B.F. Skinner: A Psychologist Who Changed the Way We Think About Human Behavior

Burrhus Frederic Skinner, better known as B.F. Skinner, was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. His work in behaviorism, operant conditioning, and radical behaviorism revolutionized the way we think about human behavior. He is best known for his “Skinner box”, which is a device used to study operant conditioning.

Early Life

Skinner was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of two sons born to Grace and William Skinner. His father was an attorney and his mother was a housewife. Skinner was an excellent student, and he excelled in math and science. He went on to attend Hamilton College in New York, where he studied English literature and philosophy. He then went on to Harvard University, where he earned his PhD in psychology in 1931.


Skinner’s work in behaviorism began in the 1930s. He was influenced by the work of Ivan Pavlov and John Watson, who had developed the idea of classical conditioning. However, Skinner believed that behavior was best understood through operant conditioning, which is the idea that behavior is shaped by its consequences. He argued that behavior is a result of the consequences that follow it, and that reinforcement and punishment can be used to modify behavior.

The Skinner Box

Skinner developed the Skinner box in the 1940s. The box was a device used to study operant conditioning. It consisted of a box with a lever on one side, and a food dispenser on the other. When an animal, such as a rat, pressed the lever, food would be dispensed. This allowed Skinner to study how the animal’s behavior was affected by the consequences of its actions.

Radical Behaviorism

In the 1950s, Skinner developed the idea of radical behaviorism. He argued that behavior is determined by its consequences, and that free will does not exist. He also argued that behavior can be modified through reinforcement and punishment. He believed that behavior could be changed through the use of rewards and punishments, and that this could be used to create a better society.


B.F. Skinner’s work in behaviorism and operant conditioning had a profound effect on the field of psychology. His ideas are still used today in the fields of psychology, education, and even business. His work has also had an influence on popular culture, with his ideas being featured in films, books, and television shows.

Skinner’s legacy is one that will continue to influence psychology and society for years to come. His ideas have had a lasting impact on the way we think about human behavior, and his work has helped to shape our understanding of the world.


1. Who was B.F. Skinner?

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist, behaviourist, and social philosopher who pioneered the field of behaviour analysis.

2. What was the main focus of B.F. Skinner’s work?

B.F. Skinner’s work focused on the study of behaviour and its consequences, and the application of these principles to the design of environments that can shape behaviour.

3. What is the Skinner box?

The Skinner box is an apparatus designed by B.F. Skinner to study operant conditioning. It consists of a box with a lever or button that an animal can press to receive a reward, such as food.

4. What is operant conditioning?

Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which behaviour is modified by its consequences. It involves reinforcing desired behaviour with rewards and punishing undesired behaviour with consequences.

5. What is the difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning?

The main difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning is that operant conditioning focuses on the consequences of behaviour, while classical conditioning focuses on the association between a stimulus and a response.

6. What is the principle of reinforcement?

The principle of reinforcement is the idea that behaviour that is reinforced (rewarded) is more likely to occur again in the future.

7. What is the law of effect?

The law of effect is a principle formulated by B.F. Skinner which states that behaviours that lead to positive outcomes are more likely to be repeated, while behaviours that lead to negative outcomes are less likely to be repeated.

8. How has B.F. Skinner’s work influenced modern psychology?

B.F. Skinner’s work has had a major influence on modern psychology, particularly in the areas of behaviourism and behaviour modification. His ideas have been widely applied in areas such as education, therapy, and the design of learning environments.