Burrhus Frederic Skinner: Environmental reinforcement in coaching

Ryan Groom, Lee Nelson, Paul Potrac, Andrew Coyles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born on 20 March 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, USA. Skinner originally studied for a B.A. in English Literature at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York. He graduated in 1926 and set out to become a writer, although ultimately he considered himself to be a failed writer, or at least that literature had failed him as a method for his work (Skinner 1976). A major turning point for Skinner was reading Bertrand Russell’s (1927) text An Outline of Philosophy. It was here that Skinner came across John B. Watson’s behaviourism and its epistemological implications. In reading the work of Russell, Skinner was further introduced to the scientific study of learning in animals and the work of Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) and Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). Thorndike’s (1911) work, Animal Intelligence: Some Experimental Studies, outlined the method of manipulating the presence of a stimulus to generate a desired response (the stimulus-response relationship). Inspired by Russell, Skinner (1976: 299) stated that ‘it would be a long time before I saw the mistakes which Russell and Watson were making … the course of psychology was to follow the unproductive path of stimulus-response psychology for many years’. Skinner received his M.A. in 1930 and his Ph.D. in 1931 from Harvard University.

He then worked at the University of Minnesota and the University of Indiana before returning to Harvard in 1947 as William James Lecturer, and joining the Department of Psychology the following year as Professor in 1948. A prolific writer, Skinner published 180 articles and 21 books, including: The Behavior of Organisms (1938); Walden Two (1948); Science and Human Behavior (1953); Verbal Behavior (1957); Schedules of Reinforcement (1957) with C. B. Ferster; The Analysis of Behavior (1961); The Technology of Teaching (1968); Contingencies of Reinforcement (1969); Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971); About Behaviorism (1974), and three autobiographical texts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLearning in Sports Coaching
Subtitle of host publicationTheory and Application
EditorsRyan Groom, Lee Nelson, Paul Potrac
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781317597063
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


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