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Behaviorism is a twentieth-century term, made popular by the psychologist John Watson (18781958) in 1913. Although Watson introduced psychological behaviorism, there is also a version called philosophical behaviorism.

Psychological behaviorism is the view that psychology should study the behavior of individual organisms. Psychology should be defined not as the study of the mind and internal mental processes via introspection, but as the science of behavior. The most famous proponents of psychological behaviorism were John Watson and B. F. Skinner (19041990). Other notable behaviorists were Edwin Guthrie (18861959), Edward Tolman (18861959), Clark Hull (18841952), and Kenneth Spence (19071967).

Philosophical behaviorism, by contrast, is a research program advanced primarily by philosophers of the twentieth century. This school is much more difficult to characterize, but in general, it is concerned with the philosophy of mind, the meaning of mentalistic terms, how we learn this meaning, and how we know when to use these terms. Important philosophical behaviorists include Bertrand Russell (18721970), Gilbert Ryle (19001976), Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951), Rudolf Carnap (18911970), Otto Neurath (18821945), Carl Hempel (19051997), and W. V. O. Quine (19082000). Other philosophers such as Daniel Dennett (b. 1942), Wilfrid Sellars (19121989), Donald Davidson (19172003), and Richard Rorty (b. 1931) have behavioristic sympathies to varying degrees.

Besides these two generic versions of behaviorism, there are several subvarieties (see Kitchener 1999; Zuriff 1985). Eliminative behaviorism is the denial that there are any mental states at all; there is just behavior. Methodological behaviorism is the view that it does not matter whether there is a mind or not; psychologists should just study behavior. Logical behaviorism (also called analytic behaviorism or semantic behaviorism ) is the view that all mentalistic terms or concepts can be defined or translated into behavioral terms or concepts. Epistemological behaviorism and evidential behaviorism hold roughly the view that the only way to know about a mental state is by observing behavior.


It should be noted that in the intellectual history of western culture there have been individuals who held views very similar to theories supported by one or both of these movements, even though they did not use the term behaviorism ; others have championed views that may not be characterized as behavioristic, but which have had a strong impact on behavioristic ways of thinking (see Peters 19731974; Harrell and Harrison 1938). The writings of Aristotle (384 bce-322 bce), in particular his De Anima, his account of practical rationality in the Nicomachean Ethics, and his scientific work on animals (De Motu Animal ), contain ideas that were assimilated by later behaviorists. Likewise, the writings of the Stoics and the Skeptics contain several theoretical accounts that are sympathetic to a general behavioristic approach, especially their views about animal cognition.

Several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century works inspired behavioristic followers, including Thomas Hobbess generally mechanistic account of the mind, The Leviathan (1651), René Descartess 1637 account of animal behavior, Discourse on Method, and the writings of several individuals who belonged to the French Encyclopedists tradition of the Enlightenment, such as Julien de La Mettries Man a Machine (1748), Pierre Cabaniss On the Relations between the Physical and the Moral Aspects of Man (1802), and Baron dHolbachs The System of Nature (1770), among others.

The Cartesian Tradition A major philosophical issue emerging in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries concerned the question of the nature of the human mind and the animal mind: Is it possible to provide a mechanistic, materialistic, and deterministic account of the human mind, or must one appeal to principles that are quite different from those used in modern physics? Descartes argued that the human mind is made of a substance different from any found in the natural world, one that operates by principles at odds with the ordinary causal processes of inorganic matter. Although humans possess this special kind of spiritual being, animals do not; they are, quite simply, machines that operate by ordinary matter in motion (Descartes 1637). Humans are radically different from such animals because the human mind is made of a quite different substance that is not observable by ordinary naturalistic methods; however, humans have a kind of special access to their own minds, found by means of internal reflection or introspection. None of this was true of animals, all of whose behavior can be explained mechanistically in terms of simple mechanical principles (see Rosenfeld 1941).

The question that arose, therefore, was this: If Descartes was correct about his animal psychology, was he also correct about human psychology? Do we need to appeal to a special nonmaterial substance to explain the behavior of humans, or can all of their behavior be explained in the same ways we explain animal behavior? Although Descartess answer was widely accepted, there were a few individuals who argued that humans are no different from animals, and hence if animal behavior can be explained along naturalistic linesby observing their behavior and trying to explain it by deterministic laws of matter in motionthe same is true of humans. This was the view of some eighteenth-century thinkers who championed a purely naturalistic, materialistic, deterministic, and mechanistic account of humans. They were the forefathers of mainstream psychological behaviorism.

The nineteenth century produced philosophers and scientists who, in one form or another, contributed ideas that were fuel for the behaviorists fire. An example are the post-Kantian German idealistic philosophers, many of whom stressed the importance of praxis, or human action. These ideas in turn strongly influenced members of the philosophical/psychological school of pragmatism, including Charles Sanders Peirce (18391914), William James (18421910), and John Dewey (18591952). These pragmatists were concerned with understanding and providing an account of humans and animals that focused on their actionsomething that organisms did, something they tried to accomplish as they interacted in their physical and social environment. Strongly influenced by the Darwinian revolution, the pragmatists employed a Darwinian model of organisms adapting to their environments to understand action. Such an approach at once stressed the problem-solving nature of human and animal mentality and the assumption that everything that exists must be understood in a functional waythat is, how entities such as ideas are useful in an organisms struggle to survive in its environment. All intelligence was to be explained in this way, as an instrument of action.

Although Sigmund Freud was no behaviorist, he did aid the behaviorist cause by challenging the reigning Cartesian model of the mind that maintained that humans had an immediate and privileged access to the inner workings of their minds that employed a first-person rather than a third-person perspective on the mind, and that tended to draw a sharp distinction between the human mind and the animal mind. Freud argued that the mind is not transparent to our internal gaze because most of our mental activity is going on below the surface at the level of the unconscious (Freud 1900). If this is correct, then the method of psychology cannot be assumed to be introspective. This opened the way to alternative methods of psychological investigation.

The work of Ivan Pavlov on the conditioned reflexes of dogs ([1927] 1960), as well as the work of other Russian physiological scientists, provided behaviorists with scientific accounts of behavior. Behavior occurs, persists, and changes as a result of classical conditioning : An original stimulus elicits some response; another stimulus is subsequently paired with the original stimulus, thereby acquiring the power to elicit the response. This version of S-R psychology is the paradigm for at least early behaviorism, providing an explanation of behavior. The other kind of learning employed by behaviorists was instrumental conditioning (operant conditioning, trial and error learning), first introduced in 1898 by Edward Thorndike (18741949). In instrumental conditioning, a response is learned because it is reinforced by a stimulusthe rewardwhere the response is instrumental in obtaining the reward. Classical and instrumental learning promised to explain all of behavior. None of this seemed to require private internal workings of a special kind of substance. Psychology could take its place among the objective natural sciences.


