Burrhus Frederic "B.F." Skinner
National Medal of Science award winner in 1968, B.F. Skinner is a widely known American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. Skinner was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. His father, William, was a lawyer and his mother, Grace, a housewife. Growing up with only one younger brother, Edward, he described his home environment as "warm and stable". Much of his childhood was spent building things, a skill he would later use in his own psychological experiments. Unfortunately, his brother Edward, only two and a half years younger, died at age sixteen of a cerebral hemorrhage.
In high school, Skinner took an English class taught by Miss Graves to whom he would later dedicate his book, The Technology of Teaching. Based on a remark by his father, he said in class one day that Shakespeare had not written As You Like It, but rather Frances Bacon. When his teacher claimed that he didn't know what he was talking about, he went to the library and read a bit of Bacon's works. Bacon's inductive method in science against the appeal to authority was to serve him well later. It was also during school which Skinner became athiest, occuring after a liberal Christian teacher tried to calm his fear of the Hell his grandmother had once decsribed to him.
He attended Hamilton College in New York with the intention of becoming a writer. While attending, he joined Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and wrote for the school paper. After moving back home, a period he called his "dark year" began, only consisting of a dozen short newspaper articles and a few models of sailing ships. It was his encounter with John B. Watson's Behaviorism that led him into graduate study in psychology and to the development of his own behaviorism.
At the age of 24, Skinner enrolled in the Psychology Department of Harvard University and experimented with Watson and Pavlov's theories of behaviorism. These studies appeared in...
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