Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Burrhus Frederic Skinner, known as “Fred” to his friends and as “B. F.” to most others, was born in the railroad town of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (population about 2,500) and lived there until leaving for college at eighteen. Skinner’s family was middle-class. His father, William Arthur Skinner, was a lawyer for the railroad and ran for political office several times without ever winning an election. Fred’s mother, Grace Madge Skinner, was a homemaker known for her beauty, her singing voice, and her community service. Burrhus was her maiden name.
Skinner’s mother nearly died in childbirth, a fact Fred was to be reminded of occasionally as he grew older. Skinner had one sibling, a younger brother named Ebbe who died tragically at sixteen of a brain hemorrhage. Fred Skinner was a college freshman when Ebbe died and never spoke much of the event.
Skinner attended the local high school, making good grades and graduating second in a class of seven. (His mother and father also graduated second in their classes.) He then attended Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, a small liberal arts school, where he majored in English. He took no psychology courses.
Although Will Skinner wanted his son to go into law, Fred had no taste for the field. He was interested in writing, and after graduating from Hamilton, Skinner proposed to his parents, who had relocated to Scranton, Pennsylvania, that he live back at home while writing a...
(The entire section is 1415 words.)
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Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: By developing a variety of effective techniques for behavioral modification, Skinner radically transformed the science of psychology and thereby exerted a profound influence in the fields of psychiatry and pedagogy. His ideas, moreover, have been popularized through nontechnical writings of his own, including a utopian novel entitled Walden Two.
In the spring of 1902, William Arthur Skinner and Grace Madge Burrhus were married in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He was a twenty-five-year-old attorney with political aspirations, while she was a twenty-one-year-old legal secretary of remarkable beauty. The first of the couple’s two children was born on March 20, 1904, and was formally named Burrhus Frederic Skinner. He was, however, soon called “Fred” by everyone. A second son was born two and a half years later. Mr. Skinner did not believe that children should be baptized until they were old enough to appreciate the full significance of this sacred rite. In the case of his elder son, that day never arrived. Despite all attempts to indoctrinate him into the Presbyterian faith, the boy became a freethinker by the time he reached puberty.
Throughout his twelve years at grade and high school, Fred Skinner proved himself to be academically gifted in a variety of areas. He was extraordinarily adept not only in mathematics and other scientific subjects but also in the humanities. Above...
(The entire section is 2599 words.)
Biography (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
American psychologist and advocate of behaviorism.
B. F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. As a youth, he showed talent for music and writing, as well as mechanical aptitude. He attended Hamilton College as an English major, with the goal of becoming a professional writer. After graduation, Skinner, discouraged over his literary prospects, became interested in behavioristic psychology after reading the works of John Watson and Ivan Pavlov. He entered Harvard University as a graduate student in psychology in 1928 and received his degree three years later. Skinner remained at Harvard through 1936, by which time he was a junior fellow of the prestigious Society of Fellows. While at Harvard, he laid the foundation for a new system of behavioral analysis through his research in the field of animal learning, utilizing unique experimental equipment of his own design.
His most successful and well-known apparatus, known as the Skinner Box, was a cage in which a laboratory rat could, by pressing on a bar, activate a mechanism that would drop a food pellet into the cage. Another device recorded each press of the bar, producing a permanent record of experimental results without the presence of a tester. Skinner analyzed the rats' bar-pressing behavior by varying his...
(The entire section is 837 words.)