B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist who contributed significantly to the field of behaviourism. He propounded the operant conditioning theory which is a method of associative learning. Skinner’s theory is based on the law of effect theory propounded by Thorndike.

Operant condition involves the use of repetition in which the behaviour that has received a positive reinforcement (reward) has a probability to be repeated whereas the behaviour which has received a negative reinforcement (punishment) is less likely to be repeated. Skinner is regarded as the father of Operant Conditioning. Similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box, Skinner conducted his experiments on a Skinner Box using animals.

Skinner’s Behavioural Theory of Operant Conditioning

Skinner proposed three kinds of responses, also referred to as operant, which are as follows.

Neutral Operants

Neutral operants refer to environmental responses that do not increase or decrease the probability of repeated behaviour.


Reinforcers refer to environmental responses that increase the chances of a behavior to be repeated. Reinforcers are of two types – positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement includes a behaviour which is strengthened by rewards while negative reinforcement refers to the strengthening of behaviour through the elimination of unpleasant behaviour.


Punishers refer to environmental responses that reduce the probability of a behaviour to be repeated. Behaviour is weakened by punishers.


The operant conditioning experiment conducted by B.F. Skinner points out that operant conditioning learning is done to notice the operant behavior and the environmental response.