The Skinner Effect
August 15, 2013
The Skinner Effect
It’s 5:45 pm, the starting quarterback of the big game is still rushing around trying to find a clean uniform to wear, and kickoff is at 6:00. To avoid missing the start of the game he throws on a dirty uniform from the laundry basket and heads out to the field. That night he plays the best game ever, and break the schools record for the most passing yards and touchdowns in a single game. From this night on he will never wear a clean uniform in a game again.
Most people can relate to this type of scenario, and is what superstitions are born from. B.F Skinner was a psychologist and behaviorist who studied reinforcement and operant conditioning. In 1948 Skinner build a box that he could put a small animal in that would provide a reward (food) to the animal when it exhibited a desired behavior. This became known as the Skinner box. In one of his experiments with the box, Skinner randomly provided a pigeon food for no reason. He observed that the bird would repeat whatever it was doing immediately prior to the food dropping into the cage even though the food was not given as a reward for that behavior. Much like the football player wearing dirty uniforms in the record breaking game, the result was merely coincidental and created superstitious behavior.
Skinner showed that reinforcement, whether it is positive or negative is a powerful tool in shaping behaviors. Positive behaviors reinforced with positive rewards encourage continuation of the positive behaviors, likewise; negative behavior reinforced with punishment discourages further negative behavior. It is equally important to mention that negative behaviors that result in reward will encourage the negative behavior, and positive behaviors that result in punishment will discourage the positive behavior.
Morris, C. G., & Maisto, A. A. (2010). Understanding psychology (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River,...