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Lesson Plan !

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MAY 10,2006




The Famous B. F. Skinner

Mr. B. F. Skinner was born on March 20, 1904 in Susquehanna, a small railroad town in the hills of Pennsylvania just below Binghamton, New York. With one younger brother, he grew up in a home environment he described as “warm and stable”. His father was a rising lawyer and his mother was a common hard-working housewife. Much of his boyhood was spent building odds and ends. A few examples are 1) a cart that had backward steering (by accident). 2) A perpetual motion device that obviously did not work. Other ventures were more successful, though. He and a friend built a cabin in the woods behind their house.

For door-to-door business selling elderberries, he designed a flotation device that separated ripe and green berries. When working in a shoe store during his high school years, he made another device to distribute the “green dust” that helped the broom pick up dirt.


One of skinner’s most famous and interesting experiments examined the formation of superstition in one of his most favorite animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic food dispensing mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the birds’ behavior. He found out that whatever chance action being performed by the bird as the food was delivered, and that they continued to perform the same actions:

One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the corners of the cage. A third developed a �tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.

Skinner suggested that the pigeons believed that they were influencing the automatic food giver with their “rituals” and that the experiment shed light on human behavior: the experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a casual relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one’s luck at cards are very good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler



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