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  • Date Submitted: 01/30/2012 11:09 AM
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Elizabeth Hayes
December 13, 2011
Nancy Russell

Are you conditioned to be superstitious?
You may think that walking under a ladder and having bad luck is just something that grandma came up with but superstitious behavior is a valid term in the profession of psychology. If you scan Wikipedia online for this “ladder superstition” you will find a story about a pigeon and a man named B.F. Skinner. Skinner was a psychologist who did extensive research about human behavior through experiments with animals, including pigeons. His contributions to psychology from the 1930’s lasted decades until his death in 1990 and the concepts behind his work resonate still today. His discoveries can be found referenced in books and articles in many academic disciplines beyond psychology, including education. As a result of his work therapists and educators are able to help students and clients overcome everything from addictions to insecurities as well as developing better learning processes. The term most commonly thought of, and coined under Skinner, is called conditioning or shaping. This is what opened up the door for behavior therapies used today.
Skinner’s operant conditioning term was based on the theory that how we behave and how we decide what to do is influenced by external factors. Those factors can either be reinforcers or punishers to promote the desired behavior. His most famous research to support his theories included experiments with animals giving birth to a ”Skinner Box” which was the environment used to test animal behavior. By using food to motivate the rat to push a lever in the box to get more food Skinner saw how behavior was quickly and easily developed via reinforcement. In other experiments Skinner used motivation by negative reinforcement –
punishment if the animal did not act. When removing the triggers for these behaviors it was also shown to reduce that same behavior over time.  
While the rat experiment proved that we can all be trained...


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