In psychology, behaviorism began with John Watson, who coined the term behaviorism and set forth its initial premises in his seminal article Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It (1913). Behaviorism, Watson suggested, should be considered an objective, natural science, one that studies the public, observable behavior of organisms. Rejecting the method of introspection practiced by his predecessors, Watson suggested a different method to be used by psychologists: Study the observable behavior of others, and to explain it, given the stimulus, predict the response; given the response, predict the stimulus. The aim of psychology, therefore, was the prediction and control of behavior. What then of the mind, that special substance that Descartes claimed was the special province of humans? Watson gave several different answers over the course of his career, including eliminative behaviorism, methodological behaviorism, and, later, the view that the mind exists but is the same as behavior. In short, Watsons argument was this: Humans and animals are not radically different from each other, and since the behavior of animals can be explained without appealing to consciousness, the behavior of humans can be explained without appealing to consciousness, too. With the rise of the cognitive sciences in the 1960s, this conclusion was denied, and so was the claim that the behavior of animals can be explained without appealing to consciousness.

The key question is, what did Watson mean by behavior? Was it a mechanical physical movement of the body or something more complexthe intentional, purposive action of a rational agent? If the latter, then how can a purely mechanistic science account for it? This perplexing question remained at the center of discussion for decades. Doubts about a mechanistic approach gave impetus to versions of purposive behaviorism found in the writings of William McDougall (1912), Edwin Holt (1915), and E. C. Tolman (1932). Indeed, McDougall and Holt had been proposing a kind of teleological behaviorism before Watson had appeared on the scene.

We can divide the history of psychological behaviorism into several periods: (1) classical behaviorism, (2) neobehaviorism, (3) operant behaviorism, and (4) contemporary behaviorism. The first period (19121930) introduced the theory of behaviorism championed by John Watson and several other early advocates of behaviorism, including Max Meyer, Albert Weiss, Walter Hunter, and Karl Lashley. These behavioristic accounts were, by and large, naive, sketchy, and inadequate, but they set forth the general program of psychological behaviorism.

The second period (19301950) was the era of neobehaviorism, so called because its philosophical underpinnings were somewhat different from its predecessors. Neobehaviorism was wedded to classical learning theory (see Koch 1959), and neobehaviorists were concerned with what form an adequate theory of learning should take. The main figures were Edwin Guthrie, Edward Tolman, Clark Hull, B. F. Skinner, and Kenneth Spence. All of these individuals spent a great deal of time laying out the philosophical bases of their respective kinds of behaviorism, and in doing so, they borrowed heavily from the school of logical positivism, which was influential at the time (but see Smith 1986). This resulted in an emphasis on the importance of operational definitions, a preference for a hypothetico-deductive model of theory construction, and a focus on issues about intervening variables versus hypothetical constructs, and the admissibility of neurological speculation. This move toward postulating internal mediating responses continued with later Hullian neobehaviorists such as Charles Osgood, Neal Miller, O. H. Mowrer, Frank Logan, and others.

The last two phases of behaviorism are more difficult to characterize. Skinners version of behaviorismoperant behaviorismis markedly different from most of the other neobehaviorists, and yet he is perhaps the best-known behaviorist. Indeed, after the demise of Hullian learning theory in the 1960s, the main thrust of the movement switched to Skinners distinctive version of behaviorism.

Denying he was an S-R psychologist, Skinner championed an operant account of learning, in which a response that occurs is reinforced and its frequency is increased (1938). The responsefor example, a bar press or a key peckis not elicited by any known stimulus, but once it has occurred, its rate of response can be changed by various kinds of reinforcement schedules. The response can also be brought under experimental control when it occurs in the presence of a discriminative stimulus (e.g., light). Such a relationshipdiscriminative stimulus, response, reinforcementis sometimes called a contingency of reinforcement, and it holds a central place in Skinners brand of behaviorism. Skinner himself characterized his behaviorism as a radical behaviorism because rather than ignoring what is going on inside the organism, it insists that such events are still behavior (1974). However, such behavior still is caused by environmental variables.

Skinnerian behaviorism was the dominant version of behaviorism in the 1970s, and Skinner extended his approach to consider more and more complex behavior, including thought processes and language. His 1957 book Verbal Behavior, an example of this extrapolation, was reviewed by the linguist Noam Chomsky, who subjected it to devastating criticism (Chomsky 1959). Skinner declined to respond to Chomsky, and many individuals took this as a sign of the demise of behaviorism. This was not completely true, as can be seen in the current era of behaviorism, which features teleological behaviorism, interbehaviorism, empirical behaviorism, and so on (see ODonohue and Kitchener 1999). Although behaviorism does not have the hegemony it once did, it continues to exist, but is restricted to pockets of research. Indeed, there are several scientific journals devoted to behaviorism, including the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and Behavior and Philosophy.

Philosophical Behaviorism Although psychological behaviorism can be described relatively clearly, philosophical behaviorism cannot. Fundamentally, a philosophical behaviorist is one who has a particular theory of the philosophical nature of the mind. All philosophical behaviorists are opposed to the Cartesian theory of mind: that the mind is a special kind of nonphysical substance that is essentially private, and introspection is the only or primary way of knowing about the contents of the mind, such that the individual has a privileged access to his mind. One or more of these tenets is denied by the philosophical behaviorist, who believes that there is nothing necessarily hidden about the mind: It is not essentially private, not made of a special substance, not known by any special method, and there is no privileged access to the mind.

In effect, the philosophical behaviorist claims that the mind is essentially something public, exemplified in ones actions in the world, and that mentalistic properties are those displayed in certain kinds of public behavior. Such a view was championed by Bertrand Russell (1921, 1927; see Kitchener 2004). But what particularly distinguishes twentieth-century philosophical behaviorism is its commitment to semantic behaviorism, the view that philosophy is concerned with the analysis of the meaning of mentalistic terms, concepts, and representations. This linguistic turn in philosophy (Rorty 1967) means that instead of talking about the nature of the mind as an object in the world, philosophers should be concerned with our linguistic representations of the mind. This type of philosophical behaviorism is called logical (analytic, conceptual) behaviorism. Philosophical behaviorism, therefore, is different from psychological behaviorism.

Ludwig Wittgenstein is sometimes called a behaviorist, largely because he was critical of the Cartesian model of the mind, especially its assumption that the meaning of a mentalistic term must be given in terms of ones private sensations or states of consciousness. Such an account would amount to a private language because only the individual can know the meaning of a mentalistic term, an item of his necessarily private experience. Private languages are not possible according to Wittgenstein, because any language must (initially) be a public language; the meaning of mentalistic terms must be intersubjective and public (1953). In order to use a word correctly, Wittgenstein claimed, there must be public criteria for its correct employment. Most individuals insist that Wittgensteins kind of behaviorism is radically different from the psychological behaviorism of Watson and Hull. Whether it is fundamentally different from Skinners behaviorism is still an open question.

Gilbert Ryle is also sometimes characterized as an analytic or logical behaviorist. Also rejecting the Cartesian conception of the mind, Ryle showed that mentalistic terms have to have public criteria for their correct use, and hence that mentalistic terms and states are not essentially private to the individual, but must be understood (largely) as complex behavioral dispositions, or actions (and tendencies to act) in certain kinds of physical and social situations (1949). According to Ryle, therefore, mentalistic terms are to be understood in the same way we understand the meaning of, for example, the term punctual : An individual is punctual if she shows up to class on time, regularly meets her appointments, and so on. Ryle had strong reservations about calling his views behavioristic, largely because he thought behaviorism was committed to a mechanistic account of bodily movements and this was certainly not what behavior (or better, action) was.

