Review of General Psychology
1999, Vol. 3, No. 3, 155-167
Copyright 1999 by the Educational Publishing Foundation
F. Skinner and Psychotechnology:
The Case of the Heir Conditioner
Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., and Elizabeth Nielsen-Gammon
To relieve some of the work of caring for an infant and to create a better environment
for the infant, B. F. Skinner invented the baby tender, or aircrib, in 1944. The public first
learned of this invention in a 1945 article published in the popular magazine
The authors discuss the public reactions to that article, the subsequent
attempts to mass produce the aircrib, and the several unpublished surveys of aircrib
users. The history, development, and ultimate commercial failure of the aircrib are
discussed in the context of public attitudes toward certain behavioral technologies. The
article concludes with a brief discussion of Skinner's commitment to human betterment.
Among the popular myths of "psychology
experiments gone awry" are those alleging the
tragedy of the life of Deborah Skinner, the
original baby in a box and arguably one of
America's best-known babies in 1945. Born in
1944, she was the first child to use the device
invented by her psychologist-father, B. F.
Skinner, a device that he first called the baby
tender and later the aircrib. Deborah spent part
of her first 2 years of life sleeping and playing in
her baby tender. According to parental accounts,
it was a positive experience for all involved. Yet,
the stories of difficulty soon flourished, and by
the late 1950s and early 1960s it was common to
hear about the supposed horrors that had
befallen an adolescent or adult Deborah Skinner
because of her early life experiences "confined"
in a box.
Some stories placed Deborah in a mental
institution, the victim of a psychotic breakdown.
Other stories told of how she had committed
suicide, whereas still others told of how she had
brought a lawsuit against her father for the
Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., and Elizabeth Nielsen-Gammon,
The archival research for this article was partially
gratefully acknowledge assistance from William S. Ver-
planck, Robert Epstein, and William S. Rholes and from
John A. Popplestone, Marion White McPherson, and Sharon
Ochsenhirt of the Archives of the History of American
Psychology at the University of Akron.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr., Department of Psychology,
Electronic mail may be sent to Itb@psyc.tamu.edu.
cruelty of being raised in a box. (One of our
colleagues suggested that had she really wanted
to hurt her father she would have become a
cognitive psychologist, instead of the successful
artist that she is.) Of course, none of these things
happened to Deborah, but such rumors have
persisted; misrepresentations of her experiences