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An operant conditioning chamber (usually Skinner box) is a laboratory apparatus used in experimental psychology to study animal cognition. The Skinner box is named after its inventor, the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, who created the device with a graduate student at Harvard University around 1930. They are used to study both classical conditioning (especially autoshaping) and operant conditioning.
The structure forming the shell of a chamber is a 3-dimensional box large enough to easily accommodate the organism being used as a subject. (Common model organisms used include rodents–usually lab rats–pigeons, and non-human primates).
Skinner boxes have at least one operandum (or "manipulandum") that can automatically detect the occurrence of a behavioral response or action. Typical operanda for primates and rats are response levers; if the subject presses the lever, the opposite end moves and closes a switch that is monitored by a computer or other programmed device. Typical operanda for pigeons and other birds are response keys with a switch that closes if the bird pecks at the key with sufficient force. The other minimal requirement of a conditioning chamber is that it have a means of delivering a primary reinforcer or unconditioned stimulus like food (usually pellets) or water.
With such a simple configuration, one operandum and one feeder, it is possible to investigate uncountable psychological phenomena. Modern Skinner boxes typically have many operanda, like many response levers, two or more feeders, and a variety of devices capable of generating much stimuli, including lights, sounds, music, figures, and drawings.
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