Burrhus Frederic Skinner Essay

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Burrhus Frederic (B. F.) Skinner is known as the leading proponent of behaviorism. First introduced in 1913 by John B. Watson, the theory of behaviorism focuses on observable events as the basis for understanding human thought and learning. Behaviorism rejects the ideas of internal mental states or the subconscious as legitimate means of psychological knowledge. Skinner expanded on these ideas, inventing the “Skinner Box” to test his theories on animals. The Skinner Box allowed animals to choose between a series of levers, with the correct choice leading to a reward, usually food. Skinner also created and tested the educational theory of programmed learning. Programmed learning is designed to let students proceed at their own pace and rewards them for correct answers. Skinner wrote about this application of his theories in The Analysis of Behavior: A Program for Self-Instruction (1961) and The Technology of Teaching (1968).

Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard in 1931 and taught and did research at that institution for most of his career, retiring as Professor Emeritus at Harvard in 1974.

Although he wrote extensively in his field, Skinner was made famous outside the world of academic psychology by the 1948 publication of his controversial book Walden Two. Here, Skinner posited a utopian world based on his behaviorist theories. His other widely read and equally controversial work, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, was published in 1971.


  1. Nye, R. D. (1992). The legacy of B. F. Skinner: Concepts and perspectives, controversies and misunderstandings. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  2. O’Donohue, W. T., & Ferguson, K. E. (2001). The psychology of B. F. Skinner. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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