Skinner Superstition Experiment

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Last updated: October 4, 2019

B. F. Skinner developed psychological theories around operant conditioning, punishment, reinforcement, and superstitious behavior.

Skinner made great contributions to the psychological field using his theory of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is voluntary behavior that has been modified by providing reinforcement or punishment. This punishment or reinforcement will cause the behavior to reoccur or stop depending on the consequence.Skinner designed a contraption called a “skinner box”. Just imagine a rat in a cage. The Skinner box is a special cage that has a bar or pedal on one wall that, when pressed, causes a little mechanism to release a food pellet into the cage. The rat is bouncing around the cage, doing whatever it is rats do, when he accidentally presses the bar and — hey, presto! — a food pellet falls into the cage! The operant is the behavior just prior to the reinforcer, which is the food pellet, of course.

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In no time at all, the rat is furiously peddling away at the bar, hoarding his pile of pellets in the corner of the cage. If you then punish the rat and take away the reinforcer the rat will stop pressing the bar after a few tries, causing the behavior to stop. If it works on rats, it must certainly work on people. Skinner had discovered what we call today behavior modification, which is used worldwide by parents, teachers, and psychologists. B. F. Skinner also did some research on superstitious behavior.

Skinner used pigeons to prove his theory of superstition. In this experiment he used reinforcements to modify the behavior of the pigeons. The pigeons began to modify their behavior in order to receive the reinforcer. Since the pigeons believed that they needed to act or behave a certain way in order to receive the food, it can be construed as superstitious behavior. This can be said about humans in the way people believe if they behave a certain way the outcome will be better.

Skinner has made great contributions to the psychological field, as well as to the world as a whole. Skinner’s experiments using operant conditioning, reinforcement, punishment, and superstitious behavior have created a new realm of psychology, thus creating behavior modification as we know it today. B. F. Skinner’s theories’ are still used today in the psychological field and by the layman. His contributions will be the most remembered and utilized for decades to come.

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