A room full of rats running around in electrified chambers that deliver unpleasant shocks sounds like a scene from a rodent’s worst nightmare. However, it was in this type of peculiar setting that Burrhus Frederic (B. F.) Skinner conducted some of his most influential experimental studies to determine the orderly interactions of animals within an environment. This idea of creating operant conditioning chambers in order to measure the responses of organisms in certain situations was a concept that Skinner derived from an expansion of the work of Edward Thorndike who studied animals using puzzle boxes to propose the theory known as the Law of Effect. Skinners augmentation of the concept led to what became known as the Skinner box and his development of the theory of operant conditioning.
Skinner coined the term operant conditioning. “a form of learning in which freely emitted acts (or operants) become either more or less probable depending on the consequences they produce”(textbook). His goal in the development of this theory was to demonstrate that behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated or strengthened, and behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out or become extinguished. He believed that with the appropriate and deliberate utilization of positive reinforcers, negative reinforcers, and punishers, all human behavior could be predicted and controlled. Therefore, he conducted countless series of rigorous and time-consuming research studies to effectively illustrate that changes in environmental stimuli directly correlate with desired changes in individuals.
Because it would have most certainly been to his disfavor to have housed people in electrically charged rooms for the sake of scientific discovery, and because the biological and behavioral characteristics of rodents closely resemble those of humans (web2), Skinner astutely selected to conduct the original testings of his theory on rats. To show how positive reinforcement worked, he placed hungry rats in his Skinner box. The box contained a lever on the side, and as the rats moved about the box they would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately upon doing so, a food pellet would drop into a container next to the lever. The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of receiving food when pressing the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.
Skinner later transferred these findings into his work in the field of education in order to display that positive reinforcement strengthens a behavior by providing a consequence that a child finds rewarding. Thus, if children are given a gold star, for example, every time they complete an assignment, they would begin to associate the positive outcome (the gold star) with the behavior of turning in their work. Therefore, the consequence of receiving the gold star ensures that they will continue to submit assignments as required by the...