B. Frederick Skinner

National Medal of Science

Biological Sciences

For basic and imaginative contributions to the study of behavior which have had profound influence upon all of psychology and many related areas.

For basic and imaginative contributions to the study of behavior which have had profound influence upon all of psychology and many related areas.

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Birth
March 20, 1904
Age Awarded
64
Country of Birth
USA
Key Contributions
Skinner Box
Awarded by
Lyndon Baines Johnson
Education
Harvard University
Hamilton College
Areas of Impact
Human Behavior
Affiliations
Harvard University
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As a rat presses a lever, a food pellet is released. The animal is confined in a sound-proof glass box, limiting distraction from the outside laboratory, as he presses the trigger repeatedly hoping for the same result. While it doesn’t look like much, the “operant conditioning chamber” – nicknamed the “Skinner Box” – has become a staple for studying animal behavior.

At Harvard, B. Frederick Skinner used his namesake invention to prove his thesis: that reinforcement is needed for the learning of new behaviors. In 1948, he recounted this principle in “Walden Two,” a novel about a utopian society that operates on a system of rewards and punishments.

Later in life, Skinner, a behaviorist, dabbled in a variety of tasks, teaching pigeons to play ping pong and building a blanket-less heated crib for babies. His interests, while vast, followed a motto he set for himself:

“When you run into something interesting,” he said, “drop everything else and study it.

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