Behaviorism

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Nor am I a behaviorist.

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This is meant to be a brief overview to demonstrate how these principles can be applied without going into too much detail. Around the turn of the 20th century, introspection was the dominant field of study in psychology. Introspection involved rigorous methodology aimed at examining the contents of consciousness. Under tightly controlled experimental conditions, subjects observed and carefully recorded their current awareness. Unfortunately, the results of such experiments were very difficult to replicate and many psychologists were disillusioned.

Meanwhile, a certain Russian physiologist serendipitously discovered that his dogs could learn to anticipate elements of his experimental design. He was interested in the salivation reflex, but over time the dogs were salivating before they received any food. This discovery was later termed "classical conditioning" more below. In this manifesto, he explained that in order for psychology to be taken seriously as a science, the focus needed to turn toward objective, observable behaviors. Psychologists would then be able to determine exact cause and effect and measure behavior with precise calculations.

So began a new movement - behaviorism. In classical conditioning, you start with an automatic reflex. For Pavlov, this was his dogs salivating when they tasted food. Then you pair that with a meaningless stimulus.

Pavlov used a bell in one of his conditions. So every time dogs got the food, they also heard a bell. Over time, the dogs anticipated the food and started salivating to a delicious sounding bell. This happens all the time in your life, too. Marketers love classical conditioning. Take, for example, this advertisement:. Naturally, a scantily clad woman leads to a response that includes, for example, pupil dilation and sweating palms regardless of gender or sexuality. We have an automatic response. Over time we see that woman paired with a pretty neutral hamburger such that a month later, when we see a Hardees logo, we have an automatic response and think, "Wow, that burger looks really good!

Classical conditioning is fairly limited when it comes to shaping behavior, primarily because an automatic response must already exist. BF Skinner a radical behavorist, famous for his assertion that there is no such thing as free will pioneered research on a different form of learning - operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, the organism behaves in order to elicit a reward reinforcement or stops behaving to avoid a punishment.

There are four different possible consequences to behavior in operant conditioning. The behavior can be rewarded causing it to be repeated or punished making it less likely to be repeated. At the heart of early behaviorism lay a commitment to the notion that mentalistic categories and concepts e. In , Watson excluded mind in its entirety from behaviorism. Not only was consciousness rejected as both fact and concept, but associated mental terms were to be discarded as well.

This was the most extreme version of this commitment; and other early behaviorists did not, as a rule, follow Watson down this path. By far the most common approach was to redefine the standard concepts of mental analysis in strictly behavioral terms. A few examples will suffice. In addition to fundamental commitments concerning psychology as the natural science of behavior, early behaviorism was also characterized by a set of distinctive emphases that followed, almost as corollaries, from its intellectual commitments.

Taken singly and with regard to their content, these emphases were not unique to behaviorism. Behaviorism emphasized the identification of fundamental mechanisms in animal behavior e. This approach, which followed directly from the commitment to phylogenetic continuity, was largely unquestioned among early behaviorists. Indeed, as behavioral research began to develop in the late 's and 's, many of the most important studies focused on animals and many core theoretical concepts came to be defined almost entirely in terms of the procedures of animal behavior research.

Behavioral Psychology

The study of development loomed large in the early behaviorist research program. This followed from the assumption that habits are elaborated out of innate response systems instinct, emotions present in the newborn infant and develop over the life course. As Dashiell put it, "life-activities Development is a theme to which Watson returned again and again. Thus, for example, in discussing research on instinct and habit, he informed his readers that " We have to start with the baby's advent Drive Reduction.

Following their commitment to the principle that behavior, as a process of adjustment, results from a state of maladjustment between the organism and its environment, early behaviorists emphasized internal drive states sex, hunger, thirst, etc. One result of this orientation was an inclination to view the organism as passive. All other things being equal, the organism was assumed to tend toward a state of quiescence or non-response.

As Dashiell phrased it: "No expression without impression; no response without stimulation. A man does nothing, is not active, in any manner involving the effectors Habit formation. An emphasis on habit formation defined in terms of mechanisms of trial-and-error elaboration of response and conditioned stimulus substitution was probably the characteristic with which early behaviorism was most closely associated. Behaviorism in the 's was first, last, and always a psychology of habit formation.

