Burrhus Frederic Skinner or B.F. Skinner certainly led an interesting life as a behaviorist, psychologist, social philosopher, author and inventor. A firm believer that human actions were the result of consequences, B.F. Skinner certainly got the most out of his life by studying human behavior, founding his own school of experimental research in psychology and coming up with a number of inventions, many of which were certainly outside his normal field of expertise.
B.F. Skinner was considered a pioneer in the studies of modern human behavior and even invented the cumulative recorder to measure the rate of response as well. By the time of his death in 1990, Skinner was considered by many to be the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. He also managed to publish 21 books and around 180 articles as well.
The Inventions of B.F. Skinner
The number of inventions that Skinner made when you consider how prolific he was in his field is really quite astounding. Especially because some of the inventions had little to nothing to do with his career, but instead were inspired by what he saw around him.
Air Crib: Skinner’s improvements to the standard crib were inspired by his wife having difficulty with raising their first child when their second baby came along. The Air Crib was easy to clean and kept a constant temperature and humidity level to help comfort the baby. The invention was not without controversy as many dubbed it the “Skinner Box”, however it did help to alleviate the tendency of babies to cry when it got too hot or cold.
Cumulative Recorder: A machine that could record behavior automatically by using graphics, it was made from a rotating drum that held paper and a marking needle. This device was used to monitor the rats in the operant conditioning chamber so that an accurate record could be kept.
Operant Conditioning Chamber: This device measures the responses of organisms such as animals and birds to their interactions within the environment. Basically, it was a box that would release a food pellet when the animal or bird pulled a lever or stepped on a button. Once the animal was so conditioned, it would repeat the action until they were no longer hungry. It arguably became his most well known device.
Pigeon Guided Missile: Easily the strangest of Skinner’s inventions, this was the result of the US Navy looking for a weapon that could sink a large battleship. Skinner proposed that pigeons could be used to guide a large missile to the target accurately and in tests showed that it could be accomplished. However, radar was developed and the pigeon guided missile was no longer practical.
Teaching Machine: This was a mechanical invention that automated the task of programmed instructions. Basically, it would ask a question and if the right answer was given, a reward would be delivered. Skinner was convinced that the machine could be used for all ages and to teach different subjects from reading to music and so forth. Although rather stark in appearance, the actual principle behind his device has been used by educators ever since.
There is little doubt that B.F. Skinner had an inventive mind and his works proved the scope of his talents.