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Behavior Modification

Did Skinner Raise His Own Child In A Skinner Box?


This famous urban legend was perpetuated by a photo that appeared in Life magazine of behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner's two-year old daughter standing up in a glass-fronted box. The box was, in fact, a climate-controlled, baby-sized room that Skinner built, called the "aircrib." The aircrib was made of sound-absorbing wood, had a humidifier, an air filter, and was temperature-controlled by a thermostat. Dissatisfied with traditional cribs, Skinner built the box to keep his new daughter warm, safe, and quiet without having to wrap her in clothes and blankets. Skinner was quoted in New Yorker magazine as saying his daughter "…spent most of the next two years and several months there, naked and happy." Deborah was so happy in the box, Skinner reported, that she rarely cried or got sick and showed no signs of agoraphobia when removed from the aircrib or claustrophobia when placed inside. The box-like structure and people's misunderstandings about behavioral psychology contributed to the misconception that Skinner was experimenting on his daughter and also probably prevented the crib from becoming a commercial success. People got the impression that Skinner was raising his child in a box similar to the kind he used to study animal behavior—with levers for releasing food.

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