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Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born on March 20, 1904 in Pennsylvania. He initially set his academic sights on writing and moved to New York to enroll in Hamilton College. He earned his Bachelor’s in English Literature and then attended Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1931. Skinner spent the next five years working at Harvard before he took teaching positions at the University of Minnesota and at Indiana University. While at Indiana, he briefly led the psychology department before going back to his Alma matter, Harvard. Skinner spent the rest of his professional career at Harvard.
Contribution to Psychology
Over the course of his long career, Skinner developed many theories and inventions. He influenced behaviorism through his research on reinforcement, and focused heavily on the exploration of negative and positive reinforcement and the effects they had on behavior. His theory of “Radical Behaviorism” states that internal perceptions are not based on a psychological level of consciousness, but rather on an individuals’ own physical body. He theorized that everybody experiences a lifetime of genetic and external histories that result in behaviors. The book Verbal Behavior is the sum of his work, and although not widely accepted at the time of its publication, has gained broad interest in recent years.
Among Skinner’s many inventions was a highly controversial one, known as the “Air Crib.” In an attempt to aid with child rearing, Skinner designed a temperature controlled crib that was developed to encourage a child’s independence while minimizing discomfort and decreasing child care related tasks. Skinner also invented the Cumulative Recorder, a tool to measure and document behavior geographically. The most famous of Skinner’s inventions was the Operant Conditioning Chamber, a device designed to gauge how different animals reacted and interacted with their surrounding environments. Skinner also invented the Teaching Machine and the unrealized, but highly reliable, Pigeon-Guided Missile system.
Skinner was a prolific author as well as an academic. His most famous works include Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and Walden Two, which supports Thoreau’s vision of a society based on high personal values and low material consumption. Skinner has been recognized for his accomplishments through numerous honorary degrees and has received multiple awards. Among the most recent of his achievements is the Lifetime Achievement Award, given to him in 1990 by the American Psychology Association, the Outstanding member and Distinguished Professional Achievement Award in 1991 by the Society for Performance Improvement, and most notably, the 1997 Scholar Hall of Fame Award, from the Academy of Resource and Development.
Books by B.F. Skinner