Sunday, April 12, 2009

Teaching Pigeons To Bowl. The Story of How B.F. Skinner Discovered Shaping

Exploring Psychology

Look at any list of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th Century and B.F Skinner will be towards the top of that list. Building on the seminal work of both Ivan Pavlov and John Watson, B.F Skinner became the leading exponent of behaviourism within psychology. At the heart of this influential theory is the core belief that human behavior is best understood in terms of responses to environmental stimuli.

In formulating his theories, B.F Skinner conducted numerous behaviour experiements with rats and pigeons, as can be seen in the following video.

We Are What We Do


As alluded to in the above video clip a central tenet of Skinner's theory was shaping. This is the notion that reinforcement can be employed to elicit complex behavior and behavior that would not normally be exhibited. For instance in the video a pigeon's behaviour is shaped into ringing a bell by reinforcing with food closer and closer approximations to the desired behavior.

A Day of Great Illumination: B.F. Skinner's Discovery of Shaping

This is the title of a wonderful article written by Gail Peterson that was published in the Journal of The Experimental Analysis of Behavior, which having read it left me thinking "Well I Never!" The following passage article is taken form the introduction.

Despite the seminal studies of response differentiation by the method of successive approximation detailed in chapter 8 of The Behavior of Organisms (1938), B. F. Skinner never actually shaped an operant response by hand until a memorable incident of startling serendipity on the top floor of a flour mill in Minneapolis in 1943. That occasion appears to have been a genuine eureka experience for Skinner, causing him to appreciate as never before the significance of reinforcement mediated by biological connections with the animate social environment, as opposed to purely mechanical connections with the inanimate physical environment. This insight stimulated him to coin a new term (shaping)...Moreover, the insight seems to have emboldened Skinner to explore the greater implications of his behaviorism for human behavior writ large, an enterprise that characterized the bulk of his post-World War II scholarship.

You can read this fascinating article in full by Clicking Here

"Superstition" in The Pigeon by B.F. Skinner (1948)

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Teaching Pigeons To Bowl. The Story of How B.F. Skinner Discovered Shaping


mbritt said...

Great post! Very interesting video on Skinner.

Fitri said...

hi, i'm from indonesia. u'r blog is nice post. I also write article about psychology.. best regard :)