Theoretical Perspective Capsule
March 24, 2018
B.F. Skinner was born as Burrhus Frederic Skinner in Pennsylvania in 1904. Skinner first studied at Hamilton College where he developed a love for writing, and after his graduation he attempted to become a professional writer with no success. Although, throughout his life he did write a few books and several works. One of his most notable books was the novel Walden Two, which was written in 1948. Since his pursuit of becoming a professional writer did not work out, Skinner decided to go back to school. He attended Harvard where he studied psychology and received his doctorate. B.F. Skinner was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989 at the age of 85, and he lost the fight with leukemia the following year in 1990.
B .F. Skinner is best known for his theory of behaviorism and concept of operant conditioning. Skinner was actually considered the father of operant conditioning (McLeod. He developed his theory of operant conditioning because he believed that classical conditioning did not account for or explain how people develop new operant behaviors. People take actions or “operate” based on their environment, and these actions are called operants. Therefore, operant conditioning is looking at how the subjects environment affects their behavior. Skinner’s work within operant conditioning involved research that used rats or pigeons as the test subjects to determine how certain behaviors are learned, and how consequences and reinforcement will affect behavior.
Skinner conducted his research for operant conditioning in what is now known as the Skinner box, but he called it an operant conditioning apparatus. The Skinner box allowed him to study the behavior of the test subject, and how the subject interacted with its environment. In his research with the Skinner box, he used both rats and pigeons as test subjects, and he used consequences to develop the operant behaviors. Reinforcement and Punishment are the two types of consequences, and they also have subcategories. Reinforcement is broken down into positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement “occurs when the behavior or response produces a new stimulus” (book p.257, para. 4). An example of positive reinforcement would be when the pigeons in Skinner’s study would peck on the red key and a food pellet would be released. Negative reinforcement is when the “consequence that strengthens a behavior is the removal of a stimulus” (book p. 257, para. 6). An example of negative reinforcement would be when the when buckle up in the car in order for the beeping or buzzing to stop. Reinforcement, whether positive or negative, is not to be confused with punishment because reinforcement, unlike punishment, is always positive.There are also different types of punishment. The first type of punishment is called Type I, and it is when a stimulus occurs after an unwanted behavior in order to suppress that behavior. An example would be like when teachers make students run extra laps as reprimand. Type II punishment is when a stimulus is removed. An example would be when kids get their privileges taken away. In both positive reinforcement and presentation punishment a stimulus is presented, and in both negative reinforcement and removal punishment a stimulus is removed or withheld. Behavior is encouraged in both positive and negative reinforcement, and behavior is suppressed in both presentation and removal punishment.
There are five different reinforcement schedules which use different methods to reach the same results. The continuous schedule gives the subject a reinforcement after every response. The fixed-interval schedule lets the subject receive reinforcement after a set period of time, and a variable-interval gives reinforcement at varying lengths of time. Fixed-ratio is where the subject has to successfully have a set number of responses in order to receive reinforcement, and variable-ratio is when the subject receives reinforcement after they perform a varying number of responses. Variable schedules are better for operant conditioning because they are not predictable like the continuous and fixed schedules.
In Inocencia’s classroom observation, she discussed how the teacher and paraprofessional use colors to track behavior. This is an example of how operant conditioning is used in the classroom. The students are getting positive reinforcement by staying on the best color, Blue, or being able to move back up to blue due to good behavior. When they misbehave and have to move their clip down to green or yellow, they are getting reinforcement that they need to correct their actions. Once the students reach the lowest color, red, then they receive “punishment” by being removed from the classroom and having to discuss what is happening. There are many other ways that operant conditioning is used in education. Another example is grades. Students are being conditioned by the grades they are given, and the grades are the positive and negative reinforcements.
B. F. Skinner. (2016, January 20). Retrieved March 10, 2018, from
https://www.biography.com/people/bf-skinner-9485671Hoy, A. W. (2016). Education psychology. Boston: Pearson
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner – operant conditioning. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from