Behaviorism and Classical Conditioning

Topics: Behaviorism, Classical conditioning, Psychology Pages: 10 (3366 words) Published: December 4, 2005

The year 1913 marks the birth of the most radical of all psychological concepts, that of "Behaviorism" (Moore, 1921). Since the original behavioral theories were studied by scientists such as Edward Thorndike and John B. Watson, there have been many variations of the behaviorist view that have surfaced over the years. In this paper I will attempt to give a detailed description of the history of behaviorism including information about some of the most influential men associated with this movement. I will also explain the methodologies associated with behaviorism such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and other controversial theories and views.

The atmosphere surrounding the psychological community in the early 20th century had grown stale and weary after many years of highly mentalistic and overly "conscious" theories. In 1913, John B. Watson gave several lectures describing a new, exclusively mentalistic concept of the science of psychological study. Watson abandoned any possibility of introspection, choosing to claim that psychology can only be the study of observable human behavior and anything that is not observable does not exist. To many psychologists of his time, Watson's new theories were not only radical, but ridiculous, but "to the younger American psychologists, fatigued and discouraged by introspective verbosity concerning the thought processes, behaviorism came as a godsend" (Berman, 1927). Since its conception, behaviorism has gone through many transformations beginning with Watson's radical behaviorism and branching into other areas such as philosophical behaviorism, physiological behaviorism, social behaviorism, and eclectic behaviorism.

The Behaviorists
In 1913, in one of the most famous lectures in the history of psychology, John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) called for a radical revisioning of the scope and method of psychological research:
"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. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist's total scheme of investigation." (Watson, 1913) "Generations of psychologists, reared in a post-Watsonian discipline that defined itself as the "science of behavior", were taught that Watson was the father of behaviorism and that February 24, 1913 was the day on which modern behaviorism was born" (Wozniak, 1997).

Watson was considered radical in his views of behavioral psychology. Watson (1912) advocated a radically different approach. Where received "wisdom" took conscious experience to be the very stuff of minds and hence the only appropriate object of psychological investigation, Watson advocated an approach that led, scientifically, "to the ignoring of consciousness" and the illegitimacy of "making consciousness a special object of observation". He completely denied the concept of consciousness and the mind thus reducing psychological study to a purely objective science. According to Wozniak (1997), "introspection was to be abandoned in favor of the study of behavior. Behavior was to be evaluated in its own right, independent of its relationship to any consciousness that might exist."

Watson is associated with his work in classical conditioning. We use the term "classical conditioning" to describe one type of associative learning in which there is no contingency between response and reinforcer. Watson demonstrated classical conditioning in an experiment involving a young child ,Albert, and a white rat. Originally, Albert was...

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