B F Skinner

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About the book

Who the Hell is B F Skinner? looks at the life and works of the highly influential American psychologist, behaviourist, social philosopher and inventor. A pioneer of modern behaviourism, Skinner founded a school of experimental research psychology and published over 20 books and numerous articles. His work on behavioural conditioning altered the course of psychology and psychotherapy. Here we find out who this ingenious man really was and how he developed his groundbreaking ideas, before delving into those ideas in detail.

Chapter 1: Skinner's Life Story

Chapter 2: Influences on Skinner's Thinking

Chapter 3: Operant Conditioning
This chapter looks at Skinner's idea that behaviour is strengthened or weakened by its consequences. Skinner was the first to bring together both operant and respondent behaviours in his experiments.

Chapter 4: Applications of Skinner's Work
Skinner was a brilliant inventor and, by combining his psychologist and behaviourist skills with those of creating new processes, he produced works such as the aircrib, teaching machines and pigeon-guided missiles.

Chapter 5: Radical Behaviourism
Here we look at Skinner's philosophy of behavioural science, showing why he believes that environmental factors affect and control behaviour.

About the author

Tom Buxton-Cope graduated in Psychology from Manchester University, UK, and went on to complete an MA in Education, qualifying to be a teacher. He has taught psychology for over 10 years, and has held the position of Head of Psychology in various educational establishments. He is also an A-Level (college-level) examiner. He writes regular Psychology Factsheets for Curriculum Press and has authored several articles in Psychology Review for Hodder Education. Tom currently lives in Stockport, Greater Manchester, UK.


"This book advertises itself as ‘accessible’, ‘informative’ and ‘engaging’ and it ticked all three boxes right from the very start. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this text, but from the first page I was hooked and it didn’t take me long to devour the first half with ease. The first chapter ‘Skinner’s Life Story’ is absolutely fascinating and I’m embarrassed to admit I knew very little about him as a person and more so as a psychologist. This chapter delivers so much information and the links between some of his childhood experiences and his later well know experiments are clearly evident. I got to know Skinner, or Fred as he was known to this friends and family. The chapter explores his relationships with his parents, brother, various friendships, teachers and gives insight into how his childhood influenced some of his later work. Chapters 2 and 3 cover influences on Skinner’s thinking and operant conditioning, both equally engaging. However, I was most captivated by chapter 4 ‘Applications of Skinner’s Work’ which outlines some of his innovative creations. These included the Aircrib (a baby cot, of sorts) and his Teaching Machines, both inspired by his daughters. The final chapter ‘Radical Behaviourism’ is a little heavier as it discusses the differences between Watson’s ‘methodological behaviourism’ and Skinner’s radical behaviourism, misconceptions of radical behaviourism and links between Skinner and Darwin.

Who is this relevant for? I’d say anyone interested in psychology. It references so many well know points in history (and many personal ones for Skinner) which have influenced his life and work, from the early death of his younger brother, ‘Project Pigeon’, the influences of Watson & Rayner and Pavlov, World War II and his many publications on reinforcement and behaviourism. As an A level psychology student I would have loved it; it really is accessible and I shall be recommending it on the New Year reading list for our Year 12 and 13 students. I already have a short list of students I plan to offer it to on loan (with the obligatory quarantining of course!) If your department budget or school/college library can stretch to it then it’s a worthwhile investment."

Laura Quaife | ATP Today, February 2021 

“A concise but detailed book about Skinner’s work & his influences. It was a straight forward read balancing psychology with general interest meaning it’s suited for readers with knowledge of Skinner’s work but also for those who know very little. This book will be added to the list of recommended reads for my A Level students.”

Rebecca Heath | Faringdon Learning Trust

“BF Skinner was one of the best known and most controversial psychologists of his age and beyond. Who the Hell is B.F. Skinner? is an outstanding biography of the man and his theories, and is a must read for anybody interested in the history of psychology and its iconic theorists. It is well written, very informative and makes a significant contribution to the field of psychology.”

Professor Sir Cary Cooper | ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester

Skinner's Radical Behaviourism video...