The Three Behaviorists: Watson, Tolman, and Skinner
The psychological perspective of behaviorism bound together three men whose views otherwise greatly diverged from each other and who together changed the face of psychology: John B. Watson, Edward C. Tolman, and B. F. Skinner. The three men started from the perspective of behaviorism and from there their views widely strayed. The views of Behaviorism’s father, John B. Watson marked him as an extremist. Edward C. Tolman was the neobehaviorist who connected behaviorism and cognition. Finally, the radical B. F. Skinner whose main interest was in understanding how to control and manipulate behaviors. The work of these three men in behavioral psychology laid the foundation for many of the new branches alive and flourishing in psychology as it is known today. Behaviorism: What Is It?
As the relationship between science and psychology deepened the perspective of behaviorism was developed as the psychological paradigm of the field shifted toward objectivity over subjectivity. Behaviorism, the prominent psychological perspective popular in the 1920s – 1950s, focused on the observable external behaviors from which empirical data could be acquired through study. Behaviorists believed that theories must be supported scientifically; through careful observation of behavior in a controlled environment in which the behavior could be objectively measured. Thinking and emotion, the internal behaviors, were either completely disregarded or explained as behavior. The father of behaviorism, John B. Watson, believed that the theoretical goal of behaviorism was to predict and control behavior (McLeod, 2007). The behaviorist perspective suggests that at birth the mind is a blank slate that is written upon by the experiences an individual has over the course of development. Behaviorism states that free will does not exist but rather that environment determines behavior. They believe that behavior occurs as a response to a stimulus, behavior is learned from environment, and new behaviors are learned through either operant or classical conditioning. Behaviorists also believe there is little difference between the way that animals and humans learn and therefore propose that animal studies are useful and produce valid results and provide valuable insight into human behaviors (McLeod, 2007). The Father and Extremist: John B. Watson
For psychology the time preceeding the advent of behaviorism was filled with disagreement. Not only over the nature of consciousness but also over the subjective methods of its study. John B. Watson’s lecture titled, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” answered many of the questions that had risen during this time of conflict with what is known as the behaviorists theory; behaviorism. First, Watson completely took consciousness and introspection out of the equation. Watson’s answer included a definition of psychology as the objective study of the natural science of behavior. Through such study Watson believed that one could not only learn to predict behavior but also to control it. Watson further defined behavior as a pattern of learned reactions to environmental stimuli. Finally, Watson proposes that human behaviors are conditioned by the environment and that learning to react to the environment is the process of conditioning (Watson, 1999). Watson began his research at the University of Chicago with labs rats where he studied the relationship between cortical development and learning abilities. From there Watson went on to John Hopkins which is where he published his “Behaviorist Manifesto”, which stressed the need to replace the subjective introspection model of psychology with an objective behavioral model; one that specifically studied the relationship between stimuli and responses. It was also at John Hopkins that Watson’s best-known research studies, those involving an infant named Little Albert, occurred. As a behaviorist who...
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