Wednesday, May 29, 2013

B. F. Skinner: Pigeon Patriot

In May 1937, Life magazine featured an innovative University of Minnesota psychologist and his clever lab rat. B.F. Skinner had taught Pliny, a white rat, to earn and spend “money.” Pliny learned to pull a chain at the top of his wire cage in order to release a marble—the cash in this exercise. A series of photos show Pliny picking up the marble between his little paws and hopping it over to a slot in the floor of the cage. When Pliny inserted the marble, a lever triggered a mechanism that produced a bit of biscuit. Like working a vending machine, Pliny slipped his coins into the appropriate slot and got a snack in exchange.  The tone of the Life story is precious, and Burrhus Frederic Skinner, the young U of M psychology professor who devised the experiment, is mentioned only briefly—and then only to suggest that even he believes the experiment proves merely “how much can be done with an animal if proper patience were taken.” But the article could also be counted as the beginning of B.F. Skinner’s public career and a nod to the direction psychology research would take. more

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