Biography Of B. F. Skinner

Submitted By Sierra-Lopez
Words: 1153
Pages: 5

Burrhus Fredrick Skinner, better known as B.F. Skinner, was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. Skinner grew up in an environment he described as “warm and stable”. His father was a lawyer, while his mother was a housewife. He spent most of his childhood working with his hands. He loved to build things. In a biography about Skinner, Christa Swenson explains how he built things such as rollercoasters, steerable wagons, and sleds. Swenson describes a little of Skinner’s educational childhood, “He constructed a flotation system which separated ripe from green berries. And, he even worked on the idea of a perpetual motion machine. Skinner went through all twelve grades in one school building, graduating with only eight other students. He developed an interest in art and literature through drawing in the younger grades and later reading Shakespeare.” (Dews, 1970).
Skinner attended Hamilton College in an attempt to become a writer. As he continued, he decided that writing was not for him. “I have nothing important to say.” (B.F. Skinner) Working as a bookstore clerk, Skinner stumbled upon writing by Pavlov and Watson. He found them impressive and exciting and wanted to learn much more. Skinner had always enjoyed animal and human behavior and with this he attended Harvard University. In 1931, he received a PhD in psychology.
Throughout his career, Skinner created many apparatuses that are still studied today. The construction was prompted by the birth of his daughter Deborah. His wife wanted to know if he was capable of designing a crib that could be safer than the typical crib. In fact, he did. Skinner’s new invention was an enclosed and heated crib with a Plexiglas window which he called, “The Baby Tender”. The baby girl only spent the night in the crib and spent the rest of her day outside of it with her parents. He wrote an article which he sent to Lady’s Home Journal expressing on his findings with the crib. The baby had some movement that other babies usually did not exhibit because of their confinement in their blankets. Skinner also found that with the slightest change in temperature, his daughter with become very uncomfortable, making it very hard to believe that a comfortable temperature can ever be attained while in a crib, wrapped in a blanket.
Skinners next invention was prompted by a visit to his child’s fourth grade math classroom. He observed that some of the students had no idea what was going on, while others sped through the problems with ease. He also found that the students were completing problems and moving onto the next without finding out the answers to the first. Skinner decided to construct what he called, the “teaching machine”. The machine randomly produced a problem for the student. After completion of the problem, the student is shown the answer. They completed a problem and moved onto the next without finding out the answer to the first. This machine simply gave more practice to skills already learned. Within three years, Skinner developed programmed instruction. Through careful sequencing, Students answered problems that were broken down into smaller steps. These steps were very similar to the steps that a personal tutor would take with a student. The initial responses were prompted and as performance improve, less help was given. By the end, students were doing things that they could not do before.
In 1936, Skinner took an academic position at the University of Minnesota. Pigeons settle outside his office which gave him the idea to use them as experimental subjects. These pigeons became his favorite experiment. With these pigeons, Skinner began to develop ideas of “operant conditioning” and “shaping behavior”. “Operant conditioning is the rewarding of a partial behavior or a random act that approaches the desired behavior. Operant conditioning can be used to shape behavior.” (A Science Odyssey). Using a light, a tone, and food