Skinner, B.F.

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Portrait of B.F. Skinner (click to view image source)
B.F. Skinner
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Skinner, B.F. Gender: M
Burrhus Frederic Skinner
born on 20 March 1904 at 03:15 (= 03:15 AM )
Place Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, 41n57, 75w36
Timezone EST h5w (is standard time)
Data source
From memory
Rodden Rating A
Collector: McEvoy
Astrology data s_su.18.gif s_piscol.18.gif 29°18' s_mo.18.gif s_taucol.18.gif 04°12 Asc.s_capcol.18.gif 23°02'


American psychologist who believed human behavior could be engineered to build a better world, one of the most influential and controversial psychologists of the 20th Century. He was adored as a messiah and abhorred as a menace. A Harvard psychology professor, he made behavioral modification studies with rats and pigeons, applying the observation methods to working with the modification of human response. His only novel "Walden Two" didn't do well after it's release in 1948 but during the 60's it had a cult-like following, selling millions. Skinner's principle of "operant behavior" holds that even seemingly spontaneous action is a response to rewards and punishment. People do not shape the world, the world shapes them. He died of leukemia at age 86 in Cambridge, MA.

Born Burrhus Frederic Skinner, Fred to his friends, he was the oldest son of Grace, an amateur musician, and William, a lawyer. His boyhood was warm and stable, with no punishment ever by his father and only once by his mother who, when he used a bad word, washed his mouth out with soap. As a boy he was intrigued by mechanics and gadgets and built everything from steerable sleds and rafts to a stem cannon. During high school he held a variety of jobs from collecting telephone bills and selling shoes to playing saxophone in a jazz band. He wrote for the local newspaper, composing a few ads and reminiscences of the town and occasionally covered a meeting or concert..

Skinner majored in English at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY and decided he wanted to be a writer. He sent some short stories to the poet Robert Frost, who wrote back; "You are worth twice anyone else I have seen in prose this year." Skinner went to Manhattan's Greenwich Village to work on his craft, but after a year, found that he had nothing to say. He went on to graduate study in psychology after being attracted to the work of John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism. In 1913 Watson, revolting against introspection and speculation is psychology, had called for it to become a science of behavior rather than a study of the mind. He earned his doctorate from Harvard in 1931 and went on to teach at the University of Minnesota and Indiana University before joining the Harvard faculty in 1947. Skinner fathered the experimental analysis of behavior in which an organism's behavior was studied in a controlled laboratory environment. It was at Harvard that the life-long tinkered devised the Skinner Box, a soundproof enclosure with buttons or levers that animals press to receive food in return for doing whatever the experimenter wants them to do. Skinner preferred to call his invention an "operant conditioning apparatus."

In 1948 he published his book "Walden Two," in which he described a tightly controlled utopia in which people were motivated by positive and negative reinforcements - rewards and punishment. It didn't do well, but during the 1960's the book attracted a kind of cult following and hundreds of thousands of copies were sold. Intrigued by Skinner's image of a better world where people don't know the meaning of envy and jealousy; buildings are communally owned and everyone helps out with chores. There is time for reading and painting, song and friendship. The key to this community's success is child rearing. Youngsters are raised together. Discipline is strict, and children are taught to rein in their desires through self-control exercises. Critics decried his model society as tyrannical and others thought a world populated by such happy and well-behaved people would be bland. Skinner's work came in a series of scholarly books, including "The Behavior of Organisms," "Verbal Behavior," 1957, "Science and Human Behavior," "The Technology of Teaching," 1968, and "Beyond Freedom and Dignity," 1971. He also wrote a three-volume autobiography.

On 11/01/1936 he married Yvonne Blue; they had two daughters, Julie Vargas, a psychologist and Deborah Buzan, who became an artist. With the arrival of Deborah, Mrs. Skinner said she rather dreaded the first year or two. To simplify the baby's care, Skinner invented a baby tender, an enclosed, crib-sized living space with sound-absorbing walls and a large picture window through which the child could observe the world beyond and be observed. Deborah was frequently taken out for cuddling and play during the 2 1/2 years she spent in the box. Many criticized Skinner for the "the baby in the box" when the story was in a national magazine.

Sensitive to criticism and controversy, Skinner suffered from angina following the publication of "Beyond Freedom and Dignity," in 1971. He retired in 1974 and maintained an office at Harvard, walking there each day from his Cambridge home. In later years he was troubled by declining health. His eyesight and hearing began to fail and he underwent radiation therapy for a tumor in a salivary gland and developed leukemia. He died 8/18/1990 at a hospital near his home in Cambridge, MA.

In early August 1990 the American Psychological Association gave him a lifetime contribution citation.

Link to Wikipedia biography



  • Work : Published/ Exhibited/ Released 1938 ("The Behavior of Organisms")
  • Work : Published/ Exhibited/ Released 1971 ("Beyond Freedom and Dignity")

Source Notes

Frances McEvoy quotes him, a neighbor for 15 years, for the time shown. Date on his B.C. in hand (with no time) sent by Leslie Marlar 11/90 is March 30, 1904. However, PT notes that his was a home birth and was not recorded on his official birth certificate until November 14, 1904. It is possible that someone made an error either in giving the information to the officials or in recording it. To further complicate matters, in his autobiography, "Particulars of My Life," Skinner quotes an unnamed newspaper announcement giving the date as March 20, 1904. Upon investigation, two newspapers of the time, the Montrose Democrat and the Montrose Republican published birth announcements on the 24th and 25th of March, adding more support to a March 20th birth date, although one newspaper said he was born on the 19th. The Massachusetts Death Index lists his birth date as March 20th and the Social Security Death Index gives March 30th.


  • Traits : Mind : Exceptional mind
  • Diagnoses : Major Diseases : Cancer (Leukemia)
  • Personal : Death : Long life more than 80 yrs (Age 86)
  • Vocation : Education : Teacher (Psychology professor)
  • Vocation : Healing Fields : Psychologist
  • Vocation : Writers : Textbook/ Non-fiction
  • Notable : Famous : Historic figure (Founder behaviorism)
  • Notable : Famous : Top 5% of Profession
  • Notable : Book Collection : American Book