Today is B.F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) birthday. He was a radical behaviorialist, a psychologist, novelist, and philosopher, famous for his ideas on behavior modification using continuous and/or variable reinforcement.
When I was in college, my psychology professor, a committed Skinnerian, explained that he (my professor) had raised his daughter using an Air Crib, that Skinner invented. It was a temperature-controlled environment with stimuli to make the child’s experiences more rich and supposedly prevent the child from crying. It wasn’t much different from an actual crib except that it was enclosed. (The public connected the Air Crib to his Skinner Box seeing rewards and rats and levers and flashing lights which made it seem antithetical to child-rearing and therefore not too commercially viable). My professor thought the Air Crib hadn’t hurt his daughter, but was unsure if there were any other positive effects he could enumerate.
My professor also shared that he had tried to use the different reinforcement techniques, utilized in Skinner boxes, with his own son, who was building a structure with blocks. Each time he successfully completed the structure, his father (my professor) would yell and clap enthusiastically, praising him for his good work. Then his son would knock the structure down and build it again. The consistent praise served to increase his son’s passion for the building of the block structures. After several structures, knock downs and rebuildings, followed by my professor’s positive responses, he decided to put his son on variable reinforcement, yelling, clapping and praising him every three times, the assumption being that variable response would make his son work even harder for his “reward.” His son built the structure and looked to his Dad (the professor) with the usual expectation. My professor remained completely deadpan, not even a quiet smile. His son then walked over to his Dad and slapped him across his face.
Ah, so much for the promise of Walden Two and cultural engineering.
Happy Birthday, BF, nonetheless.