B.F. Skinner’s Personality and his Behavioral Analysis


The beginnings of scientific psychology and technology studies have significantly influenced in institutions by B.F.Skinner’s theory, radical behaviorism. Skinner realized that there are particularly many factors contributing to behaviorism. Some of which are genitival and a good number are influence by the environment of the organism. In the studies, he undertook, he used conditioned and non-conditioned situations to obtain the factors to a behavior development in a person that then condition his or her personality. His personal behavior sets him out as a unique individual that seeks out what he desires and thinks as appropriate to him. His researches and personality poses a challenge to teachers to look more into a theory before regarding it as behavior and not just a stimulus response. Skinner’s exploration of behavior does not just comprise the authority of a distinct instance of reinforcement, but also the effect of the program of reinforcement that spreads over a long period.


Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in March 20, 1904, in the small town called Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He was born to William Skinner a lawyer and Grace Mange Burrhus Skinner a strong and intelligent housewife house wife. His upbringing was old-fashioned and hard-working. He was an active and outgoing boy. He loved building things and enjoyed school (Cihon, 2007).

He lost his 16 years old brother to cerebral aneurysm. He was brought up in a Presbyterian background, but he lost his faith in high school and became an atheist.

Skinner was awarded his BA in English from Hamilton College in upstate New York. He was passionate with being a writer and did try sending poetry and short stories to the school paper, as well as the school’s critical articles, the faculty and even Phi Beta Kappa! He could not fit in the school parties, or football games and since the school required a daily chapel attendance.

He lived Greenwich Village, New York as a bohemian writing newspaper articles on labor problems. He then decided to go back to school to get his masters in psychology in 1930 and doctorate in 1931 in Harvard; he stayed there doing research until 1936 (Overskeid, 2000).

In 1936, Skinner moved to Minneapolis to teach at the University of Minnesota. He met Yvonne Blue who he soon married and had two daughters. Their second daughter became famous of being the first infant to be raised in one of Skinner’s inventions, the air crib. This was a combination crib and playpen with glass sides and air conditioning.

He became the chairman of the psychology department at Indiana University in 1945. He was invited to Harvard in 1948; this is where he remained for the rest of his life. He continued with his research and guided hundreds of doctoral candidates as he went on writing books. He became one of the best psychology writers, achievement on account of the book Walden II, which is a fictional account of community controlled by his behaviorist principles (Pierce & Cheney, 2004).


This Theory focuses on observation of as the main tool of studying behavior. Skinner prefers it because he says with observation there is little room for assumption and speculation. His approach was labeled radical behaviorism since it ignored traits such as ego, traits drives, needs, hunger and others. He continues to say that genetics are not as weighty as an individual’s history in determining his or her behavior since genetics are fixed at conception. He worked with animals and humans and studied the works of E.D Thorndike who conceived the Law of Effects. This law said that Rewards strengthen behavior but, punishment inhibit behavior but does not permanently deal with it (Greer, 2002).

He closely studied the works of J.B Watson who also studied animals and human beings. He argued that human behavior should be studied objectively. According to Watson the study should also include instinct, sensation, perception, motivation, mental states, mind and imagery.

Skinner stated that the internal motives cannot be used to tell behavior since they have no empirical evidence. He acknowledged their existence, but did not agree that they could explain behavior (Grow & Kodak, 2010).

Philosophy of science

Skinner say Scientific Behaviorism can be used to interpret behavior but not explain its causes. This is because it allows for generalization from basic to complex. Having used laboratory experiment to study human behavior, he says that interpretation should not be confused with explanations of why they behave in a certain way (Hergenhahn, 2008).

Skinner explains that science has the following characteristics.

Cumulative- Here he states that science has a large pool of facts. From the days of the early thinkers in Greece and that pure sciences like chemistry and physics have made much more progressive development compared to social sciences.

Attitude – He explains that science should be made of empirical result and not what someone prominent in a certain field has said. This ensures that his facts are paramount for a finding to be judged as true.

Science also demands intellectual honesty where a scientist has to accept facts whether they agree with his desires, wishes or not. It also suspends or delays judgment until the results are clear and leaves little or no room for assumptions.

Follows order and lawful relationships- Experiments have to start from simple to the complex. Any assumption has to be hypothesized and tested through controlled experiments and described honestly and accurately for it to allow modification of a theory.

Skinner concludes that human behavior can be determined by certain identifiable variables and follows definite lawful principles. He says that prediction control and prediction can be successfully used.


Skinner came up with two theories of conditioning namely Classical and Operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning-he said that a response is got from an organism by an identifiable or stimulus while, in Operant Conditioning a response is got from reinforcement.

In Classical Conditioning, a conditioned response is paired with an unconditioned response until the unconditioned response it got or learned. Conditioned responses are involuntarily unlearned and exhibited by all species. Reflex reactions such as covering the ear when there is a loud voice is an example of a conditioned response (Thyer, 2007).

Operant Conditioning– Skinner believed that most human behavior is learned through Operant Conditioning. Here, an organism is rewarded immediately after a response. The unique stimulus is the reward. Since the behavior is immediately followed with a reward, this modifies the frequency of a recurrence in future. This usually increases the probability of a recurrence in future.

Shaping is a method of operant conditioning where reward is given in little bits until the desired result is achieved. If reinforcement is delayed till the end then, that target might never be reached.

In Operant conditioning, there are always three conditions. The first Condition is the antecedent which is the environment which the organism is in (Thyer, 2007). The second condition is the Behavior that the organism is expected to show. This response must be within the organism’s pool of actions, and it must not be interfered with other forms of responses that distract him. The third is the consequence or the reward. The response is to be repeated if the reward is always given (Thyer, 2007).

