Paper Sample on B.F Skinner, One of the Most Influential Psychologists in America

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George Washington University
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B.F Skinner is one of the most influential psychologists in America. He developed the theory of operant conditioning to help know how people behave. In his theory, Skinner believed that when reinforcements followed behaviors, there was the likelihood that the actions could be repeated over again (Skinner, 2017). Consequently, when a behavior was followed by punishment, there were no chances of repeating it. As a psychologist, Skinner believed that for his career to be a success, the study of behaviors was a key approach to tackling psychology problems. In his principles, he incorporated the treatments of phobias, classroom performance, and addictive behaviors by studying the behaviors of people. He further invented the Skinner box in which an animal could be locked up so that it is not disturbed by the outside distraction. The animal inside the box was exposed to the controlled conditions which it was supposed to respond to. The Skinner box was sound proof, and that would help the subjects under observation.

Skinner accepted the fact that thoughts existed as separate behaviors and needed to be analyzed differently though he treated the mind as one of the body parts. Through his psychologist career, he was inspired by the work of John B. Watson and pioneer Ivan Pavlov who were behaviorists. At one time, Skinner used Operant conditioning theory to explain how behaviors and consequences were related. Though Skinner's views were less extreme than those of Watson, to some extent it was sensible especially when he came up with an ideal way of helping people with mental problems. He based his studies in observable behaviors relatively than mental events such as conditioning operant, which was an approach to understanding individuals behavior by looking at the causes of actions and the consequences.

Skinner box was used to conduct experiments on animals whereby reinforcement was given to the animals after the desired response. In his research, he found out that there were three types of behaviors or operant that followed every behavior. First, neutral operant showed that the probability of behaviors being repeated neither increase nor decrease as a result of environmental responses. Reinforces, on the other hand, is another type of behavior and is said to be positive or negative and the environment responses increased the probability of actions to be repeated ("Basic Principles of Operant Conditioning: Skinner," 2017). Punishers decrease the likelihood of the action to be repeated because it instills fear on individuals involved. Apart from fear, individuals become weak because of the first reaction.

Positive Reinforcement

To prove how positive reinforcement affected the behaviors of individuals, Skinners used a hungry rat and placed it in his box. He placed a lever on the box which the rat would knock accidentally. As it was moving and knocking the lever, a pellet of food would drop inside the container next to the lever. The rat then knew that if it knocked the lever, it would be able to get food and so it has to repeat the action several times. In this way, Skinner was able to show that positive reinforcement would be able to strengthen behaviors because the parties involved know that by performing an action, there is a reward they will get (McLeod, 2017). Another example concerning performances in schools is that when teachers motivate their students by giving them some rewards every time they perform well, there is a chance that student will repeat the action of performing well.

Negative Reinforcement

To show how negative reinforcement worked, Skinner placed a rat in his box and subjected it to an unpleasant condition which is the electric current that caused discomfort. Unpleasant electric current acted as a negative reinforcer. As the rat kept moving inside the box to look for a place where it could find comfort, it knocked a lever and immediately that happened the electric current goes off. Within a short time, the rat learned to go straight to the lever. It is, therefore, clear that the consequence of running away from electric current resulted in the repeated action of knocking the lever for the purpose of switching the current off. The rat also learned to avoid electric current by switching off light because it knew it would help turn off the electric current. The two learned responses the rat was able to learn are the escape and avoidance learning.


Punishment, on the other hand, is designed to do away with or weaken responses. It is the opposite of reinforcement which focuses on increasing the response. It is a consequence that decreases the behavior that follows it. Punishment works directly by applying unpleasant stimulus like shock or eliminating rewards which motivate an individual to behave. The examples Skinner states are a deduction of childrens pocket money by parents as a way of punishment the undesirable behaviors. The punishment is only remembered during the time it is still ongoing and children can behave well during that period and immediately the punishment stops, children will go back to their misbehaving nature. It is true that negative reinforcement and punishment can be confused, but punishments increase one's aggression, instills fear when it comes to school behaviors and lastly does not guide towards the expected behaviors.



Basic Principles of Operant Conditioning: Skinner. (2017). Boundless. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from

McLeod, S. (2017). B.F. Skinner | Operant Conditioning | Simply Psychology. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from

Skinner, B. (2017). B. F. Skinner. Retrieved 19 April 2017, from


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