Burrhus Frederic Skinner UP207

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (March 20, 1904 – August 18, 1990) was an American psychologist, behaviourist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.

Considering free will to be an illusion, Skinner saw human action as dependent on consequences of previous actions, a theory he would articulate as the principle of reinforcement: If the consequences to an action are bad, there is a high chance the action will not be repeated; if the consequences are good, the probability of the action being repeated becomes stronger.

Skinner developed behaviour analysis, especially the philosophy of radical behaviourism, and founded the experimental analysis of behaviour, a school of experimental research psychology. He also used operant conditioning to strengthen behaviour, considering the rate of response to be the most effective measure of response strength. To study operant conditioning, he invented the operant conditioning chamber (aka the Skinner Box), and to measure rate he invented the cumulative recorder. Using these tools, he and Charles Ferster produced Skinner's most influential experimental work, outlined in their book Schedules of Reinforcement (1957).

Skinner referred to his approach to the study of behaviour as radical behaviourism, which originated in the early 1900's as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally. This philosophy of behavioural science assumes that behaviour is a consequence of environmental histories of reinforcement. In his words:

“The position can be stated as follows: what is felt or introspectively observed is not some nonphysical world of consciousness, mind, or mental life but the observer's own body. This does not mean, as I shall show later, that introspection is a kind of psychological research, nor does it mean (and this is the heart of the argument) that what are felt or introspectively observed are the causes of the behaviour. An organism behaves as it does because of its current structure, but most of this is out of reach of introspection. At the moment we must content ourselves, as the methodological behaviourist insists, with a person's genetic and environment histories. What are introspectively observed are certain collateral products of those histories.… In this way we repair the major damage wrought by mentalism. When what a person does [is] attributed to what is going on inside him, investigation is brought to an end. Why explain the explanation? For twenty-five hundred years people have been preoccupied with feelings and mental life, but only recently has any interest been shown in a more precise analysis of the role of the environment. Ignorance of that role led in the first place to mental fictions, and it has been perpetuated by the explanatory practices to which they gave rise.”