The Skinner Box: Edit
The operant conditioning chamber, more commonly known as The Skinner Box was a cumulative recorder which was used to analyze the behavioral response of his animal test subjects. The Skinner Box was essentially a chamber that contained a key that an animal can manipulate in order to obtain food or water as a form of reinforcement.
Each Skinner box was designed specific to the animal that it contained. Each animal was assigned a unique schedule of reinforcement which outlined the behaviour desired for the experiment as well as the type of reinforcement that would be given when the animal failed or succeeded to meet this behaviour. In these instances the animal would receive either positive or negative reinforcement (link)
There were also two types of schedules for reinforcement, Continuous and partial reinforcement.
In continuous reinforcement the desired behaviour was reinforced every single time. This schedule was best utilised during the early stages of the experiment as it created a strong association between the desired behaviour and the response.
Once this asss unrealistic in real world scenarios that reinforcement would be given each time a behaviour occurred animcociation was firmly established most experiments switched over to partial reinforcement.
As it waals were then trained under partial reinforcement, which rewarded the animal for the desired behaviour, but not every time. These partial reinforcement schedules were comprised of four groups. Fixed ratio schedules in which the animal received reinforcement after a fixed number of responses (for example every 5 times a rat pushed the lever they would receive a food pellet). Variable ratio schedules in which an animal receives reinforcement after an unpredictable number of responses. This particular schedule creates a high rate of response as it can create a rapid sequence of positive responses. A good example of this reward based schedule would be coin slot machines in casinos.
Fixed interval ratio schedules in which the first response is only rewarded after a specific amount of time. For example a rat will get a food pellet 60 seconds after the first response of pushing a lever.
Variable interval schedules in which an animal receives reinforcement after an unpredictable amount of time.
Each schedule was given to the test subjects based on their abilities. Extra features to the Skinner Box were also added to the chamber under the same premises. In some instances lights and speakers were added to the environment along with an electrified grid in the flooring to provide the animal with negative reinforcement when the behaviour was not met.
Skinner started off his research with The Skinner Box by studying the behaviour of rats and would later use The Skinner Box to study pigeons. Edit
Air Crib: Skinner's Baby in a Box Edit
After the birth of his second daughter Deborah in the early 1940's Skinner decided to invent the air crib. The air crib was a climate controlled environment in a box designed to benefit both the parents and the child by placing the child in an ideal environment for rest and relaxation. One that was warm, free from drafts and other things such as everyday noises that might disturb the child. As most apartments did not have space for a separate nursery the air crib was designed to be a cost effective mini nursery. The box was made out of plywood and plastic with fitted electrical components and an air circulating system, the door at the side of the box was made of Plexiglas with a curtain to block out light so that the infant could rest.
In his 1945 article entitled Baby in a Box after raising his young daughter within the air crib for 11 months Skinner described the benefits of his invention to conventional methods. His main concern in inventing the box was regulating temperature. Skinner claimed that the usual solution of wrapping babies in multiple layers of cloth to keep them warm often led to infants getting too warm and sweating throughout the night which in turn led to distress for the child as well as cleaning up for the parents. Skinner's temperature controlled air crib used minimal bedding accompanied with nightwear which he claimed allowed the baby to exercise more freely throughout the night. He also noticed that a change in temperature by one or two degrees resulted in a noticeable change in the child’s behaviour and wondered how layers of clothes would ever reach these optimal temperatures.
Unfortunately Skinner received a lot of bad press from the baby box after the publication of his article in 1945. Many readers thought that the air crib was just a larger version of his well known Skinner boxes used for experiments on animals. In fact the air crib was not an enclosure which his daughter was confined to, rather it was an alternative crib with added features designed to benefit the growth and well being of the child.
“We have devised a number of toys which are occasionally suspended from the ceiling of the compartment . . . One toy is a ring suspended from a modified music box. A note can be played by pulling the ring downward, and a series of rapid jerks will produce Three Blind Mice”
Pigeon Guided Missiles: Edit
During World War 2 the American government spent millions of dollars into the development of guided missiles. Many had concerns in accuracy of such devices. In 1945 Skinner approached the National Research Defence Committee with a solution to this problem.
His solution pigeon guided missiles. Skinner had previously had great success in his experiments with pigeons. Using positive reinforcement he was able to train pigeons to pull levers for food and even train them to play ping pong. Skinner now saw the potential in these test subjects as disposable kamikaze pilots for guided missiles. He argued that pigeons are easily trained, that they are unflappable (shows calmness in crisis) under stressful situations and they can process visual information 3 times faster than humans.
Although many were skeptic of Skinner's eccentric idea, Skinner was given over 25 thousand U.S dollars in funding into begin his research. The pigeons were trained using positive reinforcement.
The pigeons were first trained to recognize the target. During simulations the pigeons were shown a projection of a target on electronic screens. Each time the pigeon pecked at the direction of the target they would be given food. This pecking mechanism was intended to guide the missiles to the target.
Skinner then created a device in which the pigeon would be placed in a separate compartment at the helm of a guided missile. The pigeon would then guide missile to the target by pecking certain areas of the electric screen with a metallic receiver attached to the end its beak.
Trial experiments yielded remarkable results with pigeons rarely missing a target once trained. Unfortunately the American government pulled the plug on the experiments as they did not trust their bombs to bird brains.☁