As Ryle was influenced by Wittgenstein, so were other philosophical behaviorists. Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel were members of the group of philosophers known as logical positivists. According to a fundamental principle of logical positivism, the meaning of a statement consists of its method of verification. The meaning of a mentalistic term must be verifiable to be meaningful, and in principle, its meaning consists in how one verifies it by means of empirical observation. For example, the statement Paul has a toothache is (approximately) equivalent in meaning to the procedures one uses to verify that Paul has a toothache. Although this might consist in observing Pauls physical behavior, it might also consist in observing the state of Pauls tooth. Hence, for logical positivists, analytic behaviorism merged into the identity theory of mind and central state materialismthe view that mental states are central states of the brain. It remains unclear, therefore, to what extent they should be called logical behaviorists; certainly their version of logical behaviorism was quite different from Wittgensteins and Ryles.

The last notable philosophical behaviorist was Willard Quine, who was strongly influenced by Carnap (and Wittgenstein); nevertheless, his views are not easily assimilated with theirs. His views about meaning (and hence the meaning of mentalistic terms) were verificationist in spirit (because he was an epistemological behaviorist), but he did not share certain of Carnaps views about how to give a behavioral translation of mental terms. It cannot be done atomistically, but only holistically: One cannot give the meaning of single mentalistic term by giving observational conditions for its use. Indeed, Quine was suspicious of the very notion of meaning because such things, if they do exist, would be difficult to reconcile with naturalism and physicalism, and therefore the meaning of a mentalistic term cannot be equivalent to some item of behavior. Quine was also skeptical of the very possibility of verifying a statement by means of a set of observations; scientific observation is a much more theoretical affair than this. Nevertheless, Quine insisted that any science is committed to the observation of behavior (epistemological behaviorism, evidential behaviorism), and hence that mentalistic terms are, in some sense, equivalent to behavior. This is, in part, due to the public nature of language (Quine 1960). We obviously do learn what words mean in the process of learning a language, but all of this occurs in the public arena. We are taught how to use words by our linguistic community: In the presence of a public object such as snow, we learn (by principles such as those indicated by Skinner) to utter the word snow. Hence, Quines behaviorism is sometimes called a linguistic behaviorism because he insisted that all we have to go on when we teach and learn a language is the public behavior of individuals. This is closely tied to the importance of empirical observation and verification. Furthermore, Quine was committed to semantic behaviorism, the view that the meaning of words is necessarily tied to (or consists of) public behavior. Meanings are, therefore, not in the mind. This is a close cousin to the logical behaviorism of earlier philosophers.

With the rise of computer science and artificial intelligence in the 1960s, an interesting question arose concerning how one could decide if a machine such as a computer was intelligent or not (i.e., whether it had a mind). Alan Turing proposed a testthe Turing testfor deciding this question (Turing 1950). Basically, the Turing test holds that if you cannot distinguish a computer from a human in terms of its behavior, for example by asking them both questions and reading their answers, then because the human is intelligent, it would be difficult to deny that the machine is intelligent too.

The Turing test raises the issue of behaviorism once more, this time in the context of computers: Is it the actual behavior of the computer that is decisive in ascribing intelligence to it, or are the internal workings of the computer (e.g., using a lookup table) important? Those who answer yes to the latter question might be considered mentalists rather than behaviorists (Block 1981). There is reason to believe that Turing himself thought the internal processing of the computer were important, something most behaviorists have never really denied.


Psychological behaviorism and philosophical behaviorism have been criticized since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Objection: Behaviorism Ignores or Denies Consciousness Critics charge that because the behaviorist focuses on behaviorand this means external behaviorhe or she ignores or dismisses the private internal realm of consciousness.

Let us assume that consciousness does exist, that individuals are aware of their internal mental thoughts and sensations. The methodological behaviorist argues that this realm can be ignored (from a scientific point of view) by simply refusing to consider it. Radical behaviorists argue that behaviorism does not have to ignore this realm; instead, one can simply treat consciousness as internal behavior not unlike the behavior of ones stomach when it digests food. Or, a behaviorist might reply that consciousness is not actual occurrent internal behavior, but rather a behavioral disposition. This is what we ordinarily mean when we say things such as, for example, the cat is awake and thinking about the mouse.

One property of consciousness that it is particularly difficult for the behaviorist to accommodate are qualia the internal feel of certain mental states or events, like the taste of chocolate or the feeling of a sharp pain. A related problem is how a behaviorist can handle images, for example, the image I have of my morning breakfast.

Objection: Behaviorist Explanations Are Inadequate Most behaviorists take behavior as that which needs to be explainedwhy it occurs, what its form consists of, why it ceases, and so on. But what provides the explanation of such behavior? The standard answer is that stimuliexternal stimuliprovide explanations, together with psychological principles concerning the relation of such stimuli to responses. But according to the critic, it remains doubtful that external stimuli can provide such all-encompassing explanations. Instead, one must refer to certain kinds of internal statestypically cognitive statesto explain the behavior.

A very sketchy behaviorist reply would be that all explanatory internal statesincluding all cognitive statescan be explained in terms of the ordinary concepts of stimulus and response, as long as these terms are suitably modified. This typically has taken the form of saying that there are internal states occurring between the external stimulus and the external response but that these internal states are understood to be internal stimuli and internal responses; for example, according to Hull, internal states might be fractional anticipatory goal responses together with sensory feedback from them. These internal mediating mechanisms are not popular by contemporary cognitive standards, but if behaviorism is to be a viable research program, it must clearly postulate such an internal mechanism or something analogous. Whether these behavioristic models are sufficiently cognitive or representational remains an open question.

Objection: The Behaviorist Concept of Behavior Is Inadequate According to one popular argument (Hamlyn 1953), the behaviorist sees ordinary behavior as a mechanistic, physical response, like the movement of an arm. But this is an inadequate conception of human behavior, which is better thought of as an action, such as waving, signaling, flirting, or gesturing. The behaviorist cannot handle this kind of conception because actions are not mechanistic but rather intentional, teleological, rule-governed, governed by social norms, and so on, and these are incompatible with the behavioristic program.

The standard behaviorist reply is to deny the distinction between movements and actions and/or to argue that the behaviorist has always been interested in actions (Kitchener 1977), and that such a concept is consistent with a causal account.

Objection: The Behaviorist Cannot Adequately Analyze or Define a Single Mentalistic Term by Means of a Set of Behaviors Logical behaviorists attempted to translate a mentalistic term such as belief into a corresponding set of behaviors, for example, a verbal response. But such a translation is only plausible if we assume other mental states in our account, for example, other beliefs, desires, and so on. Hence we have not gotten rid of mentalistic terms (Chisholm 1957; Geach 1957) because there is no term-by-term reduction or elimination.

This objection carries little weight because logical behaviorists such as Carnap and Hempel very early in their careers gave up such a term-by-term approach in favor of a more holistic, theoretical approach, and this commands a central place in Quines holistic behaviorism.

Objection: The Spartan Objection and the Dramaturgical Objection A mental state, such as pain, is not equivalent to a set of public behaviors because it is possible for one to be stoic about pain: I might be in intense pain but never show it because, say, it is not macho to show pain. Likewise, I might manifest pain behavior but not really be in pain, as when I simulate pain as an actor in a play. Hence pain behavior is neither sufficient nor necessary for being in pain (Putnam 1975).

