Burrhus Frederic Skinner (aka B.F. Skinner) studied under the Behaviorism school of thought and believed that people did have a mind, but that it was better to study observable behavior in organisms rather than internal mental thoughts and feelings. Specifically, Skinner believed in and helped develop the idea of Operant Conditioning; a method of observing behavior through action by consequence based off of studies done by Edward Thorndike. Although Skinner did not think of operate conditioning first, he is considered 'The Father' of operate conditioning.
B.F. Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1904. His father was a lawyer and his mother stayed at home to care for him and his younger brother. He attended Hamilton University to become a writer, but after 2 years of little success, he decided to attend Harvard University to study psychology. Even as a child, Skinner showed a knack for building contraptions, which would eventually come handy in his construction of the Skinner box. After receiving his degree, Skinner taught at the University of Minnesota where he was assigned with teaching pigeons to aid with bombings during World War II. This project ended up falling through, however Skinner did succeed in teaching pigeons to play ping pong.
Through his study of Operant Conditioning, Skinner discovered the idea that if a behavior is reinforced it tends to be repeated, while behaviors not reinforced tend to die out. He studied this observation using organisms and a mechanism he'd devised to offer rewards following behavior. With the use of his mechanical structure, Skinner quickly observed three common reactions among specimens: neutral operants, reinforcers, and punishers. He explored each reaction through different experiments. For positive reinforcement, Skinner made a box with a lever for rats, where if the rat would hit the lever, food would be released (this became known as the 'Skinner Box'). The reward of food for the rat guaranteed the repetition of its action of hitting the lever, as Skinner predicted. Skinner also observed the repetition of actions through negative reinforcement, where if an action was performed an unpleasant quality or consequence would be taken away. This is not to be confused with punishment, which Skinner also studied, where an unwanted action was immediately followed by an enforced unpleasant action or consequence.
Skinner's experiments and further development of theory was very important to the psychology community because it led to behavior modification therapy. This method follows the positive reinforcement behaviors that Skinner observed in organisms where the patient is rewarded for preferred behavior. A form of behavior modification therapy also included the widely used token economy method, where the subject is rewarded with tokens to be later exchanged for a reward of good behavior (commonly used by elementary level teachers).