Burrhus Frederic Skinner is perhaps one of the most influential psychologists of the last 100 years, despite being relatively unknown to the mainstream and I touched on his work in Methods of Female Madness. Unlike Freud who got much attention for his focus on neurosis, sex and in many ways laid the groundwork for psychoanalysis, Skinner’s work in behaviorism flew somewhat under the radar among the general public. The major contribution Skinner made is in hte field of Operant Conditioning, based in his belief that free will is an illusion and human action is dependent on the consequences of previous actions. Thus, it follows along the same line as Scott Adams’ concept of humans as “moist robots“.
Skinner broke down behaviors in two categories, respondent and operant. Where respondent behavior are elicited by stimuli and can be modified by the use of Pavlovian conditioning, where neutral stimulus is paired with eliciting stimulus. Operant behaviors are not initially induced by any stimulus, and are strengthened by instrumental conditioning. Meaning that they are strengthened or weakened by the response to the behavior. Continue reading