one of the most famous psychologists in history for his pioneering research on operant conditioning. In fact, he coined the term operant conditioning. Beginning in the 1930s, Skinner spent several decades studying the behavior of animals—usually rats or pigeons—in chambers that became known as Skinner boxes. Like Thorndike’s puzzle box, the Skinner box was a barren chamber in which an animal could earn food by making simple responses, such as pressing a lever or a circular response key. A device attached to the box recorded the animal’s responses. The Skinner box differed from the puzzle box in three main ways: (1) upon making the desired response, the animal received food but did not escape from the chamber; (2) the box delivered only a small amount of food for each response, so that many reinforcers could be delivered in a single test session; and (3) the operant response required very little effort, so an animal could make hundreds or thousands of responses per hour. Because of these changes, Skinner could collect much more data, and he could observe how changing the pattern of food delivery affected the speed and pattern of an animal’s behavior.


B. F. Skinner American psychologist B. F. Skinner became famous for his pioneering research on learning and behavior. During his 60-year career, Skinner discovered important principles of operant conditioning, a type of learning that involves reinforcement and punishment. A strict behaviorist, Skinner believed that operant conditioning could explain even the most complex of human behaviors.Liaison Agency/William Coupon 


Skinner became famous not just for his research with animals, but also for his controversial claim that the principles of learning he discovered using the Skinner box also applied to the behavior of people in everyday life. Skinner acknowledged that many factors influence human behavior, including heredity, basic types of learning such as classical conditioning, and complex learned behaviors such as language. However, he maintained that rewards and punishments control the great majority of human behaviors, and that the principles of operant conditioning can explain these behaviors.


1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved


Phototake NYC/Yoav Levy

Skinner Box

American psychologist B. F. Skinner designed an apparatus, now called a Skinner box, that allowed him to formulate important principles of animal learning. An animal placed inside the box is rewarded with a small bit of food each time it makes the desired response, such as pressing a lever or pecking a key. A device outside the box records the animal’s responses.

Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2004. 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.