Behaviorism after the founding

Behaviorism as the third force in psychology have started out as a theoretical proposition of John B. Watson when he came out with “Psychology as The Behaviorist Views It” and have been known as the behaviorist manifesto (Benjamin, 1997). Watson proposed that psychology is the study of behavior and

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have put forth four major assumptions that form the tenets of behaviorism as a school of thought. The first assumption is that of evolutionary continuity which means that the laws of behavior are applicable to all living organisms. This assumption has substantiated the behaviorist’s use of animals in the study of human behavior.

The second assumption is that of reductionism, this refers to the behaviorist’s belief that all behaviors have a physiological basis and that behavior is the body’s reaction to a stimulus. The third assumption is determinism, behaviorists support the idea that animals respond to external stimuli in specific ways and are inherently programmed into one’s brain from birth. The last assumption is empiricism which is one of the cornerstones of behaviorism and that it is the contention that only overt actions or behavior are measurable and observable and lend itself to the scientific method.

Thus, to the behaviorist, psychology should be the study of overt behavior. B. F. Skinner was a self-confessed convert to behaviorism after reading Watson’s monograph; he was also influenced by the experimental studies of Ivan Pavlov (Bjork, 1997). Skinner developed a theory that was based on the classical conditioning paradigm of Pavlov and integrated it with his own definition of behaviorism. Skinner’s major work is his theory of operant conditioning, wherein he said that behavior can be conditioned through reinforcement and behavior diminishes when it is not reinforced.

He borrowed from Pavlov the basic idea of conditioning, but instead of limiting it to a stimulus-response paradigm, he incorporated the importance of rewards and punishment, which means that behavior is not only exhibited as a response to a stimulus but also as a form of association between the reinforcement given after the behavior. Skinner’s theoretical position made it obvious

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that he deviated from Watson’s radical behaviorism, because conditioning a she defined it involves cognition which Watson has strongly eradicated from his propositions.

Moreover, the emphasis given to reinforcements and punishments hint at the need to acknowledge mental processes in the study of behavior. Skinner’s work was well received by the academic community much even that Watson’s initial paper was and this have spurned the interest of like minded psychologists who did support the methodological implications of behaviorism but was not receptive of the radical arguments of Watson. Skinner’s ideas made more sense because it did not advocated the idea that men are not thinking beings and were more able to capture how man behaves.

Skinner’s kind of behaviorism somehow married the opposing views of mind and behavior and also gave importance to how environmental experiences and influences shape human behavior. Moreover, operant conditioning was applicable in a number of areas most notably education, child rearing and animal training (Skinner, 1966). Skinner’s behaviorism has also influenced other psychologists to study and conceptualize psychological phenomena using the principles of operant conditioning and indeed was the kind of behaviorism that has flourished for the last century or so in the field of psychology.

Contemporary behaviorism have been identified as the study of social learning, wherein a behavior is learned through socialization and socialization is the process by which behavior is rewarded or punished by society (Smith & Woodward, 1996). The evolution of behaviorism from Watson to Skinner and to the present has been made possible by the vast research and theoretical models developed by psychologists who adhere to contemporary behaviorism. One of the hallmarks of behaviorism is the use of animals to study human behavior.

Animal research has proven to be useful in understanding how man learns or can be trained to exhibit a certain type of behavior (Benjamin, 1997). Although animal behavior is limited, it nonetheless becomes necessary for behavioral scientists because ethical considerations in using a human subject in risky experiments are not permitted. For example, doing a research on the effect of light illumination to sleep deprivation is probably unethical to do on humans.

Although animals are not exactly anatomically similar to humans, animal physiology and anatomy have been well studied and documented that tracing the reactions of mice to light will be easier and scientifically sound. The generalizations made based on this study is however limited but is an acceptable margin of error. Moreover, animals can be easily manipulated and subjected to experiments than humans because they operate on an instinctual level and do not have to process the information given to them.

The knowledge gained in studying animals is numerous but especially have been concentrated on learning and behavior and to some extent how drugs affect the brain or the body. Animal research can help us understand human behavior better because to some degree we share with them basic drives that are necessary for our existence and hence, learning how animals react to stress or hunger can give us the information needed to adequately explain behavior. Animals exhibit simple behaviors which humans share and have grown in complexity over the years but if analyzed is based still on simple behaviors.

References Benjamin, L. (1997) A History of Psychology: Original Sources and Contemporary Research 2nd ed. New York: McGraw –Hill. Bjork, D. (1997) B. F. Skinner: A Life. Washington: American Psychological Association. Skinner, B. F. (1966). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. 7th printing. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Smith, L. & Woodward, W. (1996). B. F Skinner and Behaviorism in American Culture. London: Lehigh University Press

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