Burrhus F. Skinner (1904-1990) was an American psychologist. He researched the shaping or modification of behaviors that created learning. His form of learning was called Operant Conditioning. He maintained such learning is either perpetuated or extinguished by the consequences that occur following a behavior. If a child is praised following certain behaviors, those behaviors will likely be repeated. Or if a child is punished after he does a behavior, that behavior will likely not occur again or will occur less often. Actually, Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949) first observed Instrumental Learning or Operant Conditioning in cats. Skinner furthered Thorndike’s research and created applications for academic learning – behavior modification – and for extinguishing undesirable behaviors such as in addictions and phobias. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is routinely used today with autistic children to shape increased social interactions. Like his predecessors, Skinner only believed in observable behaviors and not the things interior in humans such as the mind or the self. We can see the applicability of his Operant Conditioning in the way children are shaped by their early environment and the influence of parents or caretakers on perpetuating or extinguishing their child’s behaviors.
Links for Additional Reading: