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Skinner’s Theory of Radical Behaviorism Term Paper

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2018

Human beings are quite complex and understanding the real cause of their behavior can be a daunting task for a layman. In a bid to understand the dynamics of human actions, psychological studies were introduced in institutions of higher learning to shed light on the intricacies surrounding human thoughts.

Several psychologists emerged in the early nineteenth century and put forward theories that tried to elucidate human psychology. Among the notable psychologists who tried to understand human behavior is B.F Skinner. Skinner used the operant conditioning chamber to come up with his theory. Though operant conditioning can be applied in classroom and in real life situations, the two scenarios have some differences as well as similarities.

Skinner developed a theory he called radical behaviorism which is the viewpoint of the study of human behavior. The theory postulates that human behavior is heavily dependent on environmental factors. According to this view, interaction with different environments yields ground for the acquisition of new behavior (Moore, 2008). The major point of reasoning in Skinner’s behaviorist approach of psychology is the importance of behavior reinforcement.

He suggests that there are positive and negative reinforcements of behavior (Russell & Jarvis, 2003). Positive reinforcement is the fortification of behavior by the injection of an event like praising someone for a task well done. Negative reinforcement on the other hand is the fortification of behavior by circumventing an event like quitting a job hunt so as to get food stamps and unemployment benefits (Moore, 2008).

Skinner used the operant conditioning chamber, which automatically detects occurrence of behavioral response, to study the behavior of animals. This was achieved by training animals that certain behaviors led to specific rewards. Rodents were placed in the Skinner box and different conditions were implemented which included levers that brought food. Animals would step on the levers severally expecting food.

In other instances, punishment was used to restrain unwanted behavior (Plotnik & Kouyoumjian, 2010). In these scenarios, Skinner box is divided into two parts; one which undergoes temperature changes while the other has constant temperature. If an animal placed in the box goes to the part which undergoes temperature changes, the temperature will increase and make the animal to move away. The animal will be reluctant to go back even when temperature will not change.

Skinner’s operant conditioning is applied by teachers and instructors in classrooms as well as in real life situations. It is, however, good to note that operant conditioning has similarities in its application. Both in classrooms and in real life situations, rewards are awarded whenever a desired behavior is recognized.

Students are expected to act in a particular way and they are promised of rewards if they conduct themselves in the prescribed way. Similarly, in real life situation, people behave in a given way because they expect to get positive outcomes or rewards (Plotnik & Kouyoumjian, 2010). These rewards can be monetary gifts, promotions or even high marks. On the same note, operant conditioning uses stimulus to induce people to behave in a given manner both in classroom and in real life.

Moreover, environment plays a very crucial role in reinforcing behavior in both cases. Either in classroom or in real life situation, operant conditioning explains behavior as a product of prevailing environmental conditions. Operant behavior does not believe that people consciously behave in a particular manner.

In both situations, experience is crucial in ensuring that people maintain a given character trait (Moore, 2008). People are expected to repeat a given behavior until it becomes part of their habit. Consequently, both in classrooms and in real life situation, the principle of reinforcement is crucial.

It is important to note that both in classroom and in real life situation, only the observable events are focused on. According to the theory of radical behaviorism, people’s conscious plays no role in determination of behavior. Consequently, non-observable actions including thinking and perception are not taken into consideration when behavior is shaped.

In this regard, operant conditioning aims at using some stimuli to ensure that expected results are achieved both in classroom and in real life. The main point in both scenarios is that behavior is not static and it can be modified if right channels are used (Plotnik & Kouyoumjian, 2010). As the principle of behavior shaping states, behavior is taken as a factor that can be controlled.

Furthermore, in both scenarios the assumption is that human beings respond to conditioning thus they will be ready to learn when conditioned properly. Therefore, environment is vital in conditioning people to exhibit specific behaviors that are desired. Moreover, it is believed in both situations that every behavior that human beings exhibit is explainable by the use of natural laws.

However, when operant conditioning is applied in classroom scenario and in real life situation, there are some differences that are revealed. To begin with, in a classroom scenario people are given specific behaviors which they are supposed to undertake.

On the contrary, in a real life situation, people are not given specific behaviors that they should adhere to (Russell & Jarvis, 2003). Instead, people are left free to behave in any way that their environment will condition them to behave. In this regard, people in a real life situation have a lot of options to take in terms of character traits unlike in a classroom scenario.

Moreover, it is possible to control some factors in a classroom condition so that the expected behavior may be achieved. For example, teachers can restrict students from coming to school in home clothes in a bid to ensure that everybody wears uniform. Teachers will then promise to reward any student who will be smartly dressed.

This will ensure that all students will be in uniform and smartly dressed. On the other hand, in real life situation, it is impossible to control any factor. Consequently, behavior is influenced by a multitude of factors (Moore, 2008). It is important to note that some factors will be indirectly influencing behavior. As a result, it is difficult to tell before hand how a given person will have in a given situation.

On the same note, while in a classroom scenario operant conditioning is applied to a single or a small number of character traits, this is not the case with real life situation. In unregulated environment, people tend to behave in any manner that they prefer. Consequently, when studying people’s behavior in a real life situation, many character traits come into view and one has to choose which ones to focus on.

Moreover, it is possible to issue regular tests in classrooms to evaluate the degree of conformity or understanding. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to measure whether given behaviors have been reinforced in real life scenarios (Plotnik & Kouyoumjian, 2010). Furthermore, in a classroom everybody is expected to behave in a more or less the similar way. However, in real life scenario everybody behaves in his or her own way.

Furthermore, in a classroom scenario, expected behavior is clearly defined and necessary measures are put in place to ensure that desired outcome is achieved. The measures taken include dividing the program into stages, where a student is expected to pass the first stage before proceeding to the second one, and the use of Personalized System of Instruction (PSI).

On the same note, there are materials to guide students on what is expected and how they can achieve it (Russell & Jarvis, 2003). On the contrary, in real life situation there are no materials to guide people on what is expected especially when it is not in an organizational setting.


Moore, J. (2008). Conceptual Foundations of Radical Behaviorism. New York: Sloan Publishers.

Plotnik, R. & Kouyoumjian, H. (2010). Introduction to Psychology. Stanford: Cengage Learning.

Russell, J. & Jarvis, M. (2003). Angles on Applied Psychology. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes Publishers.

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