Skinner's Superstition Experiment

Skinner's Superstition Experiment

What is it?

Skinner's Superstition Experiment was a study conducted by B.F. Skinner in 1947, where he placed pigeons in a Skinner box and found that even though the delivery of food was entirely random, the pigeons exhibited superstitious behaviors and developed their own "superstitions" that they believed were responsible for the delivery of food. This experiment showed that animals (and potentially humans) may develop superstitious behaviors through association and reinforcement, even in situations where there is no actual causal relationship between their behavior and a desired outcome.

B.F. Skinner was a famous psychologist who studied behaviorism, a theory that explains how we learn behaviors through rewards and punishments. In the 1940s, Skinner conducted an experiment to investigate how superstitions form in animals, particularly pigeons. His experiment is now known as "Skinner's Superstition Experiment."

In layman's terms, imagine you had a group of pigeons in a box. Each pigeon had access to a button. When the button was pressed, food would be released. Skinner wanted to see if pigeons would develop "superstitious" behaviors when food was given randomly, without a clear connection to the button.

Skinner set up the experiment so that food would be released at specific time intervals, regardless of whether the pigeon pressed the button or not. Over time, the pigeons began to associate unrelated actions with the food delivery, believing that their behavior was causing the food to appear.

For example, one pigeon might have been spinning around when the food appeared. The pigeon would then start to believe that spinning around caused the food to come out. Another pigeon might have been pecking at the button when the food appeared, and would continue to peck at ...