It was developed by the American experimental psychologist B. F. Skinner in the 1930′s. Because of this it is usually called “Skinner box”. According to Richelle (1993) Skinner box is a kind of “microscope” for psychology.
A typical operant conditioning chamber is a chamber whose dimensions leave some free space for the animal subject (e.g., rats, pigeons) to walk around.
It is equipped with some response device, some piece of equipment, such as a lever (for rats) or a plastic key (for pigeons), that the subject will activate. This device is technically called a manipulandum. When the manipulandum is activated it is converted into a electrical signal, which is recorded in another gadget (see Cumulative Recorder). The activation of the manipulandum is called response. For instance, to press the lever for rat or to peck the disk for pigeons. The response can produce a consequence in the box. Typically, consequences are water or food, once the animal subject was deprived of one of those aspects. Skinner box also has a device for deliver water or food.
For further information about Skinner box, we suggest:
Lattal, K. A. (2000). Operant Conditioning Chamber. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Psychology, vol. 5 (pp.502-503). Washington, DC: APA and Oxford University Press.
Richelle, M. N. (1993). B. F. Skinner: a reappraisal. Hove, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd.
Skinner, B. F. (1936). A Case History in Scientific Method. The American Psychologist, 11, 221-233. [link].
To see some studies that used a Skinner box, we suggest papers published in: