Historical Origins and Principals Essay

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Origins of Behaviorism

Behaviorism, Its Historical origins, principles and contribution to the broader field of psychology

Darwin (1809-1882) is the main scientist credited with evolutionary theory, and he was highly influential. In 1859/1985 he published The Origin of Species. This text proposed that evolution is inevitable and mechanical. He discussed the organism-environment adaptation, a precursor to the stimulus- response of behaviourism. He felt that his studies on plants and animals could be translated into human study. The human could be observed through anatomy and behaviour. This idea set the tone for behaviourism, "Animal behaviour became of interest to psychology as a result of evolutionary theory" (Mackenzie, 1977).

Children were studied as earlier versions of the adult species. Darwin expanded Haeckel's recapitulation theory and in 1877 he published A Biographical Sketch of an Infant. This was 294 pages of observations on children. Francis Galton (1822-1911) was Darwin's cousin; he continued the work with the term "hereditary genius" (1877). He studied the children of successful students, combined Darwin's evolution, and empirical science to state that genius was genetic. (Galton, 1892) He helped child psychology understand that children inherit traits from their families. As psychology grew into a science, many people were interested in this new idea of evolution. Evolutionary theory fit directly into the scientific paradigm. Psychology could borrow evolutionary methods and align with objective, observable laws, and measurements. "Scientific work all reflected, in one way or another, Darwinian concerns for function, development, adaptation, and individual differences" (Benjamin, 1988).

Many more scientists after Darwin brought evolution into psychology, including H. Spenser, Romanes, Fabre, Bechterew, Peckhams, Freud, K. Groos, and Hall. Herbert Spenser (1820-1903) "was concerned that psychology takes its place among the natural sciences and that it extricates itself from the purely speculative discipline of philosophy" (Robinson, 1995). Spenser wrote Principals of Psychology and linked psychology to evolution. Spenser is known as one of the founders of experimental psychology. In 1882, George Romanes (1848-1894) published Animal Intelligence, where evolution theory was linked to psychology. Romanes accepted "only observable behaviour as evidence of psychological functions" (Robinson, 1995). Fabre (1823-1915), Bechterew (1857-1927), and Peckhams (1845-1914) were also following Darwin's studies as physicists, professors, chemists, and naturalists who studied behaviour in bugs. The previous three scientists conducted experiments and classified behaviours, habits, and conditioned reflexes. These studies are the direct ancestors of behaviourism.

Principles of Behaviourism

Bergmann linked behaviour and natural laws, "Behaviour science, since it is a science, tries to find laws. Laws, roughly speaking, predict what will happen if an object of a specified kind finds itself in a specified environment" (Bergmann, 1967). It is important to note that behaviourism was not a theory; it was a methodology, "Behaviourism as a whole did not advance any particular psychological theory, but rather recommended the experimental investigation of behaviour as the method of psychology" (Smith, 1986). Mackenzie (1977) mirrors this idea, "Behaviourism must be understood in methodological rather than substantive terms: what was central to behaviourism was a set of general methodological principles for doing research, rather than any theories or discoveries" (xii).

John B. Watson (1878-1958) endorsed this long lasting methodology, in 1913 when he published Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It. He voiced a frustration about psychology asking unanswerable questions. Watson asked that psychology move into the study of observable, measurable behaviour with the goal of predicting and controlling behaviour. It is noteworthy that he published this text 2 years after William James's death. (James was known to many as the "father of psychology," emphasizing introspection and consciousness.) A new sheriff emerged, although experimental psychology was alive for at least 30 years, research had not solely focused on behaviour. Previous research was focused on many topics including mental states. Watson wanted to control behaviour not describe mental states. His paper was a call for reconceptualization of psychology. His role as the originator of behaviourism is subject to great debate. (Aach, 1987; Boring, 1957). In his 1913 paper, Watson expounds four main ideas: (1) behaviourism is an objective experimental science, (2) psychology should not be concerned with concepts of the mind, (3) behavioural observations are solid universal laws (not requiring interpretation), and (4) psychology should use these laws to predict and control behaviour (Aach, 1987). These early concepts continue to underpin the current presuppositions of psychology.

"These four familiar tenets are still so ensconced in the tradition that it may seem that we have effortlessly formulated the core of…

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