Essay, Research Paper: Psychology College Paper


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B.F. Skinner was one of the most influential theorists in modern psychology. His
work was very important and has been studied by many for years. Skinner was a
very straightforward man and a very educated man. His theories have helped
mankind in many ways. He has studied the behavior patterns of many living
organisms. Skinner was a well-published writer. His work has been published in
many journals. He also has written many books on behaviorism. His most important
work was the study of behaviorism. First began by John B. Watson, behaviorism is
one of the most widely studied theories today. B.F. Skinner and His Influence in
Psychology B.F. Skinner was one of the most famous of the American
psychologists. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1904. Skinner was the father of
modern behaviorism. Skinner did not get into psychology until he was in graduate
school at Harvard. He was driven to Psychology after reading about the
experiments of Watson and Pavlov. He received his doctoral degree in three years
and taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of Indiana and
finally returned to his alma mater at Harvard. Skinner contributed to
psychological behaviorism by performing experiments that linked behaviors with
terms commonly used to describe mental states. Skinner was responsible for some
famous experiments such as the “Skinner box”. Skinner also wrote some very
famous books. One of them was “The Behavior of Organisms”. This book
describes the basic points of his system. Another was Walden Two. This book
describes a utopian society that functions on positive reinforcement. Skinner
was a very productive person until his death in 1990 at the age of 86.
Behaviorism is a school of thought in psychology that is interested in
observable behavior. Skinner said, “Behaviorism is not the science of human
behavior; it is the philosophy of that science”(Skinner, 1974). There are
various types of behavior, such as innate behavior. Innate behaviors are certain
behaviors that we are born with, such as eating when we are hungry and sleeping
when we are tired. Early Life Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in Susquehanna,
Pennsylvania on March 20, 1904 to William Arthur and Grace Madge Skinner.
Skinner’s home was a warm and stable place. He lived in the house he was born
in until he went off to college. Skinner also had a younger brother named Edmond
James Skinner, born November 6, 1906. Skinner was very fond of his brother and
loved him very much. At the young age of sixteen, Edmond died of a cerebral
aneurysm. Skinner was a very inventive young man. He always was making or
building things, such as wagons, model airplanes, etc. He also attempted to
invent a perpetual motion machine, but it failed. He also read about animals. He
collected toads, lizards, and snakes. He trained pigeons to do tricks after he
saw them performing one year at a fair. Training the pigeons probably was where
he got his ideas of operant conditioning. He attended Susquehanna High School
just like his mother and father. In his graduating class there were only eight
people including him. He was a very intellectual boy. He reported that he really
enjoyed school. Over the four years in high school Skinner became quite good at
mathematics and reading Latin, but was weak at science. He made up for it
though, because he was always performing physical and chemical experiments while
he was at home. His father was an avid book collector. Skinner always had a good
library of books around his house. Skinner recalled the little collection of
applied psychology journals that his father had bought. Those books could have
been the starting point in his psychology career. Skinner grew up in a very
religious family. His grandmother often reminded him of the concept of hell. His
mother once washed his mouth out with soap literally for saying a bad word. His
father never punished him, but he told him of the punishments that awaited him
if he ever turned out to be a criminal. Overall Skinner had a good and happy
childhood. College Life After graduating high school, Skinner went to Hamilton
College where he majored in English Literature and minored in Romance Languages.
He was drawn toward English when he was in high school by one of his teachers
named Miss Graves. She also was responsible for his enjoyment of art and
sculpting. Skinner never really fit into the campus life and he was not much of
a sportsman. He said “my shins were cracked in ice hockey and better players
bounced basketballs off my cranium” (Boring, 1967). Skinner’s freshman year
did not turn out to be what he expected. He felt that the college was pushing
him around with unnecessary requirements, such as daily chapel and physical
education. Skinner’s college life became better as the years went on. He was
very comfortable with college life by his senior year. Skinner turned out to be
quite the joker in college. He and a friend once printed up a poster that said
that Charles Chaplin was coming to speak about being in the silent movies. They
printed up some copies and distributed them throughout the campus. The effect of
their actions was more than they expected. A large amount of people showed up to
see the famous star that was not coming. The kicker was that Skinner said that
the presentation was under the direct supervision of Skinner’s English
composition teacher and all of the blame was on him when Mr. Chaplin did not
show up. Skinner graduated soon after that, and it was the start of a new life.