Both of these objections assume a very naive, peripheral behaviorism in which the behavior in question is publicly observable. It is necessarily restrictive because behaviorists can hold more sophisticated forms involving internal (covert) behavior along with the inclusion of behavioral dispositions. Secondly, the behaviorist has insisted that one learns the meaning of the term pain and to use the word correctly only in the context of public behavior, a view shared by Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, Sellars, and Skinner. There must be public criteria for the correct use of pain. So originally a certain kind of behaviorism must be correct; later, we may learn how to suppress such behavior and to internalize it. The basis of this claim concerns the learning of language and is based on Wittgensteins arguments against a private language, or on arguments similar to his.


Few individuals would claim that behaviorism today enjoys the popularity it once had. Indeed, many (or most) argue that behaviorism is deadboth in psychology and in philosophy. The claim is easier to make with respect to psychology, particularly in the aftermath of the cognitive revolution. Nevertheless, the reports of the death of behaviorism are somewhat exaggerated. Not only are there viable and interesting research programs that are behavioristic in name, there are signs that even in cognitive science and cognitive psychology there is a reemergence of behaviorism, for example, in connectionism (neural nets), robotics, and dynamic systems theory. In fact, according to some, it remains unclear how cognitive psychology differs from behaviorism, since most behaviorists have also been concerned with central cognitive states. Still, psychological behaviorism is currently a minor opinion.

In philosophy the matter is somewhat different. This is because of the centrality of language learning in analytic philosophy, which seems to demand something like a rule-following conception that presupposes a public or social conception of behavior. This view is shared by those sympathetic to Ryle, Wittgenstein, or Quine. The logical behaviorism of Carnap and Hempel is passé because it was abandoned early in favor of a central state theory of mind. But although psychological behaviorism may have seen its day, philosophical behavior, in one form or another, still claims the strong allegiance of many philosophers (depending on how one characterizes behaviorism ).


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Behaviorism is a theoretical approach in psychology that emphasizes the study of behaviorthat is, the outwardly observable reactions to a stimulus of an organism, whether animal or humanrather than the content of the mind or the physiological correlates of behavior. Largely centered in the United States, behaviorism had an early stage (19101930) that was dominated by the work of the comparative psychologist John B. Watson, and a later stage, neo-behaviorism (19301955), defined by the psychologists Edward C. Tolman, Clark Hull, and B. F. Skinner.

Behaviorism has its roots in the work of Ivan Pavlov (18491936), a Russian physiologist who studied medicine in St. Petersburg and physiology at the University of Breslau in Germany. Pavlov designed a series of experiments to understand learning, a psychological process, in terms of the physiological process of conditioning, or training, reflex responses. His experimental animal of choice was the dog, though he expected that his results could apply to humans as well. Dogs normally display a salivation reflex at the sight of food. Pavlov's experiment involved ringing a bell at the same moment that the dog was presented with food. After presenting both stimuli in this joint manner, Pavlov simply rang the bell without also presenting the foodand found that the dog salivated. The normal reflex had been conditioned to appear in response to an unconventional stimulus. An organism's innate responses could thus be trained by this conditioning method to be elicited by a range of stimuli that did not normally produce them, and Pavlov used the method to examine the ways in which responses could be excited and inhibited. The method of conditioning reflexes could, according to Pavlov, replace a mentalistic language about what animals see or hear or feel with a physicalistic, materialist language about responses to stimuli. The conditioning method focused on outward, objective observation of animal behavior, rather than on guessing about the content of an animal's mind. In Pavlov's interpretation, seemingly purposeful behavior on the part of the animal could be reduced to the training of reflexes, or the formation and breaking of habits. Such a view bears a strong similarity to that of the behaviorists who followed, but in an important respect Pavlov differed from them. He never abandoned the idea that he was basically a physiologist and that there could be no science of psychology independent of physiology. Pavlov intended that the acts comprising an animal's behavior should eventually be explained in terms of the workings of its brain. He had no patience with the American behaviorists' belief that behavior formed its own autonomous branch of scientific study.

Behaviorism (19101930)

Pavlov's experiments in classical conditioning were familiar to Western psychologists from 1906 on and formed the heart of the behaviorist method. In 1913 John B. Watson (18781958) systematically and provocatively set out the principles of behaviorism in a manifesto entitled "Psychology As the Behaviorist Views It." Watson was a comparative psychologist interested in making psychology a real science by defining it as the study of outwardly observable behavior, rather than of thought, imagery, consciousness, or mind. In doing so he intended to break psychology's ties with philosophy. As a comparative psychologist with interests also in developmental psychologythe study of how the mind develops in childhood, as well as over the course of evolutionWatson knew that the conventional psychological method of introspection was inapplicable to the subjects of his science. Children and animals could not be asked to introspect, to divulge the contents of their minds, and guessing at what they were thinking Watson judged to be unscientific. Focusing instead on behavior rather than on consciousness was therefore the only way to proceed. Watson also had a practical motivation for his behaviorismhe wanted to make it the science of how people act.

Watson was born in Greenville, South Carolina. He attended college at Furman University and graduate school in the department of philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he was trained in comparative psychology by the neurologist Henry Herbert Donaldson and the psychologist James Rowland Angell. Watson was interested in the work of Jacques Loeb (18591924), a German-trained materialist physiologist at Chicago who studied tropisms, or movements in plants and animals, that he interpreted in solely physico-chemical terms. Donaldson and Angell, however, dissuaded Watson from working with the radical Loeb, and Watson instead wrote his dissertation on the correlation between brain growth and learning ability in rats.

In 1908 Watson became professor of psychology at the Johns Hopkins University, but as a comparative psychologist felt marginalized in the department. In his 1913 manifesto he devised a way to bring comparative psychology to center stage. A truly scientific psychology, he wrote, would abandon talk of mental states or conscious content of minds and instead focus on prediction and control of behavior. By focusing on objectively observable behavior, by getting away from mind, consciousness, and introspection and examining physical variables instead, psychology would become a legitimate science. Like Pavlov, Watson believed in observing and training physical responses to stimuli, making no reference to mind, and thereby treating animal and human behavior on the same level. In his 1919 book, Psychology From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, Watson rejected the concept of mind completely, interpreting even imagery, thought, and language all in terms of behavior accessible to an objective observer.

At Johns Hopkins, Watson was associated with the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, the head of the Phipps Clinic, where Watson applied behaviorist conditioning methods to children. In a famous series of experiments conducted with his graduate assistant Rosalie Rayner, Watson trained a child by the name of Little Albert (aged 913 months) to fear a rat, a response the child then produced in reaction to the sight of any furry creature. Watson's evident success in training even such a deep-seated reaction as fear led him to believe that all of a person's behavior could be altered, any habit could be formed or broken, by the engineering of stimulithat is, by the control of the person's immediate environment. In his 1924 book Behaviorism Watson expressed this environmentalist view in its most extreme terms. But by then Watson had been forced to resign his position at Hopkins because of his involvement in an extramarital love affair with Rayner. He and Rayner moved to New York City, where Watson joined the John Walter Thompson advertising agency, and where both Watson and Rayner became popular authorities on child-rearing according to behaviorist principles. Their Psychological Care of Infant and Child appeared in 1928.

