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B. F. Skinner. Radial Behaviorism. I. Biography. Burrhus Frederick Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1904. His father, a lawyer, announced the birth in the local town paper as “The town has a new law firm: Wm. A. Skinner & Son.”

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b f skinner

B. F. Skinner

Radial Behaviorism

i biography
I. Biography
  • Burrhus Frederick Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1904.
  • His father, a lawyer, announced the birth in the local town paper as “The town has a new law firm: Wm. A. Skinner & Son.”
  • However, all efforts to shape Skinner into the legal professional failed.
  • Skinner went to Hamilton College to study English to become a writer.
biography contd
Biography (contd)
  • Skinner had the chance to meet the poet, Robert Frost. Frost read some of Skinner’s work & encouraged him to keep writing.
  • Although Skinner spent 2 years writing, he felt he had produced nothing of quality at the end & changed fields.
  • He enrolled in Harvard University to study psychology. After getting his degree he went to the University of Minnesota & Indiana University before returning to Harvard.
biography contd4
Biography (contd.)
  • Skinner was incredibly productive producing many papers, books, & even a fiction novel called “Walden Two” about a utopian society based on principles of reinforcement.
  • Skinner remained productive till he died from cancer.
ii basic principles of conditioning
II. Basic Principles of Conditioning
  • Behaviorists explain behavior, for both humans and lower animals, in terms of learning experiences or conditioning.
  • They don’t deny influence of genetics, but downplay its relative importance.
  • There are essentially two basic forms of conditioning: classical (Pavlovian) & operant (instrumental) conditioning
a classical conditioning
A. Classical Conditioning
  • Pavlov’s classic dog salivation study
  • Step 1: Meat Powder (UCS)---------Salivation (UCR)
  • Step 2: Bell (CS) --------
  • ---Meat Powder (UCS)--Salivation (UCR)

(pair bell with meat)

  • Step 3: Bell (CS)--------------------Salivation (CR)
watson rayner 1920
Watson & Rayner (1920)
  • Conditioned emotional responses in an 11-month-old infant (“Little Albert”).
  • Used classical conditioning to get infant to fear white furry objects (rats, Santa’s beard, fur coat, etc.).
  • They did this by presenting a loud obnoxious noise (UCS) whenever “Albert” showed an interest in the white furry rat (CS). Soon, child came to fear white furry objects without presence of noise.
classical conditioning s r associations
Classical Conditioning: S-R associations
  • It is likely that many of our preferences for food, clothing, & even friends can be determined through this process.
  • E.g., Riordan & Tedeschi (1983) found that anxious Ss found another person unattractive after sitting in a waiting room with him or her.
  • The researchers reasoned that the association of the anxiety with the other person created a negative response to him or her.
taste aversion a different kind of conditioning
Taste Aversion: A differentkind of conditioning
  • Why is it different from other types of classical conditioning??
  • It only requires 1 trial for learning to occur.
  • Pairing a noxious substance with food or drink, elicits nausea/vomiting—leading

to avoidance of the food or drink.

problems with classical conditioning
Problems with Classical conditioning
  • 1. There is only so much learning that can take place using this method (reflexive associations).
  • 2. Without additional learning, conditioned S-R associations probably won’t last (extinction).
  • 3. Two events presented together will not always produce an association (Rescorla, 1988).
  • 4. Some stimuli are easily associable, whereas others might be impossible.
b operant conditioning
B. Operant Conditioning
  • Learning occurs through the presentation of rewards or punishments that influence voluntary behaviors.
e l thorndike law of effect
E.L. Thorndike: Law of Effect
  • Thorndike was interested in how learning occurred through a series of rewards & punishments.
  • Using cats as Ss, he placed them into “puzzle boxes” from which they had to escape to get a food reward next to the box.
  • The cats could escape by doing a number of things: pressing levers, pulling a string, or tilting a pole.
thorndike contd
Thorndike contd.
  • Initially the cats spent a lot of time trying to escape to no avail. Suddenly, the cat would through trial-&-error figure it out.
  • Once this occurred, kitty was placed back in the box to do it again.
  • Thorndike measured the time required to escape the box (escape latency) & plotted it.
the escape latency decreased with repeated trials
The escape latency decreased with repeated trials.
  • Thorndike concluded that the act of opening the door served as a reinforcement for the cat.
  • The probability of the cat escaping from the box increased over trials, because the cat was continually reinforced for escaping the box.
  • From this he formulated the Law of Effect which statesthat a behavior that is followed by a satisfying consequence will be repeated.
skinner s work
Skinner’s Work:
  • Skinner showed that by presenting animals or people with rewards & punishments you could shape behavior.
  • Initially, to get a new behavior to appear & then be conditioned, you have to use shaping.
  • Shaping involves presenting a reinforcement for each successive approximation of a desired behavior.
  • E.g., if we want to shape lever pressing in rats, we would reinforce any behavior that even remotely resembles lever pressing.
reinforcement strengthens a behavior
Reinforcement-strengthens a behavior
  • 1. Positive Reinforcement: Strengthens a response by presenting something that is perceived as appetitive (pleasant) after a behavior is emitted.
  • E.g., a good grade received after studying for an exam, a food reward for pressing a lever, etc.
  • 2. Negative Reinforcement: strengthens a response by removing an aversive stimulus after a behavior is emitted.
  • E.g., people smoke more, to reduce aversive sensations associated with nicotine withdrawal.
punishment two forms
Punishment: Two forms
  • 1. Positive Punishment - apply an aversive stimulus when an undesired behavior occurs. Must be immediate to be effective.
  • E.g., presenting lemon juice on a toddler’s tongue immediately after he or she bites.
  • 2. Negative Punishment - remove an appetitive stimulus when an undesired behavior occurs.
  • E.g., revoking a teenager’s driving privileges if they get a speeding ticket.
skinner box
Skinner Box
  • Skinner created an apparatus that would present rewards to an organism (animals & humans!!) based on their behavioral responses.
  • He even had his daughter stay in the box for several experiments.