Skinner’s Behaviorism Theory

b f skinner

Skinner is the most important American psychologist of the twentieth century – and perhaps even the greatest psychologists in the world, except Freud of sure. His first book, The Behavior of Organisms (1938), legitimized a new wave of behaviorism. After its publication, Skinner continues, five decades to develop, refine, correct and refine his original theory.

Skinner’s Behaviorism

Throughout his life, Skinner did not stop throwing ideas in the most diverse fields. These ideas were inspired by Pavlov, Thorndike and Watson, Skinner, but carried them to a degree of differentiation, or integration of generality unknown before him. His thoughts always seemed to have a practical, concrete and technique. He took care of education, broadly defined, through all sorts of activities, whether designing a cradle of teaching machines or programmed learning. Well other ideas were the fruit of his ingenuity and his talent as a researcher.

His first book, The Behavior of Organisms (1938) testifies to the liveliness of his intelligence and breadth of his vision – along with a kind of simplicity. The first chapter defines the scope of reflection: a psychology of all organisms, from protozoa to humans.

Suddenly, Skinner began to hurt the idea that the human being is a special case of particular interest to psychology. Its white rats would represent and symbolize all species. The object of study was now considered an intact organism in its environment, not a segmented set of dimensions, or a neurological deductive, not more of a “spirit” or another state of consciousness – the ego, the id or the superego. It was the behavior – that is to say how the body behaves in a visible way – that defined its content. Within this framework, it was, at least in this first book to compile a typology of all behaviors.

volunteers. If Skinner could predict and control, the universe was in his hands. The “Skinner box”, small device like a box that the experimenter manipulated, accounted for all environments, the range of stimuli which could be subject organization. With the experimental method, the box and the white rat – controlled by the researcher in psychology – allowed to set up a database, and thus to draw conclusions theoretical.

Skinner presented his vision of the history of science, from the point of view of human beings in different parts of his writings. One of the most striking passages is in the first chapter of Science and Human Behavior (1953), text of his undergraduate course at Harvard, Natural Sciences 114 “: “The primitive beliefs about man and his place in nature are generally flattering. It is science that is expired the thankless task to substitute a more realistic view. Copernican theory of the solar system drove the man of his position prominent in the center of the universe. Today we accept this theory without being in touch, but she met behind a formidable resistance. Darwin challenged segregation established under which the man asserted itself resolutely separate animals, and the bitter controversy that followed is not yet extinct. But even if the man was located in its proper place biological Darwin never denied him a possible position of master. Of particular faculties or special provision to the spontaneous, creative, could have developed in favor of evolution. Now that these characteristics are in turn challenged, a new threat looms (Skinner, 1953, p. 7). ” There is no need for a stretch of the imagination to guess that Skinner scored his own efforts and his theory of behaviorism in this progression.


In Science and Human Behavior, it extends by extrapolating data from observation of animals in all aspects of human behavior. The 450 pages and 29 chapters of the course are divided into six main sections:

1. The possibility of a science of human behavior.

2. The analysis of behavior.

3. The individual as a whole (with chapters on self-control, reflection and


4. Group behavior.

5. Audit institutions (with chapters on the state and law, religion,

psychotherapy, economic control and education).

6. The control of human behavior (with chapters on culture and control, design of a culture and the problem of control).

No problem was too big or too small for his thinking. His vision was a global vision of the world, that no psychologist could not ignore – and no intellectual interest in other disciplines or broader areas.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Skinner leaned in Walden Two [Walden Two] (1948), the problem of utopia, the ideal society. It was the kind of book that, at first, attracted few readers and which subsequently aroused intense controversy, was carried by the wave of social unrest of the 60s, and which, by the mid-year 80, had passed the 2 million copies. For a young man who one year (1929), following undergraduate studies at the university, had tried to work as a writer and discovered that he had nothing to say, this success was prodigious. Now he much to say – and many readers were eager to hear his message.

In this utopian novel, a demobilized soldier visits his old master, the

Professor Burris, and reminds an old idea launched during his university course, “What we do not understand, sir, is why we must take up where we left off. Why not take this opportunity to make a fresh start? To start from scratch? Why not gather a handful of people somewhere and create a social system that really work? In many ways, the way we live today is absurd – you said often […] Why can not we do anything about it? Why do we stubbornly not we do something about it? “(Skinner, 1948, p. 3).”

In the novel, another former student, Frazier not only creates a community, but devotes a book. Skinner’s alter ego and quite able to say that it was not ready at that time to assert in his own name, he has other “virtues” in his own creator.

Later in the book, after a long exploration of the potential for a technology of behavior applied to the planning of a community – of the education of children in their schooling, family life to the collective organization.

Skinner attributes to Frazier extremely interesting remarks on the evolution of his ideas:

“- Walden Two did not require a genius! I only have one remarkable feature, Burris: I’m stubborn. I continued in my life an idea – a real obsession.

– To put it as open as possible – that of imposing my ways of seeing. “Control” is the right word, I think. Control human behavior, Burris. At the time of my first experiences was a desire frenzied, selfish domination. I remember the rage I felt when my predictions were not realized. I wanted to shout to my test subjects: “Behave well, damn! Behave as you should!” I figured out that the subjects were always right. They always behaved as they should behave. It was I who was wrong. My predictions were wrong (Skinner, 1948, p. 240). ”

One wonders what was the opinion of the “subjects” of intellectual and emotional behavior of Frazier. He acted also as he should, he was a prisoner of his own deterministic system? Walden Two is still one of the most addictive testimony ever offered by a psychologist.


Cite this article as: Tim, "Skinner’s Behaviorism Theory, May 1, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 1, 2012,

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