Watson was not the only psychologist during the 1910s to advocate behaviorism. At Columbia University Teachers College, Edward L. Thorndike (18741949), experimenting with cats learning their way around puzzle-boxes, similarly argued that the study of objectively observable changes in behavior, and their correlation with changes in stimuli, formed the heart of a legitimately scientific psychology. Thorndike formulated the law of effect, which held that pleasure or reward will reinforce a certain behavior, while pain will extinguish it: thus the animal's experience has important consequences for its behavior.

Neobehaviorism (19301955)

The second phase of behaviorism, neobehaviorism, was associated with Edward C. Tolman (18861959), Clark Hull (18841952), and B. F. Skinner (19041990). Like Thorndike, Watson, and Pavlov, the neobehaviorists believed that the study of learning and a focus on rigorously objective observational methods were the keys to a scientific psychology. Unlike their predecessors, however, the neobehaviorists were more self-consciously trying to formalize the laws of behavior. They were also influenced by the Vienna Circle of logical positivists, a group of philosophers led by Rudolph Carnap (18911970), Otto Neurath (18821945), and Herbert Feigl (19021988), who argued that meaningful statements about the world had to be cast as statements about physical observations. Anything else was metaphysics or nonsense, not science, and had to be rejected. Knowledge, according to the logical positivists, had to be built on an observational base, and could be verified to the extent that it was in keeping with observation.

A professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, Tolman focused his experimental work largely on white rats learning their way through mazes. He differed from his behaviorist predecessors by taking a more holistic approach to behavior than they had. Rather than talking in terms of atomistic, isolated stimuli and responses, Tolman emphasized their integration with the environment by referring to them as "stimulating agencies" and "behavior acts." In his 1932 Purposive Behavior in Animals and Men, Tolman argued that purpose and cognition were essential to behavior and should be interpreted not as mentalistic entities but as outwardly observable features of behavior describable in objective language. He also defined the notion of the intervening variable, a link between stimulus and response that helps to determine behavior. As many as ten intervening variables could exist between a stimulating agency and a rat's decision to move in a certain direction at a choice-point in a maze.

Of the three neobehaviorists, Hull was the most ambitious about constructing a formal theory of behavior. He believed he had found the fundamental law of learning or habit-formationthe law of stimulus generalizationand that this law not only underlay all behavior in animals and humans, but was a principle basic enough to unify all the social sciences. According to the law, a response could be called forth by an unconventional stimulus as long as that stimulus was associated, either temporally or in character, with the stimulus that usually called forth the response. As long as the unconventional stimulus was similar enough to the usual one, it could elicit the response. Pavlov had noted this effect when his dogs salivated at the ringing of a bell. Hull further theorized that learning was continuousthat is, when an animal was trained to respond to a particular positive stimulus (or avoid a negative stimulus), all aspects of that stimulus impinging on the animal's sensorium were gradually associated with that response. Thus the animal learns in an incremental way, not in an all-or-nothing burst, and thus engineering the appearance of stimuli could precisely control the animal's ability to form habits. These laws of behavior explained how all learning took place without resorting to immaterial notions like soul or free will. Hull, who had originally intended to become an engineer, even designed a variety of machines that worked on the principles of conditioning reflexes, in order to demonstrate that learning was a wholly mechanistic process. He expressed his laws of behavior in mathematical terms, filling his 1943 Principles of Behavior: An Introduction to Behavior Theory with complex equations.

The rigor for which Hull strove in his science was evident both in his exclusion of any nonmaterial entity and in his formulation of laws. It was also evident in the hypothetico-deductive method by which he believed psychologists must work. Here Hull's inspiration was the certainty of scientific knowledge achieved by the natural philosopher Isaac Newton (16421727). In Hull's method, the theorist began with the observation of a certain behavior, derived axioms from that observation, deduced consequences from the axioms, tested the consequences through experiment, and then refined the axioms, ultimately establishing the laws of behavior on a firm observational and experimental footing. In 1929 Hull moved from his teaching position at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to a prestigious post at the Rockefeller Foundationfunded Institute of Human Relations at Yale, where he remained until his death in 1952. Hull's laws of behavior and his rigorous scientific method became central to the Institute's mission to unify the social sciences. Hull's theory of behavior integrated psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology by describing learning as the forging of connections between stimulus and response, and then envisioning this mechanism as the mediator of all social and cultural activity. The build-up and breakdown of habit was thus interpreted as the key to all behavior. Hull and his work formed the focal points of the Institute of Human Relations, which lasted only as long as Hull lived and was dissolved after his death. His approach was, however, continued by his friend and supporter Kenneth Spence (19071967), a psychologist at the University of Iowa.

The Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner, the third of the important neobehaviorists, rejected Hull's attempts at formal theory building and returned to the Watsonian project of founding a science entirely on the observation of behavior. Skinner devised an experimental set-up, the so-called Skinner box, in which a pigeon or a rat would be rewarded for accomplishing an act, such as raising its head above a certain line, or pressing a lever, by the release of food pellets. In his 1938 Behavior of Organisms, Skinner explained that a movement rewarded in this way was reinforcedthat is, made more likely to occurwhile one that was punished was stamped out. A behavior that was followed by the repetition of that behaviora movement selected and maintained by its positive consequencesSkinner called the operant. His approach therefore was referred to as operant conditioning. Both animals and people behave the way they do because of the positive consequences produced by past behavior. For Skinner, all learning was a matter of such reinforcement, and his method consisted of recording sequences of movements that revealed the patterns by which behavior was reinforced. He avoided talking about habit formation, and even about stimuli, restricting his science to the observation of these movement patterns.

In his 1953 Science and Human Behavior, Skinner explained the principles that underlay his psychology. First, he argued that his science was entirely based in observation, and that theories and hypotheses played a limited role in it: his approach was radically inductivist and empiricist. Second, since psychology was supposed to be restricted to the level of behavioral observation, it had no need of being reduced to or explained in terms of physiology. Physiology was not more fundamental than psychologyit was either unobservable, hence unscientific, or part of behavior itself. Third, for Skinner, mental processes or states were to be interpreted as behaviormemory, knowledge, imagery, and other such mentalistic entities he dismissed as metaphors or fictions. Past consequences of behavior, not mental states, motivated future action. Skinner's 1957 Verbal Behavior was his attempt to deal with thought and language in terms of reinforced movements. Finally, Skinner believed that biological adaptation was the ultimate criterion for the persistence of a behavior: if an action aided survival, it persisted.

Skinner argued that behavior could be shaped, or controlled, by controlling the rewards or reinforcements meted out in response to themthat is, by controlling the environment. In the mid 1950s and 1960s, some penal and psychiatric institutions adopted this method of behavior modification to shape the behavior of their inmates. In his 1948 book Walden Two, Skinner had prepared the ground for such application of his science by imagining a utopian community led according to behaviorist principles. In his 1971 Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner argued that such ethical principles as free will and individual responsibility are simply illusions, and what will make us truly free is the realization that behavior is instead controlled by the past and by the environment.