Acquired behavior, no matter how complex-thinking, talking, even scientific activity itself-could, in the final analysis, be reduced to habit. The trial-and-error mechanism increase in random movement upon confrontation with a problem situation, accidental success when chance response alters the organism or the environment in the direction of greater adjustment, and gradual, mechanical selection and reinforcement of successful movement was usually employed to explain efferent modification, the elaboration of the response itself.

The conditioned reaction was typically evoked to explain afferent modification-change in the effectiveness of stimuli, including those that are purely social and symbolic, in eliciting a given response. Dashiell made it quite clear just why conditioning as a mechanism of habit formation exerted such an appeal to behaviorists.

Conditioning, he pointed out, "yields Half of the process of education consists of transferring appropriate responses to new and more finely discriminated stimuli. Social Behavior. An emphasis on social behavior followed directly from one of early behaviorism's most versatile assumptions-the notion that responses have stimulus value.

Behaviorism | GSI Teaching & Resource Center

Whenever the organism behaves, its responses are also stimuli-for itself and for others. By means of impulses from the muscles themselves man becomes partially independent of the impulses from the so-called higher senses We see the final perfection of the process in thought where we have a substituted word process for practically every object in our environment.


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These substituted word processes can initiate general bodily movements exactly as do the visual or auditory stimuli for which they stand. Substituted word processes and other response-produced stimulation can also affect the behavior of other organisms. As Allport put it, a "social stimulus" is "any reaction, made by an animal human or infra-human Dashiell described social behavior in the following fashion:.

The principal difference in the two cases is that environmental objects of the social type are themselves animate and behaving organisms that are stimulable and are reactive; and so the interrelations of a given person with them are capable of very high elaboration and refinement.

For behaviorists in the 's, self-stimulation and response was intimately linked to language. For both the self in thinking and the social listener in communication, language responses were conceived as substitute, symbolic stimuli, independent of the sensory attributes of the original stimulus. In this role, they subserved the related functions of abstraction and generalization. As Weiss , who pioneered this analysis, asserted: " Psychology defined as the natural science of behavior, wedded to objectivism in method and theory and to a goal of behavioral prediction and control; behavior, animal or human, conceived as a pattern of adjustment innate and acquired, skeletal and visceral, explicit and implicit functionally dependent upon stimulus conditions in the environment and factors of habit and drive in the organism; emphasis in research and theory on animal behavior, ontogenesis, drive reduction, habit formation, social behavior, and language-this was the orientation that began, following World War I, to capture the imagination of young psychologists and to spread within American psychology throughout the 's.


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This was behaviorism in its early form. To be published in: Wozniak, R. The author would like to express his gratitude to Jana M. Iverson for her critical reading of this and other introductions written for this series. Watson, J.


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Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, pp.

What Is Behaviorism in Psychology?

For biographical material on Watson, see: Buckley, K. New York: Guilford Press. Watson , p. Behavior: A Textbook of Comparative Psychology. Herrnstein, R. A Sourcebook in the History of Psychology. See especially p. John Broadus Watson. Murchison Ed. A History of Psychology in Autobiography. See Wozniak, R. Comparative Physiology of the Brain and Comparative Psychology.

Samelson, F. Struggle for scientific authority: The reception of Watson's behaviorism, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences , 17, This carefully researched and beautifully documented article is the definitive source of information on the early reception of Watson's behaviorism. For contemporary reactions to Watson's early formulations, see Thorndike, E.

How to Train a Brain: Crash Course Psychology #11

Watson's 'Behavior. Behaviorism and genetic psychology. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 14, pp. To give Watson his due, it is important to remember that his later writings were produced for a popular audience. A number of commentators make this point. See, for example, Lashley, K. The behavioristic interpretation of consciousness. Psychological Review, 30, pp. Terms adopted here to distinguish among the varieties of early behaviorism are, for the most part, those of the author.