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Surprising as it may seem, the power to lure and hold social media users is rooted in decades-old work of the legendary psychologist B.F. Skinner and his experiments with pigeons.
That concept, variable rewards, can be seen in every habit-forming activity known to man, like slot machines and Instagram. Inconsistent results keep the players – or users – coming back for more, hoping to collect a payout in quarters, or posts that bring a Like.
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.