However, the same response might not be exhibited all the time. The organism might perform better than the target behavior or even perform poorly. This is because behavior is continuous and not discrete. Otherwise, the organism would be responding the same way. Operant Conditioning takes place in an environment. The environment determines the way an organism will respond to behavior. Individual respond differently according to how the environment shaped them or reward them. This is called Operant Discrimination.

Stimulus generalization is the response one has to a similar environment in the absence of previous reinforcement. For example, going to watch a sequel to movie of your favorite actor because the first movie was good (Greer, 2002).


This is intended to strengthen behavior or reward an organism. Skinner clarifies that not every behavior that is reinforced is rewarding or pleasing. It can either be positive or negative.

Positive Reinforcement– This is any stimulus that, when added to a situation, increases the probability that a given behavior will occur is termed a positive reinforce. Situations that produce beneficial environmental conditions are considered positive reinforcers. Examples include food, money, and/or sex. With humans, it is however difficult to determine which responses are rewarding. This is because of different personal history. For instance, some people might like being hugged for a reward while others might not.

Negative Reinforcement– This is the removal of an aversive stimulus from a situation. It increases the probability that the preceding behavior will occur.

Negative reinforcement differs from positive reinforcement in that it requires the removal of an aversive condition, whereas positive reinforcement involves the presentation of a beneficial stimulus (Vargas, 2009).

Effects of Punishment

Punishment is meant to prevent people from behaving in a particular way. When it succeeds it will prevent them from behaving in that manner. However, we may not know how they will act because they still have to do something. It only suppresses the undesired behavior, but does not tell them what to do.

Punishment might cause spread of effects where any stimuli associated with punishment may be avoided. This may lead to development of defense mechanisms.

Comparison between Punishment and Reinforcement

There are two types of Reinforcement (positive and negative) just like there are two types of Punishment. The first type of punishment involves presentation of an aversive stimulus while the second involves the withdrawal of a positive reinforcement.

Both can be derived from natural consequences or human intervention.

Both punishment and reinforcement are means of controlling behavior, whether the control is by design or by accident. Skinner preferred planned control. Reinforcers can be termed as General or Conditioned.

Conditioned reinforcers are those that do not directly satisfy human need but do so because they are associated with other Primary or unlearned reinforcers. An example is Money. Money can at the same time be called a general reinforcement because it is associated with more than one primary reinforcement.

According to Skinner other five other important generalized reinforcers that sustain human behavior include attention, approval, affection, submission of others and tokens (money).

Schedules of reinforcement

These are continuous and intermittent. In Continous reinforcement, the organism is rewarded after every good behavior while in intermittent reinforcement. The use of either depends on the behavior of the organism and the available time. Skinner preferred intermittent reinforcement because it was more efficient and produced responses that were more resistant to extinction.

Ferster and Skinner (1957) came up with four basic intermittent schedules namely;

Fixed and Variable-ratio, Fixed and Variable-interval. Fixed-Ratio With this schedule, the organism is reinforced intermittently according to the number of responses it makes. Ratio refers to the ratio of responses to reinforcers.

Nearly all reinforcement schedules begin on a continuous basis but, soon the experimenter can move from continuous reward to an intermittent reinforcement.

Variable-Ratio With the variable-ratio schedule, the organism is reinforced after the nth response on the average.

Fixed-Interval Here the organism is reinforced for the first response following a designated period of time.

Variable-Interval- In this type of schedule the organism is reinforced after the lapse of random or varied periods of time. For example in humans, one if paid for effort done but not after a certain period of time has elapsed.


This is where a previously acquired response becomes gradually weakened upon no reinforcement.

Operant extinction– explained to be a systematic withholding of a previously learned response to zero. This though is a difficult way to control a human being, because people live in an unpredictable environment. Therefore, this may not be a good way to define one’s behavior (Pierce & Cheney, 2004).

A person’s behavior can also be determined by genes. This is referred to as Natural Selection. Reinforcement on one’s personal history tends to be repeated as that which is not dropped out. Likewise, the beneficial behaviors survive over time. This though counts for only a small number of people behavior shaping.

Cultural Evolution– Cultural practices and verbal behavior were learned when one was reinforced to uttering a distinctive sound. It generally shapes one human personality and behavior.

In conclusion, I would state that behavior development has a positive impact on personality as Skinner’s findings elaborate. The hypotheses his study came up with were met and are still termed practical. The research is reliable and can be used as a reference in other psychological studies.

Skinner’s use Scientific Behaviorism was quite valid since he did not want to take chances on what he could not physically observe or measure. He did not want to leave room for speculations however his main weakness was his avoidance of genetic factors which also contribute to behavior of organisms.


Cihon, T. M. (2007). A Comparison of Transfer of Stimulus Control Or Multiple Control on the Acquisition of Verbal Operants in Young Children. Ohio: Ohio State University.

Greer, R. D. (2002). Designing Teaching Strategies: An Applied Behavior Analysis Systems Approach. San Diego: Academic Press.

Grow, L. L., & Kodak, T. (2010). Recent Research on Emergent Verbal Behavior: Clinical Applications and Future Directions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43 (4), 775-8.

Hergenhahn, B. R. (2008). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

Overskeid, G. (2000). ‘Why do we think? Consequences of regarding thinking as behavior’. The Journal of Psychology, 134 (4), 357-374.

Pierce, W. D., & Cheney, C. D. (2004). Behavior Analysis and Learning (3rd Edition ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Thyer, B. A. (2007). ‘On The Possible Influence of Bertrand Russell On B. F. Skinner’s Approach To Education’. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40 (3), 587.

Vargas, J. S. (2009). Behavior Analysis for Effective Teaching. New York: Taylor & Francis.

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