Neobehaviorism came in for strong criticism in the late 1950s and 1960s. Philosophers of science questioned the claim that any science could be theory-neutral and based solely in observation; observations were themselves seen to be theory-laden. Psychologists questioned the idea that learning was a singular entity that could form the basis for all of psychology. In particular, cognitive psychology, drawing on insights from computer science, redefined mental processes such as problem solving, learning, and memory in terms of information processing, a development that gave a new autonomy and a new respectability to the study of internal mental states. Influenced by this cognitivist turn, the psycholinguist Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) published a scathing review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior, arguing that language had to be understood in terms of universal and innate mental structures, not as behavior shaped by the environment. Behaviorism is currently regarded by psychologists as one approach among many; both cognitivism and neuroscience are arguably as influential in understanding mind and behavior.

See also Biology ; Determinism ; Education: North America ; Psychology and Psychiatry .


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Nadine Weidman

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Behaviorism as a positivistic anti-metaphysical science presupposes a highly mechanistic one-dimensional view of the human person and therefore is often seen as an attack on transcendence, the human soul, and human freedom. The British-American psychologist William McDougall (1871-1938) introduced behaviorism in Psychology: The Study of Behavior (1912) and independently the American psychologist John B. Watson (18781958) in his article "Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It" (1913). Watson began his essay stating: "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" (p. 158). McDougall later distanced himself from Watson's mechanistic approach.

The predecessors of behaviorism

Among the predecessors of behaviorism were the British empiricist philosophers, including David Hume (17111776), who contended that sense impressions produce all ideas. American philosopher John Dewey (18591952), with whom Watson studied at the University of Chicago, introduced functionalism, which was concerned with the use of consciousness and behavior. Biologist Jacques Loeb (18591924), one of Watson's professors at Chicago, explained animal behavior in purely physical-chemical terms. Russian reflexology merged the mind with the brain, which was then explained in terms of reflexes; physiologist Ivan Pavlov (18491936) introduced experiential analysis of reflexes and their conditioning, and neurologist Vladimir Bekhterev (18571927) influenced Watson's interpretation of emotional behavior.

By drawing on neighboring branches of the sciences, behaviorists attempted to turn psychology into a hard science. In 1879, philosopher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (18321920) established an institute of experimental psychology in Leipzig, Germany. But Watson chided Wundt and his students that despite having made psychology into a science without soul, despite replacing the term soul with consciousness, they still maintained a dualistic concept of the human being. Since both soul and human consciousness elude the purely objective experimental method, they cannot be quantified and therefore do not exist for Watson. His methodological behaviorism, disallowing for the duality of mind and matter, was a materialistic monism or even a scarcely disguised atheism.

Methodological behaviorism

Between 1912 and the mid-1900s, methodological behaviorism dominated psychology in the United States and also had a wide international impact. Most important for the wider populous was the theory of learning, which was explained wholly or largely on facts and methods of conditioning.

From approximately 1930 to 1950 psychological research moved from the classic behaviorism of Watson to a neo-behaviorism. Psychologist Jacob Robert Kantor (18881984), schooled at the University of Chicago, believed that behavior was dependent upon the interaction of an organism with its environment. His "Organismic Psychology," later renamed "Interbehavioral Psychology," was promoted as an antidote to the notion that parts of the organism ad a causal responsibility for the rest of the organism's action.

Radical behaviorism

In his 1938 book The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis, psychologist B. F. Skinner (19041990) introduced radical behaviorism. Skinner insisted that behavior should be studied as a function of external variables apart from any reference to mental or physiological states or processes. For him psychology was an experimental natural science. Fundamental to his approach was the analysis of behavior in light of stimuli. In 1948, he wrote Walden Two, a utopian novel where a social environment free of governments, religions, and capitalistic enterprises produced a "good life." In this work, Skinner advocated what some called behavioral engineering. In his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971) Skinner asserted that the abolition of the concept of autonomous humanity is overdue. Rather, Skinner believed that human beings are controlled by their environment. The question is whether this control should be left to accidents, to tyrants, or to people themselves. Therefore Skinner opted for designing an existence aided by psychology which enables a happy life, defined by his wholehearted endorsement of the capitalistic system and his critical view of government and religion.

In 1932, psychologist Edward C. Tolman (18861959) published Purposive Behavior in Animals and Man in which he incorporated motifs and perceptions into psychological consideration. Purpose to him had not a theological, but a teleological meaning. Although Tolman was as skeptical about religion as the behaviorists who preceded him, he introduced a more holistic approach to behaviorism. Nevertheless he developed mechanistic rules to account for observed behavior.

Psychologist Clark L. Hull (18841952) distinguished between scientific empiricism and scientific theory in his 1943 book Principles of Behavior: An Introduction to Behavior Theory. While Hull did not deny the existence of a mind or a consciousness, he did not insist on its basic, logical, priority. Yet the mind was not a means for solving problems; to the contrary, it itself was a problem. This means that Hull was open to the insights of neurophysiology.

Behaviorism since the 1950s

At least since the 1950s, increasing skepticism arose about the claims of behaviorism, and a new humility emerged. Behaviorism never abandoned its scientific rigor, but rather became more multifaceted. While some continued to pursue the discernment of behavior using the language and the terms of physical science, others pursued a more teleological track by alternatively trying to understand why behavior is created and how behavior is created.

Even a new realism emerged with regard to human nature and its potential. Behavioral scientists such as zoologist Konrad Lorenz (19031989) no longer explained away evil, but understood aggressive behavior as an inherent part of life. In its excessive varieties, however, aggression signaled a breakdown of cultural ethos. Ethologists such as Irenaeus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (b. 1928) have shown that humans follow some inborn norms according to which they interact with the environment, such as fear of strangers and smiling during pleasant experiences. Finally, sociobiologists such as Edward O. Wilson (b. 1929) suggest that a species neither responds just to stimuli, as classical behaviorism maintained, nor is it only instinctively fixed. Rather, a species uses whatever is advantageous to its evolution.

Behaviorism has helped the experimental method become a constituent part of psychological research. Psychology has moved from philosophy and physiology to an independent enterprise in its own right by utilizing the tools and methods of physics, chemistry, computer science, and statistics. However, it is evident that although certain principles are demonstrated in the laboratory, there is no guarantee that they are significant outside it. The reductive nature of the laboratory is quite different from the complexity of the natural environment. We can never infer from laboratory experiments that we have identified all or even the most critical influences in nature.

In its history behaviorism has not rejected rigorous experimental and observational emphasis, but has become more discerning and tentative in its claims. It has realized that a human being is a complicated biological being whose socialization has greater influence in its development than is the case with other biological beings. Therefore a strictly mechanistic one-dimensional view has been found wanting. This multifaceted approach to human behavior opens the possibility for a renewed dialogue with the humanities, including theology, on such issues as human freedom and responsibility and even on transcendence.

