The Legacy of Burrhus Frederic Skinner

The work of B.F. Skinner, inventor of the “Skinner Box” and the father of Operant Conditioning, has become a staple of psychological training. He believed that every action is a behavior, and that as such, it can be experimentally studied.

His work with Primates, Lab Rats, and other small creatures showed the value of conditioning. By placing these animals in an enclosed space with only a “feeder bar” (though more modern chambers often contain multiple objects for the creature to interact with), he learned that eventually the creature will learn to use the feeder bar to obtain food. When it does not, it is punished (albeit slightly) to reinforce the need to go for the feeder bar. This itself leads to one of the main factors of Operant Conditioning, reinforcement.

For instance, say you ask your child to clean up his room. If he refuses, he is punished in some manner, but if he obliges, he is rewarded with a “token” of some sort. If this pattern is continued with each subsequent request, soon the child learns that if he does what he is told, he is rewarded, and if not, he is scolded. The point being that you can reinforce behaviors that you would prefer in any creature, be it human, canine, or rodent, through negative and positive reinforcement.

The Operant Conditioning Chamber has become one of the most widely recognized apparatuses in all of Psychology, and because of it, we know that much more about the way the mind works, and how we learn behaviors.