Skinner and His Influence on Psychology
Skinner and his Influence on Psychology
William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Rogers, Wilhelm Wundt, John Watson, and Burrhus Frederic Skinner are a few of the many influential contributors to the history of psychology. This paper will focus on Burrhus Frederic Skinner; also known as B.F. Skinner, his work on the theory of behaviorism and how his approach to psychology is main stream in psychology today.
B.F. Skinner was an American writer, inventor, behaviorist and most importantly a psychologist. Skinner attended Hamilton College where he pursued a degree in literature, after attending Hamilton College Skinner received his PhD in psychology at Harvard University. Skinners work was inspired by John Watson who believed “Psychology should be based on experimental observation. This theory was called behaviorism. Behaviorism seeks to explain human and animal behavior in measureable and observable responses to environmental stimulus” (Moore, 2011).
Skinner acknowledged that animals act on their surroundings in order to locate food and protection. Skinner was especially fascinated with this observation and wanted to take this theory one step further by developing principles that would clarify how and why animals learned to act in given situations. His main experiment in regards to behaviorism was the use of the conditioning chamber, also known as the Skinner box. This box was designed to observe hungry eager rats. The box was equipped with a lever attached to a food dish. In this experiment Skinner was hoping to comprehend how the rat would respond when the lever was pressed and food was given. Skinner then observed when the rat was placed in the box it would explore about and usually end up accidentally pressing the lever, causing the rat to receive a food pellet in the dish. After that occurred, the rate of the lever being pressed increased considerably. From the Skinner box derived the concept of reinforcement. According to Schater (2009), “Reinforcement is the effect of a behavior that determines whether it will be more or less likely to occur again” (p.17). The Skinner box became a main tool in furthering the theory of reinforcement in behaviorism.
Skinner then went on to support his improved theory of behaviorism by writing many books. The Behavior of Organisms, Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Walden II were just a few of the many books Skinner wrote. Skinner wrote these books hoping to support his theory of behaviorism. These books however created much controversy within the American society. The American society claimed Skinner was giving away free will and manipulating the people, while Skinner believed reinforcement could be used to benefit the society. This controversy however prepared Skinner to become a very well-known psychologist.
In a recent study; “On Certain Similarities Between Mainstream Psychology and the Writings of B.F. Skinner” (Goddard, 2012), Skinners writings are compared with five main topics within mainstream psychology today. According to Murray J. Goddard, of the University of Brunswick, “There are prominent similarities between Skinners work and the five main stream topics, supporting the fact that Skinners work is considered main stream in psychology today” (Goddard, 2012). For example, Skinner noted that “Conscious feelings or beliefs were typically suggested as behavioral causes because conscious thoughts or feelings may instantaneously precede behavior. However, conscious thoughts or feelings may be collateral products of ecological and heritable histories” (Goddard, 2012). Much like Skinner, main stream psychologist, D.M. Wegner (2002), Author of The Illusion of Conscious Will, agreed with Skinners belief that “External events may unconsciously sway action and create unconscious thoughts” (p.5). Skinner also believed that the clinical use of dispositional conditions may hinder a study of the environmental conditions contributing to behavioral problems. Another psychologist author, E.J. Langer, agreed with Skinners statement, concluding that “Clinical labels discourage a search for the environmental conditions that may accelerate or impair behavior” (2009). There is proof within the research stating there are many similarities when comparing Skinners work to main stream psychologists today.
Although B.F. Skinner died in 1990 of leukemia he left an important impact on psychology. He was a very influential psychologist not only in the 1900’s, but still is throughout our world in the present day. Behaviorism and reinforcement are theories still discussed today, making Skinners approach to psychology main stream. Skinner and his theories will never be forgotten.
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