See also Aggression; Hume, David; Psychology; Psychology of Religion


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hans schwarz

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BEHAVIORISM. Since the early twentieth century behaviorism has offered the public and the field of psychology a mix of applied technology and philosophical iconoclasm. In 1913 John B. Watson proclaimed himself a "behaviorist" and announced a new theoretical tendency within psychology. "Behaviorism," he promised, would be a "purely objective experimental branch of natural science," dedicated to the "prediction and control of behavior." Consciousness, thoughts, and feelings would no longer be studied, he explained, just the behavior of animals—including humans. Purged of its metaphysical baggage, Watson claimed, psychology could be applied to various human problems created by industrialization and rapid social change. To businessmen he promised to "show how the individual may be molded (forced to put on new habits) to fit the environment." To parents he promised methods for rearing fearless children who could learn any trade or profession. Such techniques would be based on Pavlovian conditioning of involuntary behavior and the extinction of existing responses that were maladaptive (e.g., fear of harmless animals).

Forced to leave academe for a career in advertising, Watson never developed the techniques that would deliver on his promises. Nevertheless, by the 1930s the field of psychology had moved close enough to Watson's concepts that observers spoke of it undergoing "an intellectual revolution." Psychologists' methods became more objective and their data became more behavioral. At the same time, the psychology of learning became dominated by neobehaviorists, whose theories readmitted internalist concepts like "drive" that were anathema to Watson.

Skinner's Behaviorism

In the second half of the twentieth century, B. F. Skinner's radical behaviorism revived Watson's call for a practical psychology of behavioral control. This was coupled with a radical empiricist epistemology in which drives, motives, and awareness play no role. Skinner's theory of motivation calls voluntary acts "free operants"; these are controlled by positive and negative reinforcers (similar to what others would call rewards and punishments). Key to Skinner's operant conditioning is the narrow specification of a behavior, whose repetitions are counted by an observer or mechanical device. The paradigmatic research

apparatus is a "Skinner box," which holds a white rat (or sometimes a pigeon); the rat is taught to press a small lever and given reinforcement in the form of food pellets. This methodology provided Skinner with the basic data he used to construct his "laws of learning." Those laws, to Skinnerians, have universal applicability, explaining everything from lion-taming to human social events and what others would call moral development.

Like Watson, Skinner was a tireless popularizer who never shied from controversy. His blueprint for a utopian community, Walden Two (1948), found a receptive audience in the counterculture of the 1960s and inspired a number of experiments in communal living. In Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he argued that social problems were best solved by behaviorists rather than philosophers, religious thinkers, or a political democracy.

Within psychology the influence of Skinner's radical behaviorism reached its peak in the 1960s, losing credibility in subsequent years as researchers found types of learning (e.g., language acquisition) that violate Skinnerian assumptions. Consequently, psychology has turned toward neobehavioral explanations, at the same time that cognitive and evolutionary schools of thought have become popular. As a behavioral methodology, operant conditioning has proven essential to fields as varied as psychopharmacology, neuroscience, and mental retardation. Versions of behaviorism have also appeared in other academic disciplines including philosophy and economics.

To the public, behaviorism has been notable for its environmentalist view of man and its promise of behavioral control. In 1923–1924, Watson advanced progressivist themes against the instinctivist social psychology of Harvard's William McDougall. In the pages of the New Republic, lectures at the New School, and in a public debate with McDougall in Washington D.C., Watson promoted his views, becoming an influential figure who promised a new man built on behaviorist principles.

By mid-century, many had come to see this promise of behavioral transformation as sinister and antihumanist. In his dystopia A Clockwork Orange (1963), Anthony Burgess portrayed an authoritarian government that exerts control using liberal rhetoric as well as Pavlovian conditioning and traditional punishments. The Manchurian Candidate (1959) expressed Cold War fears that foreign communists had perfected a neo-Pavlovian form of mind control.

In the Vietnam War era, the behaviorism of Skinner came under attack, in part because of Skinner's outspoken social philosophy. In 1971, Beyond Freedom and Dignity earned him a place on the cover of Time magazine and criticism from the political right and left. Vice President Spiro Agnew denounced him as a dangerous social engineer with a freedom-denying, anti-family agenda. To Noam Chomsky and the New Left, behaviorism was the technology of an incipient totalitarianism, with "gas ovens smoking in the distance."

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with post-Skinner behaviorists less visible and less philosophically radical, their image has become that of just another research specialty. Their reduced circumstance can be seen in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1990), where we learn that the masters of the universe are not behaviorists but the rats pretending to run through their mazes.


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Harris, Benjamin. "'Give Me a Dozen Healthy Infants …': John B. Watson's Popular Advice on Childrearing, Women, and the Family." In In the Shadow of the Past: Psychology Portrays the Sexes, edited by Miriam Lewin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

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See alsoPsychology .

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behaviourism An approach which can be found in philosophy, but more especially psychology, which denies (with greater or lesser insistence) that consciousness has any relevance to the understanding of human behaviour. Behaviour is seen in terms of an identifiable and measurable response to external or internal, recognizable, and measurable stimuli. The response can be modified by reward or various forms of discouragement—a process known as conditioning. Behaviourism is thus both a theoretical orientation, of enormous influence in academic psychology, and a practical technique used to alter what is perceived as undesirable conduct.

As a theory, behaviourism blossomed at the beginning of the twentieth century, as a reaction against the then dominant introspectionism. While introspectionism concentrated on the study of consciousness, in this case via self-examination, behaviourism rejected the idea that states of consciousness could be apprehended. In the first behaviourist manifesto (Behaviourism, 1913), John B. Watson argued that introspection was unreliable because self-reports may be vague and subjective, and the data thus obtained cannot be independently verified. Behaviourists, basing their arguments on the philosophical foundations of logical positivism, then proposed that all that can truly be known is what is observed through the senses. They staunchly maintained that observable behaviour is the only legitimate subject-matter for psychology. Observation is best achieved, according to behaviourist tenets, via the conduct of controlled experiments. In practice, such experiments often use animals, under the assumption that the characteristics of animal behaviour can fruitfully be generalized to humans (see, for example, Watson 's The Psychological Care of Infant and Child, 1938

The behaviourist project in the academy can be illustrated by the influential work of the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904, for his work on the process of digestion in dogs. Pavlov conducted a number of experiments on dogs, which purported to show that reflexes could be learned, or (in the behaviourist terminology) conditioned. In Pavlov's experiments, the animals were exposed to the sight or smell of food, thus eliciting salivation. They were then exposed to the ringing of a bell at the same time as the food was produced. This stimulated further salivation. Finally, the dogs were exposed only to the ringing of the bell, which produced salivation even though no food was present. Pavlov and other behaviourists have taken this and similar experiments as proof of the idea that reflexes can be conditioned through environmental stimuli. Their conclusion is, then, that both animal and human behaviour works according to a stimulus–response model. Subsequent behaviourists, such as B. F. Skinner in the United States and Hans Eysenck in Britain, have elaborated on these premisses in their own work (see Skinner 's About Behaviourism, 1973
, or any one of Eysenck's numerous books and articles about mental illness—or ‘abnormal behaviour’ as he prefers to call such conditions). Skinner also outlined his own behaviourist social utopia, in Walden Two (1948), a novel which paints a picture of a society controlled by operant techniques.

