psych415 - Review of General Psychology 1999 Vol 3 No 3...

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Review of General Psychology 1999, Vol. 3, No. 3, 155-167 Copyright 1999 by the Educational Publishing Foundation 1089-2680/99/$3.0O B. 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 Ladies' Home Journal. 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discuss the public reactions to that article, the subsequent attempts to mass produce the aircrib, and the several unpublished surveys of aircrib users.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 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
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This note was uploaded on 02/26/2011 for the course PSYC 415 taught by Professor Ting during the Spring '10 term at Maryland.

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psych415 - Review of General Psychology 1999 Vol 3 No 3...

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