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Behaviorism in the 20th Century System of Psychology


The purpose of this work is to provide an outline of Behaviorism, which, is a major system of psychology in the 20th Century. Further the work will provide a substantive treatment of the supportive and critical perspectives associated with the system. Finally this work will include the applications of dualistic activity vs. monistic passivity, source of knowledge: self-generative vs. sensory and mentalism vs. materialism.

John Broadus Watson was the founder of Behaviorism and held that:

"Psychology as the behaviorist views it is purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control ob behavior. Introspection forms no essential part to its methods nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness, which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his effort to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man with all its refinement and complexity forms only a part of the behaviorists total scheme of investigation ...." (Watson, 1913).

B.F. Skinner describes behaviorism as a theory that psychology is a study of external behavior on the part of human beings rather than that of consciousness and desires. (Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 1988) According to "The Mosby Medical Encyclopedia": "Behaviorism is a school of psychology founded by John B. Watson that studies and interprets behavior by observing people's responses to things. Behaviorism is not concerned with consciousness, mental states, or ideas and emotions" (The Mosby Medical Encyclopedia, 1996) The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the accompanying amendments in federal law is that which has "mandated the use of functional behavioral assessments (FBA) and positive behavioral support plans to address challenging behaviors presented by students in school settings.

Although these have long been considered "best practice" in the field of applied behavior analysis, their use by school psychologists has a much briefer history." (Skinner, 2001) According to this work, "Applied behavior analysis has made substantial contributions to the fields of school psychology and education since the initial publication of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) over 30 years ago."

The publication entitled Behavior Analysis in Education written by Sulzer-Azaroff et al., 1998 as well as other subsequent publications in the Journal of Behavioral Education, Journal of Positives Behavioral Interventions and Behavior Modification all offer what is stated to be, "empirical evidence for the effectiveness of behavior analytic technology in dealing with a host of behavioral excesses and deficits commonly exhibited by students in school settings." Functionalism does not agree with understanding behavior based on form or structure, or topography as such behavioral topographies are stated top be, "merely descriptive and, as such, explain nothing about the controlling functions of behavior (Skinner 1953, 1974)" (as cited by Skinner, 2002)

According to Peterson (2004), "Despite the seminal studies of response differentiation by the method of successive approximation detailed in Chapter 8 of The Behavior of Organisms (1938), B.F. Skinner never actually shaped an operant response by hand until a memorable incident of startling serendipity on the top floor of a flour mill in Minneapolis in 1943. This occasion was a great discovery for Skinner, as he never had before really appreciated the "significance of reinforcement mediated by biological connections with the animate social environment, as opposed to purely mechanical connections with the inanimate physical environment." It was this understanding that caused him to name the terms 'shaping' and also that moved toward a shift in his view of behavior on the level of verbalization from an "emphasis on antecedents and molecular topographical details to social dyad inherent to the shaping process became the definitive property of verbal behavior." It was this understanding that gave Skinner to empowerment to push further in understanding the larger implications of this behaviorism on the part of the human race and that which defined the larger part of his work prior to World War II.

Psychologists who study cognitive psychology have made great progress in rendering explanation for the thinking processes in humans. Yet, little time or energy have been focused toward the understanding of "why we think -- the factors that make us start or stop thinking, choose and change strategies and solutions." (Overskeid, 2000)

Questions such as these are stated as being "linked to motivation and to discriminative and reinforcing stimuli." (Overskeid, 2000) The study of thinking as a form of behavior that is directly in connection to antecedent events and resulting circumstances points toward vital questions that have not yet been studied in the field of psychology in relation to cognitive processes.

According to Overskeid, 2000, "heuristics, evolution, motivations, or mood have important effects on thinking" but the question remains as to how these effects come about in an individual's thinking or "What is the mechanism that makes us choose certain solutions over others, even in cases where we acknowledge that the alternative we choose seems irrational?" (Overskeid, 2000) Further stated by Overskied, 2000 is the fact that there still is an absence of a "systematic account of the factors that initiate, terminate, and change both thinking itself and its various modes." Overskied asks the question, "Should thinking be regarded as behavior?" Psychologists of the cognitive nature have focused more time on the study of thinking than other studies of psychology and have not seen it in their realm of duties to debate to validity of thinking as a type of behavior and behavior analysists neither have debated the issue but have taken as fact the belief of thinking as being a behavior. (Overskeid, 2000) While behavior is an observable activity the process of judgment, decision making, reasoning, and problem solving are all thinking processes stated by Overskeid 2000 to be "useful, to treat thinking as a form of behavior."

There are important shared features of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. According to Overskeid those share features are the fact that both are linked to "American functionalism" and both are "experimentally and quantitatively based." The larger differences in the thinking of cognitive psychologists and behavioral analysts "lie mainly in the willingness to make use of theoretical constructs." (cf. Overskeid, 1995a; Young, 1998). The behaviorists of the present time focus on "the conditions under which the behavior takes place." (Overskeid, 2000) The phenomenon of thinking, in spite of being accepted on a theoretical basis, is seen as a double anathema to a radical behaviorist because there is no directly observable behavior and because there is not methodology in existence that is able to produce results that would be regarded as convincing evidence to support the proposal that individual life events actually is a causative of other behavior. The focus of the behavior analyst is the cause of the behavior or the thinking yet there is an unwillingness to discover through investigation the actual role that such events of feelings and emotions might have upon the shaping and maintenance of the way that an individual thinks.

According to Swann (2005) "the early allegiance in psychology to behaviorism and experimental methods led many to disparage personality approaches" over the last 100 years. The validity of personality psychology resulted in Mischel's view that the variances in behavior that has been observed can the accredited to different personality measures. Personality focused psychology was completely done away with in years past however, over the last twenty years a resurgence in interest of personality psychology. According to Swann (2005) "the emerging symbiosis in personality psychology is likely to continue bearing theoretical fruit and the traditional distinction between personal, situational, and intereactional determinants of behavior continues to be useful within appropriate contexts."

"If the field of cognitive psychology is to avoid the use of introspective methods, it must focus on the objective norms of rules for correct performance of cognitive tasks and not on subjective processes." (Tonnessen, 1999) The approach used in cognitive psychology is one that is "more logical than empirical." Cognitive psychology cannot answer the question of why some individuals have "difficulty following some of the cognitive norms or rules" on the basis of cognitivism only. "Behaviorism and connectionism" according to Tonnessen (1999) 'make some important contributions" toward the answering of this particular question stating further that, "In the treatment of dyslexia, emphasis must be placed on the fact that reading is a skill that requires both automatization and awareness. To have a flexible and functional combination of these, we must borrow from cognitive psychology, connectionism and behaviorism."

Whissell (2004) states that "Over 1,500 titles of articles in the Journal Psychological Reports" for the years between 1955 and 1959, 1975 and 1995 were through use of the Dictionary of Affect in Language, analyzed and findings were that "there are changes across time in emotional tone measured in terms of pleasantness and activation. According to the studies the emotional tone which was low and rose across time in relation to Pleasantness and which was high and also rose across time in relation to Activation.

It was found…[continue]

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