As a direct application of behaviourist theories, aversion therapy, desensitization, and operant conditioning are among the behaviourist techniques used within the health, mental health, and prison services. Aversion therapy involves the use of a noxious physical stimulation or punishment to reduce the frequency of unwanted behaviour. Electric shocks and injections of apomorphine have been used in attempts to make patients averse to certain anti-social behaviours. Desensitization, used particularly in the treatment of phobias, is a psychological therapy in which the practitioner steers the patient through an ‘anxiety hierarchy’, with the intention of allowing the patient to become less sensitive to the feared object or event. Operant conditioning involves the systematic manipulation of the consequences of a behaviour through rewards and punishments so as to modify the subsequent behaviour. At present there is extensive and intensive controversy about both the effectiveness and the ethics of all these techniques.

Behaviourism represents an extreme environmentalist position as regards the question of what guides human actions. According to behaviourists, all behaviour is learned through association and conditioning of one kind or another, and this same behaviour can therefore be unlearned or altered by external (environmental) manipulations. As might be expected, the theory has been regarded with suspicion or rejected outright by sociologists, mainly for two reasons: it is primarily individualistic in its approach; and it is very difficult to carry out a sociological study without taking some account of how people think about the social world. For example, a frequent criticism of behaviourism voiced by George Herbert Mead was that it can account only for what people are doing, not what they are thinking or feeling. It therefore ignores the many aspects of human conduct which may not be readily amenable to observation. For a long time, however, behaviourism dominated theoretical and clinical psychology, especially under the influence of Skinner, although cognitive psychology now seems to be replacing it as the central orthodoxy.

Elements of behaviourism do nevertheless appear in sociology: George Homans's exchange theory borrows from some of Skinner's work, and more often there are generalized behavioural assumptions implicit in theories of socialization. For example, George Herbert Mead 's own Mind, Self and Society (1934)
is about consciousness, yet Mead often calls himself a social behaviourist, and symbolic interactionism can indeed be seen as propounding the view that society, as a structure of social roles, conditions people into acceptable social behaviour. It must be emphasized, however, that this is a very loose usage of the term, and a very general form of behaviourism. See also NEO-POSITIVISM.

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A theory of human development initiated by American educational psychologist Edward Thorndike, and developed by American psychologists John Watson and B.F. Skinner.

Behaviorism is a psychological theory of human development that posits that humans can be trained, or conditioned, to respond in specific ways to specific stimuli and that given the correct stimuli, personalities and behaviors of individuals, and even entire civilizations, can be codified and controlled.

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) initially proposed that humans and animals acquire behaviors through the association of stimuli and responses. He advanced two laws of learning to explain why behaviors occur the way they do: The Law of Effect specifies that any time a behavior is followed by a pleasant outcome, that behavior is likely to recur. The Law of Exercise states that the more a stimulus is connected with a response, the stronger the link between the two. Ivan Pavlov 's (1849-1936) groundbreaking work on classical conditioning also provided an observable way to study behavior. Although most psychologists agree that neither Thorndike nor Pavlov were strict behaviorists, their work paved the way for the emergence of behaviorism.

The birth of modern behaviorism was championed early in the 20th century by a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University named John Watson . In his 1924 book, Behaviorism, Watson made the notorious claim that, given a dozen healthy infants, he could determine the adult personalities of each one, "regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors." While making such a claim seems ridiculous today, at the time Watson was reacting to emerging Freudian psychoanalytical theories of development, which many people found threatening. Watson's scheme rejected all the hidden, unconscious , and suppressed longings that Freudians attributed to behaviors and posited that humans respond to punishments and rewards. Behavior that elicits positive responses is reinforced and continued, while behavior that elicits negative responses is eliminated.

Later, the behaviorist approach was taken up by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) who deduced the evolution of human behavior by observing the behavior of rats in a maze. Skinner even wrote a novel, Walden Two, about a Utopian society where human behavior is governed totally by self-interested decisions based on increasing pleasure. The book increased Skinner's renown and led many to believe that behaviorism could indeed produce such a society.

In the 1950s, however, the popularity of behaviorism began to decline. The first sustained attack on its tenets was made by Noam Chomsky (1928-), a renowned linguist, who demonstrated that the behaviorist model simply could not account for the acquisition of language. Other psychologists soon began to question the role of cognition in behavior.

Today, many psychologists debate the extent to which cognitive learning and behavioral learning affect the development of personality .

See also Behavior modification; Behavior therapy

Further Reading

Donahoe, John W., and David C. Palmer. Learning and Complex Behavior. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1994.

Nye, Robert D. Three Psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers. 4th ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., 1992.

Rachlin, Howard. Introduction to Modern Behaviorism. 3rd ed. New York: Freeman, 1991.

Sapolsky, Robert M. Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality. Springfield, VA: The Teaching Company, 1996. (Four audio cassettes and one 32-page manual).

Staddon, John. Behaviorism: Mind, Mechanism and Society. London: Duckworth, 1993.

Todd, James T., and Edward K. Morris. Modern Perspectives on B.F. Skinner and Contemporary Behaviorism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Todd, James T., and Edward K. Morris. Modern Perspectives on John B. Watson and Classical Behaviorism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Westen, Drew. Is Anyone Really Normal?: Perspectives on Abnormal Psychology. Kearneysville, WV: The Teaching Company, 1991. (Four audio cassettes and one 13-page booklet).

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behaviorism, school of psychology which seeks to explain animal and human behavior entirely in terms of observable and measurable responses to environmental stimuli. Behaviorism was introduced (1913) by the American psychologist John B. Watson, who insisted that behavior is a physiological reaction to environmental stimuli. He rejected the exploration of mental processes as unscientific. The conditioned-reflex experiments of the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and the American psychologist Edward Thorndike were central to the development of behaviorism. The American behaviorist B. F. Skinner contended that all but a few emotions were conditioned by habit, and could be learned or unlearned. The therapeutic system of behavior modification has emerged from behaviorist theory. Therapy intends to shape behavior through a variety of processes known as conditioning. Popular techniques include systematic desensitization, generally used on clients suffering from anxiety or fear of an object or situation, and aversive conditioning, employed in cases where a client wishes to be broken of an unhealthy habit (such as smoking or drug abuse). Other behavior therapies include systems of rewards or punishments, and modeling, in which the client views situations in which healthy behaviors are shown to lead to rewards.

See B. F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (1965); J. B. Watson, Behaviorism (1930, repr. 1970); J. O'Donell, Origins of Behaviorism (1986); K. W. Buckley, Mechanical Man: John B. Watson and the Beginning of Behaviorism (1989).

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behaviourism School of psychology that seeks to explain all animal and human behaviour primarily in terms of observable and measurable responses to stimuli. Its method of research often involves laboratory experiments. Pavlov's work on conditioned reflexes was a source for the early behaviourists such as J. B. Watson. They rejected the evidence introspection gives of conscious feelings, motives and will. Later behaviourists, such as B. F. Skinner, explain learning and development by “operant conditioning”. See also developmental psychology

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be·hav·ior·ism / biˈhāvyəˌrizəm/ • n. Psychol. the theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns. ∎  such study and treatment in practice. DERIVATIVES: be·hav·ior·ist n. & adj. be·hav·ior·is·tic / biˌhāvyəˈristik/ adj.

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behaviourism (bi-hayv-yer-izm) n. an approach to psychology postulating that only observable behaviour need be studied, thus denying any importance to unconscious processes.
behaviourist n.

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