Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904 - 1990) MP

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Birthplace: Gibson, Susquehanna, PA
Death: Died in Cambridge, Middlesex, MA
Managed by: Gene
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Burrhus Frederic Skinner

Originator of Behaviourism

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American behaviorist, author, inventor, social philosopher and poet. He was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University from 1958 until his retirement in 1974.


Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, innovated his own philosophy of science called radical behaviorism, and founded his own school of experimental research psychology—the experimental analysis of behavior. His analysis of human behavior culminated in his work Verbal Behavior, which has recently seen enormous increase in interest experimentally and in applied settings.


Skinner discovered and advanced the rate of response as a dependent variable in psychological research. He invented the cumulative recorder to measure rate of responding as part of his highly influential work on schedules of reinforcement. In a June, 2002 survey, Skinner was listed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. He was a prolific author who published 21 books and 180 articles.

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Early Years:

B.F. Skinner described his Pennsylvania childhood as "warm and stable." As a boy, he enjoyed building and inventing things; a skill he would later use in his own psychological experiments. He received a B.A. in English literature in 1926 from Hamilton College, and spent some time as a struggling writer before discovering the writings of Watson and Pavlov. Inspired by these works, Skinner decided to abandon his career as a novelist and entered the psychology graduate program at Harvard University.

Skinner married Yvonne Blue in 1936, and the couple went on to have two daughters, Julie and Deborah.

Career:

In 1945, Skinner moved to Bloomington, Indiana and became Psychology Department Chair and the University of Indiana. In 1948, he joined the psychology department at Harvard University where he remained for the rest of his life. He became one of the leaders of behaviorism and his work contributed immensely to experimental psychology. He also invented the 'Skinner box,' in which a rat learns to obtain food by pressing a lever.

Awards:

  • 1966 Edward Lee Thorndike Award, American Psychological Association
  • 1968 - National Medal of Science from President Lyndon B. Johnson
  • 1971 - Gold Medal of the American Psychological Foundation
  • 1972 - Human of the Year Award
  • 1990 - Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology

Research:

B.F. Skinner is famous for his research on operant conditioning and negative reinforcement. He developed a device called the "cumulative recorder," which showed rates of responding as a sloped line. Using this device, he found that behavior did not depend on the preceding stimulus as Watson and Pavlov maintained. Instead, Skinner found that behaviors were dependent upon what happens after the response. Skinner called this operant behavior.

(Source: about.com)

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B. F. Skinner's Timeline

1904
March 20, 1904
Gibson, Susquehanna, PA
1936
1936
Age 31
1990
August 18, 1990
Age 86
Cambridge, Middlesex, MA
August 1990
Age 86
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA
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