The Legacy of Burrhus Frederic Skinner

Burrhus Frederic Skinner: The Observer of Animals

Old-fashioned and hard-working are the words that describe Burrhus Frederic Skinner. Because B. F. Skinner was an active and out-going person, he truly enjoyed school and the outdoors and building which education allowed him to experience. Enjoying school, Skinner attended college obtaining a bachelor’s in English, a master’s and a doctorate in psychology. Skinner then began his research and work which led to the legacy and the system that he is well known for Clinical psychology and operant conditioning.

The legacy that Skinner left behind is the entire system based on operant conditioning and clearly he greatly influenced clinical psychology. Sundberg, et al (2002) points out that Skinner was the outstanding proponent of the behaviorist theory. Skinner was the most visible and most influential American psychologist in the second half of the 20th century. Skinner focused on observable behavior: his basic idea was that actions that are rewarded tend to be repeated (Sundberg, et al, 2002). This belief led Skinner to continually study behavior and in the creation of numerous behavior technologies.

Skinner’s clinical psychology led to research observation, which was spent discerning numerous animals’, mainly rats and pigeons, reactions. These observations led Skinner to create the observation box an operant conditioning apparatus. This research led to Skinner’s system of operant conditioning – the belief that an organism is in the process of operating on the environment, which in simplistic terms signifies that the organism is bouncing around its world, doing whatever it does (Boeree, 2007; Sundberg, et al, 2002). During this operating, the organism encounters a stimulus, which is called a reinforcing stimulus. This stimulus has the effect of increasing the operant the behavior occurring just before the reinforcer. Boeree (2007) explains, this operant conditioning is the behavior followed by a consequence, and the nature of the consequence modifies the organisms tendency to repeat the behavior.

Nevid, et al (2006) highlights that Skinner believed that human behavior is the product of our genetic inheritance and environmental or situational influences. Skinner was a careful thinker about broad concerns for human welfare, which began with the application of his principles. Skinner examined key philosophical issues from the perspective of operant conditioning, and had an abiding interest in education and the application of principles using teaching machines pre-computer devices that would present programed instruction, materials, tests, and feedback (Sundberg, et al, 2002). Skinner was thus, a strong experimental designer and valued the use of ideas and thinking.

B. F. Skinner’s legacy is his behaviorism and cognitive approaches, which led to a central role in learning approaches. Skinner used symbolic approaches, which led people to observe themselves in relation to each other and in relation to their effects on the environment. Skinner thus, left a legacy with his work in clinical psychology and operant conditioning.


Boeree, C.G. (2007). B.F. Skinner. Personality Theories. Retrieved on 08/21/07, from,

Sunderberg, N.D., Winebarger, A. A., & Taplin, J.R. (2002). Clinical Psychology: Evolving Theory, Practice, and Research. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.