• Athena Ives

Operant Conditioning

Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born on March 20th 1904 in Pennsylvania. Skinner attended Hamilton College and received his Bachelor of Arts in English literature. After several years writing Skinner chose to pursue a different career and became a psychology graduate student at Harvard University (Bjork, 1997).


Skinner became one of the founders of behaviorism as well as experimental psychology. He conducted extensive research on behavior, operant conditioning and negative reinforcement. Some may have heard of the Operant Conditioning Chamber. This is a result of Skinner’s “Skinner box”. The Skinner box was a chamber he created to test rats and their behavior. The box was designed so the mouse could press a lever and receive food. His theory was that human’s behavior was dependent on what occurred after the response (Bjork, 1997).


Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning was very similar to Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect. The Law of Effect states that behaviors that lead to satisfying outcomes are likely to be repeated, when actions that lead to undesired outcomes are less likely chosen (Thorndike, 1998). Skinner expanded this research and went on to create numerous inventions based on this principal.

Berk explains the relationship of cognitive development and behaviorism. When a mother feeds her child, the child is exposed their mothers warm smiles, soft words, and kisses. It conditions the child to respond positively to their mother as well as these emotions (Berk, 2010). All though Skinner’s theories may have been viewed negatively for his scientific experimentation on animals, his research has been very beneficial to society.


Berk, L. E. (2010). Development Through the Lifespan. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.

Bjork, Daniel, W. (1997). B.F. Skinner: A Life. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Thorndike, E. L. (1898, 1911) "Animal Intelligence: an Experimental Study of the Associative Processes in Animals" Psychological Monographs #8. Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/law-effect-reference/law-effect