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  • Behaviorism

    B. F. Skinner

  • B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)

  • B. F. Skinner


    Skinners life

    Predetermined, lawful, and orderly

    A product of past reinforcements

    1925: Hamilton College (NY): degree in English, no courses in psychology

    Read about Pavlovs and Watsons experimental work

    1931: Ph.D. from Harvard

  • B. F. Skinner

    Dissertation: a reflex is a correlation between

    S and R

    1938: The Behavior of Organisms

    1953: Science and Human Behavior

    1990: Vigorously attacked the growth of cognitive


    1990 (final article): "Can Psychology Be a Science

    of Mind?"

  • B. F. Skinner

    Dealt only with observable behavior

    The task of scientific inquiry:

    To establish functional relationships between experimenter-controlled stimulus and organisms response

    No presumptions about internal entities - The "empty organism" approach

  • B. F. Skinner

    Single subject design

    Large numbers of subjects not necessary

    Statistical comparisons of group means not


    A single subject provides valid and replicable


    Requires "sufficient" data collected under well-

    controlled experimental conditions

    Statistics obscure individual responses and


  • B. F. Skinner - Operant conditioning

    Watson, Pavlov - Respondent behavior: elicited by specific observable stimulus

  • B. F. Skinner

    Operant behavior: occurs without an observable external stimulus

    Operates on the organisms environment

    The behavior is instrumental in securing a stimulus more representative of everyday learning

  • B. F. Skinner

    Science of behavior: Study of conditioning and extinction of operants

    Dependent variable in the "Skinner box": rate of response

    Law of acquisition

    key variable: reinforcement

    practice provides opportunities for

    additional reinforcement

    Differs from Thorndike and Hulls positions

    Thorndike and Hull: explanatory

    Skinner: strictly descriptive

  • Skinners Theory

    All we need to know in order to describe and explain behavior is this: actions followed by good outcomes are likely to recur , and actions followed by bad outcomes are less likely to recur. (Skinner, 1953)

  • Central Human Motive in Skinners Theory

    Environmental consequences shape behavior


    BehaviorBetter state Increased

    of affairs probability of behavior occurring again

    BehaviorWorse state Decreased

    of affairs probability of behavior occurring again

    Behavior A

    Behavior B

    Behavior C Better state Behavior C

    Behavior D of affairs emerges as the

    Behavior E most probable

  • Laboratory Examples

    Operant Conditioning


    (food pellet)








    (in a Skinner box)


    POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT = increasing a behavior by administering a rewardNEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT = increasing a behavior by removing an aversive stimulus when a behavior occursPUNISHMENT = decreasing a behavior by administering an aversive stimulus following a behavior OR by removing a positive stimulusEXTINCTION = decreasing a behavior by not rewarding it

  • B. F. Skinner

    Research foci

    Role of punishment in response acquisition

    Schedules of reinforcement

    Extinction of operants

    Secondary reinforcement


    Subjects included humans as well as animals

  • B. F. Skinner

    Schedules of reinforcement

    Reinforcement is necessary in operant behavior

    Reinforcement schedules


    fixed and variable

    ratio and interval


    Interval schedules: reinforcement occurs after a certain amount of time has passedFixed Interval = reinforcement is presented after a fixed amount of timeVariable Interval = reinforcement is delivered on a random/variable time schedule

    Ratio schedules: reinforcement occurs after a certain number of responsesFixed Ratio = reinforcement presented after a fixed # of responsesVariable Ratio = reinforcement delivery is variable but based on an overall average # of responses


    Punishment does not teach appropriate behaviorsMust be delivered immediately & consistentlyMay result in negative side effectsUndesirable behaviors may be learned through modeling (aggression)May create negative emotions (anxiety & fear)


    Successive approximation/shaping = reinforcing behaviors as they come to approximate the desired behavior

    Superstitious Behavior = when persistent behaviors are reinforced coincidentally rather than functionally

    Self-control of behavior

    Stimulus avoidance

    Self-administered satiation

    Aversive stimulation


  • B. F. Skinner

    Verbal behavior


    Comprised of responses

    Can be reinforced by speech sounds or gestures

  • B. F. Skinner

    Aircribs and teaching machines

    1945: aircrib

    Teaching machine

    invented in the 1920s by Pressey

    promoted by Skinner

    1968: The Technology of Teaching

  • B. F. Skinner

    Walden Two (1948): A behavioristic society

    Program of behavioral control

    A technology of behavior

    Application of laboratory findings to society at large

  • B. F. Skinner

    Behavior modification

    Used in a variety of applied settings

    Reinforce desired behavior and extinguish

    undesired behavior

    Punishment is not used

  • B. F. Skinner

    Criticisms of Skinners behaviorism

    His extreme positivism

    His opposition to theory

    His willingness to extrapolate beyond the data

    The narrow range of behavior studied

    Problem of instinctive drift

    His position on verbal behavior

  • B. F. Skinner

    Contributions of Skinners behaviorism

    Shaped American psychology for 30 years

    His goal: the improvement of society

    Srength and ramifications of his radical behaviorism

  • Social Learning Theories: The Cognitive Challenge

    The context

    Skinner (1963): "Behaviorism at Fifty"

    Progress in experimental psychology in U.S. due to


    Social learning/sociobehaviorist approach fomented by

    many, including some behaviorists, reflected

    broader cognitive revolution in psychology

    1995: consciousness has overtly and publicly returned to psychology


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