Summary on B.F. Skinner

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B. F. Skinner is somewhat opposite of Freud in that while he acknowledges the existence of our inner states such as emotions, thoughts and unconscious processes he believes most behavior is learned through operant conditioning. He says humans do not and cannot plan for the future, and have no free will. All behavior is determined by prior conditioning. He probably would have laughed in the faces of those who described the sinister deeds of others to be because they were “just born that way”.

Skinner agrees with Pavlov and Watson that some behaviors are learned through classical conditioning. However, he believes a majority of our learning comes from the consequences of our actions. He calls this operant conditioning wherein “a response operates on the environment to produce a positive reinforce or to remove a negative reinforce, and is therefore more likely to recur”.

In order to study the principles of operant conditioning he uses what he called an operant conditioning apparatus (referred to by others as the Skinner box), rats, and pigeons. He placed pigeons in the soundproof box. The pigeons quickly learned they would receive positive reinforcement (food) as a reward for pecking a lighted plastic disk at one end of the box. An electronic recording system produced a graph of their response. He also used the box to study negative reinforcement by emitting an electric shock when the disk was pecked. He was able to teach the pigeons to peck the disk through shaping. He did this by rewarding the pigeons when they turned in the direction of the disk, then as they got closer and closer to the disk, and so on until they eventually pecked the disk. He was able to condition them to peck the disk within a matter of minutes.

While Skinner accepts internal stimuli such as emotions and thinking, he objects to their causal status. He has attempted to explain them and various other concepts proposed by Freud as well as other personality theorists...
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