Psychology and Methodological Behaviorism

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Sarah Richling
Psychology 400
Dr. Kenniston
September 27, 2006
Paper 1
The school of thought in psychology that I most closely identify myself with is methodological behaviorism. Behavior analysis is the science that studies environmental events that change behavior (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968). Behaviorists take a hedonistic approach to learning. This involves the basic idea that an organism will seek pleasure (reinforcement) and avoid pain (punishment). The organism will then "learn" from this environmental experience and will shape future behavior of the organism. This principle also leads into the idea that behavior is controllable and predictable. We can answer questions about the organism by looking at the environmental conditions it is subjected to. Behaviorists may also assume that humans and animals are alike, but humans are capable of more complex learning. In addition, complex behavior is thought to be reducible to simple laws of behavior and is not qualitatively different than simple behavior. Behaviorists hold that some processes, like thinking and feeling may exist, but are not directly observable and, hence, cannot be scientifically confirmed. Behaviorists do not tend to explain behavior is everyday terms such as "He ran to class because he thought he was going to be late". They try to explain this in a more scientific way using observable events. A behaviorist's explanation may be more like "He ran to class because in the past when he was late, he lost points." There are three main types of behaviorism: radical, methodological, and logical. Radical behaviorists may claim that private events such as thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and mental states do not exist. Logical behaviorists hold that emotions need only be interpreted into behavioral terms. For example, consider the statement "Kari believes she is going to get in a car accident." A logical behaviorist would not accept this statement, but would translate it into an "if-then" statement such as "If Kari believes she is going to get in a car accident, she will not drive." Methodological behaviorists may believe that the above processes do exist, however they are not concerned with the empirical studies of internal states. Some methodological behaviorists may believe that private events add nothing to our study of psychology. Emotions do not explain anything, but must only be explained themselves. For example, "Kyle is sad" does not explain anything because we must now explain why Kyle is sad. Others may believe that we do not have the proper technology to empirically study private events. Many things can make this hard. Humans can be dishonest and express their emotions falsely. They may also give self-serving reports. Another problem may be that people may not remember correctly and give false reports, even if it is intended to be honest. It is possible that these private events can be accomplished someday as science progresses. A radical behaviorist like Skinner holds that organisms learn via direct reinforcement or punishment. He believed that behavior could be changed using reinforcement and punishment (Schultz & Schultz, 2004). A methodological behaviorist believes this, but is different in that they incorporate cognitive processes in some form or another into their studies. Bandura agreed with Skinner, but also believed that organisms can also learn from observing others being reinforced or punished. This was called vicarious reinforcement (Schultz & Schultz, 2004). For example, a human can observe another being charged with a DUI and this would be sufficient for him/her not to engage in the behavior of driving after drinking. The person was not directly punished, but learned to not engage in this behavior vicariously. Another methodological behaviorist, Rotter, developed the "social learning theory" (Rotter, 1947). Rotter believed that we had the cognitive ability to influence our environment and...
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