Burrhus Frederic Skinner and his Theory

Behaviorism, the school of psychology that B. F. Skinner is associated concerns itself with observation and learning of behavioral patterns and how these can impact the society in which one lives. Important here is how one reacts to what happens and the results of such action.

It gives less thought to inner feelings, emotions, and how one feels about themselves. It emerged in 1920 with J.B. Watson who got it from Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, noted for his work with conditioned reflex. Behaviorism was further developed by Skinner and C.L. Hull.

Sinner was born in 1904 at Susquehanna, PA, and died in 1990. It is interesting to note that he too, like two earlier English writers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, had toyed with the idea of a utopian society. The connective for me is where these two were planning to build for themselves such a world. It was to be on the banks of the Susquehanna River, the place where Skinner over a century later was born.

Just where or whether it was on the River, I do not know. I just found it interesting that for me association came into play: I had the fact about the two English writer stored in my memory bank and seeing the word Susquehanna, they surfaced.

Skinner wrote a controversial book about how a utopian society could be created by behavioral engineering. It was controversial. I ask, did he deliberately, after learning of the connection of the two English writer’s desires and noting that he lived in such a place, decide to erase the intervening century and get on with it. Or, was he acting not on behavioral sense alone, but was truly a descendent with likewise similar brain wirings. Just thinking.

He took up the study of psychology after giving up writing. He met the Poet Robert Frost and was advised by him to take up writing. This could have be when he was studying at the Bread Loft College in Middlebury, Vermont. But then after a while he gave up writing because he said he “had nothing important to say”. He then took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference”.

He took up psychology and entered Harvard to do graduate work. Apparently Robert Frost had less impact on the path he would take than did J.B Watson whose book “Behavior” written in 1924 did. It helped him choose his life work.

His legacy is probably his operational analysis of stimulus and response. In other words his study of this simplistic, rather crude, down to earth view of his theory. A simple way of understanding this: Lets pull his chains and see what happens, push his buttons, etc. In his operant behavior, to which he is given credit, Skinner sees this not as a reflex action, but as one that is emitted behavior.

His formula: R=f(S,A) R stands for reflex strength, S for stimulus, and A for any condition affecting reflex strength, such as drive.

In other words, you know you are being baited for a response. They want you to yell out, make a scene, betray a trust,you refuse. Your reflex strength is quite good, In fact, it is beyond reproach. They put their bull whips down. (While writing the last paragraph I was seeing in my mind’s eye, the early Christians being persecuted. And because of this behavior, they eventually won some measure of success.)

Frost, Robert, The Road Not Taken and Other Poems, New York, Dover Thrift Editions, 1993, pp1