Behaviorism (also called the behaviorist approach) was the primary paradigm in psychology between 1920s to 1950 and is based on a number of underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioral analysis:
* Psychology should be seen as a science. Theories need to be supported by empirical data obtained through careful and controlled observation and measurement of behavior. Watson (1913) stated that “
psychology as a behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control” (p. 158).
* Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion. Observable (i.e. external) behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured. Internal events, such as thinking should be explained through behavioral terms (or eliminated altogether).
* People have no free will – a person’s environment determines their behavior
* When born our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ (a blank slate).
* There is little difference between the learning that takes place in humans and that in other animals. Therefore research can be carried out on animals as well as humans.
* Behavior is the result of stimulus – response (i.e. all behavior, no matter how complex, can be reduced to a simple stimulus – response association). Watson described the purpose of psychology as: “
To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction” (1930, p. 11).
* All behavior is learnt from the environment. We learn new behavior through classical or operant conditioning.
Varieties of Behaviorism
Historically, the most significant distinction among versions of behaviorism is that between Watson’s original classical behaviorism, and forms of behaviorism later inspired by his work, known collectively as neobehaviorism.
In his book, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It Watson (1913, p. 158) outlines the principles of all behaviorists:
Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist’s total scheme of investigation.
There are two major types of conditioning:
Classical conditioning is a technique used in behavioral training in which a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response. Next, a previously neutral stimulus is paired with the naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the previously neutral stimulus comes to evoke the response without the presence of the naturally occurring stimulus. The two elements are then known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response.
Operant conditioning (sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior.
The History of Behaviorism
* Pavlov (1897) published the results of an experiment on conditioning after originally studying digestion in dogs.
* Watson (1913) launches the behavioral school of psychology (classical conditioning), publishing an article, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”.
* Watson and Rayner (1920) conditioned an orphan called Albert B (aka Little Albert) to fear a white rat.
* Thorndike (1905) formalized the “Law of Effect“.
* Skinner (1936) wrote “The Behavior of Organisms” and introduced the concepts of operant conditioning and shaping.
* Clark Hull’s (1943) Principles of Behavior was published.
* B.F. Skinner (1948) published Walden Two in which he described a utopian society founded upon behaviorist principles.
* Bandura (1963) publishes a book called the “Social Leaning Theory and Personality development” which combines both cognitive and behavioral frameworks.
* Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (begun in 1958).
* B.F. Skinner (1971) published his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, where he argues that free will is an illusion.
Major Thinkers in Behaviorism
There are a number of important theorists and psychologists who left an indelible mark on behaviorism, including: