Skiner is a renowned psychologist whose full name is Burrhus Frederic Skinner , and he is known for his great contributions to the world of psychology through the development of the theory of behaviorism and his novel launched in 1948 called Walden Two. Skinner is a psychologist whose recognition within the current of behaviorism and his theory has been one of the most influential in Psychology . Behaviorism is a theory that refers to all action being driven by an external stimulus.

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What is behaviorism all about?

Behaviorism was the main paradigm of psychology in the period corresponding to the 1920s and 1950s , founded by John Watson and based on the belief that behaviors can be measured, trained and changed. Behaviorism could be summarized with the following quote from Watson, considered the “father” of this psychological current:

Give me a dozen healthy, well-formed children so that I can educate them, and I promise to choose one at random and train him to become a specialist in whatever I can choose: doctor, lawyer, artist, businessman, beggar. or thief, regardless of his talent, inclinations, tendencies, aptitudes, vocations and race of his ancestors ”. John Watson, Behaviorism , 1930.

According to the principles of behaviorism, all behaviors are learned from the environment in which we grow up. Behaviorists did not believe in biological determinations. Furthermore, they were primarily concerned with behaviors that could be observed and believed that there was not much difference between learning that takes place in humans and that which takes place in animals.

Skinner’s box

Officially called the “operant conditioning chamber,” Skinner’s box is one of the best-known inventions in the history of psychology. It was created with the aim of demonstrating that the behavior of an animal (in the first place, it used a rat) could be induced and modified by external stimuli. The box is one of the pillars on which Skinner’s well-known behaviorism is based.

Parts of the box

The box had the following items:

  • Two lights
  • A speaker
  • A button
  • Electrified ground (in some cases)
  • Food dispenser

How the Skinner Box Works

  • A rat was introduced into the box (normally it was deprived of food before so that its motivation to feed would be greater)
  • The rat experimented in its new environment until it discovered the button and pressed it. Automatically a unit of food (pellet) would come out of the dispenser after the button was pressed
  • The rat, motivated to get more food, modified its behavior and quickly learned to press the button to receive food (association of behavior-stimulus and positive reinforcement)
  • Conditioning could also occur by omission of a negative stimulus (negative reinforcement). In this case, the rat was introduced into the box with the ground electrified, if he pressed the button, the current would stop passing through the ground. In this way, the rat learned to press the button to stop feeling pain.

Operant conditioning

As we have seen, operant conditioning is somewhat more complicated than simple Watson and Pavlov conditioning . In this case, the association is not between a stimulus and a reflex, but rather between a stimulus, a behavior and a reinforcement.

That is, in the case of operant conditioning, learning about what happens after the behavior is required. For example, in the case of Skinner’s box, the rat learns that after pressing the button it receives a reward.

Positive and negative reinforcement

Since behaviorism is based on measuring behaviors, everything that happens in Skinner’s conditioning is thoroughly analyzed and categorized. Therefore, we can distinguish two types of reinforcement in BF Skinner’s theory of behaviorism and operant conditioning:

  • Positive reinforcement , an element that acts as a reward, usually satisfies a basic need or generates a pleasant response.
  • Negative reinforcement , an element that generates a response of pain, displeasure or discomfort, this factor acts as a punishment.

We can find examples of operant conditioning in our day to day. For example, we make an effort to study because we have learned to receive a reward afterwards (good grades and recognition) or, we take a medicine to avoid the headache, just as the rat presses a button to avoid the pain of the electrified floor.

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