Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. He was the son of a lawyer in a family of four, but lost his younger sibling as a teenager. He studied Literature at the Hamilton College and later furthered it at Harvard University. Skinner yearned to become a writer in the early days of his adulthood. However, he was poor in his works of fiction, and he later quitted the endeavor. Later, he adopted an atheist stance after his relatives and his religious teachers presented contradicting accounts of the concept of the afterlife and the paranormal. He was a family man with two children and a wife known as Yvonne Blue (Richelle, 1993).
Skinner developed an interest in psychology during his college days. He studied in the field up to the PhD level in the Harvard University. As a professor, he did some research work at the same institution for five years and later became a tutor at two other universities of international acclaim. In 1948, Skinner moved to Harvard University and spent the rest of his life attached to the institution as a researcher (Richelle, 1993).
The professor’s inspiration emanated from the John Watson’s work on behaviorism, which led him to turn to an extensive study in psychology. As a researcher, he developed the concept of radical behaviorism. The physical aspects of behavior were the basis of this concept. Radical behaviorism did not take the aspects of behavior that were impossible to perceive through the physical senses into account in defining the behavior of an organism (Donohue & Ferguson, 2001). The behavior of an organism did not constitute aspects such as thought, feelings and emotions. The professor had the perspective that the mind and emotions’ condition were the cause of the observable behavior of an organism but could not be the behavior itself. In addition, he insisted that the physical causative agent of the unobservable emotions and feelings was the vital object of study. According to the scholar, the environment’s influence was of cardinal importance in any investigation of an organism’s behavior. In this essence, the environment must always be physically observable. Furthermore, Skinner analyzed the effects of the suppressing effect of change on the environment and the effects of encouraging a certain behavior. He advocated that the suppression of the environment was often a desirable action that did not necessitate a negative standpoint (Donohue & Ferguson, 2001).
Skinner used comparative psychology to validate his experiments and studies on the human beings. Rodents were the main subject of his investigations in the experiments. However, he was not interested in the behavior of the rodents, but intended to generalize their behavior and that of human beings. In his analysis, he compared the response of a rodent to that of a human being.
In his analysis of the negative reinforcement of behavior, Skinner postulated that a behavior would be encouraged in an organism as the organism tries to avoid an environment’s effect. In this case, the change in the environment’s state or composition will induce the organism’s desire to initiate a responsive behavior. Moreover, suppressing the effect of the environmental change is the primary aim of the response to the environment’s change. The referred organism in this hypothesis includes the human being. Moreover, Skinner suggested that the regimes of reinforcing a behavior were different and always resulted in diverse effects on the environment. The ratio reinforcement, interval reinforcement and continuous reinforcement were some of the various forms of responses to the environment’s change (Donohue & Ferguson, 2001).
In his life, skinner invented objects and ideas that later became sources of debate by experts. His inventions had a wide range of application in diverse disciplines. The military was one of the anticipated beneficiaries of Skinner’s ideas. His concept involved the behavior of a bird that was susceptible to manipulation through the control of the bird’s environment. In Skinner’s analysis of the behavior of the bird, a pigeon, he observed that such a bird could serve as a guide for a weapon in war if its environment was controlled. He argued that the pigeon could make an effective basis of a weapon guidance system for the military. Although the viability of the bird’s use as a precision instrument proved possible, the military never adopted this concept since the admissibility of a bird, as a reliable guide for a lethal weapon was questionable. Skinner then attributed the pessimism concerning his suggestion to the psychology of the concerned weapon designers (Richelle, 1993).
Another Skinner’s famous invention was a machine that could facilitate the learning for people of all ages and capabilities. The teaching machine enabled instructors to gauge the precision of the answers that the learner fed into it. The machine would then respond by tightening the restrictions to the variation of the answers that the learner could give. In this way, the learner got accustomed to the progressively higher precision requirement of the machine. Furthermore, the machine assisted instructors to gauge the learner’s ability through the evaluation of rate and quality of the learning process. The machine was considerably useful in training the learners on repetitive processes. Skinner suggested that the machine could reward a learner for positive answers to encourage learning (Richelle, 1993). The token given to the learner by the machine was a part of the concept of controlling the environment to obtain a predetermined response from the learner. However, the machine was not viable to teach complex subjects that would require any refined explanation or a variation of methods.
The cumulative recording machine invented by Skinner enabled a researcher to obtain a detailed record of the behavior of an organism. The machine used a moving recording medium and a pen-like needle that would scribble a graph on the moving medium to represent the behavioral changes by the organism. The initial experiment involving this machine used a rodent a guinea pig (Donohue & Ferguson, 2001).
The most controversial of all Skinner’s inventions was the air crib. This was an improvement of the conventional baby’s crib. In this invention, a guardian could identify a troubled infant promptly. However, upon the introduction of the air crib to the public, it was rejected with the argument that using the air crib for a baby amounted to using the baby for experimental purposes. Later, despite the controversial nature of the invention, it was accepted and its manufacture as a commercial commodity began.
The operant conditioning chamber, another of Skinner’s inventions, incorporated most of his practical and theoretical concepts. This object generalized the possibility of accurately controlling an organism’s behavior through the influence of the organism’s environment. This invention was only useful in experimentation with animals. In addition, it played a crucial role in the explanation of some of the fundamental doctrines of Skinner’s theories of psychology (Donohue & Ferguson, 2001).
In his literary work, Skinner proved to be a resourceful author who advocated for methods that could lead to positive transformations in the society. In one of his books, Skinner describes a life of moderation as the most appropriate. He depicts contentment, sufficiency and a high quality social life as the most desirable characteristics of an ideal concept of life. The struggle for superiority is disregarded as an important aspect of life that does not add any quality to life. Skinner suggested in his writings that radical changes in behavior could create a fairer and better society (Skinner, 1971). In one of his literary works, the scientist advocates for his method of monitoring the environment in order to present a proper response to psychological problems. Some of the famous Skinner’s books are Beyond Freedom and Dignity, and the fictional Walden Two.
Through his theories and literary work, Skinner influenced the education system and theories. He advocated that teachers should control their student’s environment in order to deliver knowledge and skills more effectively. Skinner outlined that teachers or training instructors should be capable of promptly understanding their student’s environment and the learning process. This would significantly assist a teacher to administer the appropriate response to influence the environment to best suit the learning condition (Skinner, 1971).
Skinner’s theories also affected the political arena. These theories suggested psychological and behavioral solutions to political problems rather than the use of overt coercion with grievous results. According to Skinner, the governing of the political situation was achievable through psychological approaches that were less costly in all perspectives than the forceful methods (Skinner, 1971).
Although Skinner presented a new approach in solving various problems in the society, he faced criticism from some of the analysts of his work. Some criticized him for being superstitious in the world of science. This was due to his fictional literary works and the suggestion that a bird could serve as a guide to weapons with potentially lethal capabilities. The critics sought to dispute Skinner’s scientific orientation. The scientist never responded to the criticism directed at his work. Skinner died of blood cancer on August 18, 1990 after an illustrious career as a psychologist and an inventor.