Psychological Beginning After graduating Skinner started writing, but that did
not work out. Skinner started classes at Harvard University studying for his
Masters Degree in Psychology. Skinner always had been interested in animal
behavior after seeing the performing pigeons when he was younger. He also was
interested in human behavior as well. This began when the man that taught him
how to play the saxophone when he was younger told him how he would entertain
troops. He would write the alphabet forward with his right and backwards with
his left hand, add up some figures given to him and answer questions from the
crowd all at the same time. The man said that it gave him a headache. Skinner
wanted to know how he did all of that. Skinner read some of the works of some
famous psychologists. He read some books on Pavlov and the work that he did with
the dogs and the work of John B. Watson, a famous behaviorist. He really became
interested in behaviorism when he met two men, Fred Keller and Charles Trueblood.
Keller was a strict behaviorist. Skinner saw Trueblood carrying caged rats that
he was working with in the laboratory. After that Skinner really started hitting
the books. He had a complex schedule of waking up, studying during breakfast,
attending classes, study until nine o’clock at night, and then going to bed.
He held this regimen for two years straight. He did not have much of a life
during those two years. When Skinner began working on his doctoral degree, he
was working part of the time at a medical school and the other part in a
subterranean laboratory with his animals. He remained in that laboratory for a
total of five years. While working on his research, Skinner found that Pavlov
had given him the most influence in the experimental method. Pavlov said,
“control the environment and you will see order in behavior” (Boring, 1967).
Skinner first used the term “operant” when some of his papers came under
attack. He said, “the term “operant” was to identify behavior traceable to
reinforcing contingencies rather than to eliciting stimuli” (Boring, 1967).
Behaviorism and Skinner Over the years after receiving his doctoral degree
Skinner became a strict behaviorist. In 1964, Skinner gave a speech on what he
called “The Science of Behavior and Human Dignity.” The main point of the
speech was that people blame their shortcomings on the environment and take all
the credit for their achievements. This belief wound up being the theme of one
of Skinner’s books. It was called “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”, published
in 1971.This was a very popular book and a very unpopular book. Many thought
that Skinner did not believe in freedom and dignity. He wanted people to see
that if we could move beyond those things then perhaps our society could move on
to be a more realized one. Skinner believed that the study of behavior depends
on what the organism should and should not do. Skinner also was very productive
in the laboratory. His most famous experiment was the “Skinner box”. The
“Skinner box” was just a plain looking box that could measure conditioning
in many different ways. Here is how it works. A hungry rat is placed in the box
and left alone. The rat will survey its environment. The rat eventually will
find a lever and when it is pressed, food is delivered. In operant conditioning
terms, the food reinforces the rat’s behavior of pressing the lever. Skinner
explained how this experiment worked in his first major work “The Behavior of
Organisms: an experimental analysis”. He explained that the type of
conditioning the rat underwent was called “free operant conditioning”. It
was free because the rat was uninterrupted and free to press the lever as many
times as it wanted. He explained it like this because he wanted to distinguish
himself from Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. One difference that was pointed out was
that the dogs had to hear the bell in order to start salivating. The rat was
given no stimulation; it just pressed the lever because it knew there would be
food. Skinner really wanted to study human behavior. The box did little of that,
but he found that if you change a human’s environment, a behavioral change
would occur just like the rat’s behavior would change, if you change the lever
pressing. So, the main idea of behaviorism is that human behavior is a product
of the stimulus-response interaction and that behavior is modifiable
(Behaviorism, 1997). In another of Skinner’s famous works he talks about his
three-part thesis on human behavior. He believed that biology, genotype, and
conditioning all work together in natural selection, operant conditioning, and
in the development of social environments. Skinner’s life appeared to be very
good. He had a good family, two loving children and wife. He also had a good job
teaching Psychology at his alma mater, Harvard University. America lost a very
important, intellectual man in 1990 when B.F. Skinner died at the age of 86 of
leukemia that he had contracted when he was younger. Even though he was dying he
still delivered a paper to the American Psychological Association. His work and
theories always will be looked at and studied far into the future. Conclusion
B.F. Skinner was one of the most important American psychologists ever. He was
known as the father of operant conditioning. Skinner’s experiments have paved
the way for many ideas and theories that may be developed by future generation
psychologists. He was responsible for writing many books that also have helped
in understanding behaviorism. He tried to explain how human behavior would
change if the environment were manipulated. In my opinion, Skinner was one of
the most well known psychologists of all time. He was a very intellectual man
and will be remembered far into the future.BibliographyBehaviorism. (1997). The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April
07,1998 from the World Wide Web:
Boring, E.G. (1967). A History of Psychology in Autobiography. New York:
Irvington Publishers. Retrieved April 07,1998 from the World Wide Web:
Skinner, B.F. (1974). About Behaviorism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Press.
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