Prior to the work of Skinner, instrumental learning was typically studied using a maze or a puzzle box. Learning in these settings is better suited to examiningdiscrete trials or episodes of behavior, instead of the continuous stream of behavior. The Skinner Box is an experimental environment that is better suited to examine the more natural flow of behavior. (The Skinner Box is also referred to as an operant conditioning chamber.)
A Skinner Box is a often small chamber that is used to conduct operant conditioning research with animals. Within the chamber, there is usually a lever (for rats) or a key (for pigeons) that an individual animal can operate to obtain a food or water within the chamber as a reinforcer. The chamber is connected to electronic equipment that records the animal’s lever pressing or key pecking, thus allowing for the precise quantification of behavior.
An operant conditioning chamber (usually Skinner box) is a laboratory apparatus used in experimental psychology to study animal cognition. The Skinner box is named after its inventor, the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, who created the device with a graduate student at Harvard University around 1930. They are used to study both classical conditioning (especially autoshaping) and operant conditioning.
The structure forming the shell of a chamber is a 3-dimensional box large enough to easily accommodate the organism being used as a subject. (Common model organisms used include rodents–usually lab rats–pigeons, and non-human primates).
Historically, two major methods and pieces of apparatus have dominated the study of appetitive behavior in animal psychology. The different responses required by each piece of apparatus may be affected in different ways by rewarding events due to each responses different biological function. Some researchers have used only operant conditioning techniques, others have used only the maze procedure throughout their published career. Studies evaluating the persistence of behavior in the form of resistance to extinction predominantly utilize the maze procedure, but studies evaluating the stimulus generalization predominantly utilize the operant procedure. In each case, the particular procedure results in orderly data, encouraging the further use of the particular procedure to evaluate the particular behavioral phenomenon. As the neurosciences come to depend on behavioral theory for knowledge of processes, a major distinction between spatial-maze processes and harvesting operant processes may be of prime importance.
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An apparatus for studying instrumental conditioning in animals (typically rats or pigeons) in which the animal is isolated and provided with a lever or switch which it learns to use to obtain a reward, such as a food pellet, or to avoid a punishment, such as an electric shock.
1940s named after B. F. Skinner (see Skinner, B. F).