Behaviorism: Wikis


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Behaviorism (or behaviourism), also called the learning perspective (where any physical action is a behavior), is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do — including acting, thinking and feeling — can and should be regarded as behaviors.[1] The school of psychology maintains that behaviors as such can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind.[2] Behaviorism comprises the position that all theories should have observational correlates but that there are no philosophical differences between publicly observable processes (such as actions) and privately observable processes (such as thinking and feeling).[3]

From early psychology in the 19th century, the behaviorist school of thought ran concurrently and shared commonalities with the psychoanalytic and Gestalt movements in psychology into the 20th century; but also differed from the mental philosophy of the Gestalt psychologists in critical ways.[citation needed] Its main influences were Ivan Pavlov, who investigated classical conditioning, Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson who rejected introspective methods and sought to restrict psychology to experimental methods, and B.F. Skinner who conducted research on operant conditioning.[3]

In the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the cognitive revolution.[citation needed] Though these two schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in practical therapeutic applications. One notable legacy of behaviorist investigations is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, a popular treatment that uses cognitive models alongside behaviorist techniques such as 'systematic desensitization' and 'contingency management' that have demonstrable utility in helping people with certain pathologies, such as simple phobias, PTSD, and addiction.



There is no classification generally agreed upon, but some titles given to the various branches of behaviorism include:

  • Methodological: The behaviorism of Watson; the objective study of behavior; no mental life, no internal states; thought is covert speech.
  • Radical: Skinner's behaviorism; is considered radical since it expands behavioral principles to processes within the organism; in contrast to methodological behaviorism; not mechanistic or reductionist; hypothetical (mentalistic) internal states are not considered causes of behavior, phenomena must be observable at least to the individual experiencing them. Willard Van Orman Quine used many of radical behaviorism's ideas in his study of knowing and language.
  • Teleological: Post-Skinnerian, purposive, close to microeconomics.
  • Theoretical: Post-Skinnerian, accepts observable internal states ("within the skin" once meant "unobservable", but with modern technology we are not so constrained); dynamic, but eclectic in choice of theoretical structures, emphasizes parsimony.
  • Biological: Post-Skinnerian, centered on perceptual and motor modules of behavior, theory of behavior systems.
  • Psychological behaviorism: Arthur W. Staats' unifying approach to behaviorism and psychology. He merges psychological concepts like 'personality' within a behavioral model like BBR Basic Behavioral Repertoires.

Two popular subtypes are Neo: Hullian and post-Hullian, theoretical, group data, not dynamic, physiological, and Purposive: Tolman's behavioristic anticipation of cognitive psychology.



B.F. Skinner was influential in defining radical behaviorism, a philosophy codifying the basis of his school of research (named the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, or EAB.) While EAB differs from other approaches to behavioral research on numerous methodological and theoretical points, radical behaviorism departs from methodological behaviorism most notably in accepting feelings, states of mind and introspection as existent and scientifically treatable. This is done by identifying them as something non-dualistic, and here Skinner takes a divide-and-conquer approach, with some instances being identified with bodily conditions or behavior, and others getting a more extended 'analysis' in terms of behavior. However, radical behaviorism stops short of identifying feelings as causes of behavior.[1] Among other points of difference were a rejection of the reflex as a model of all behavior and a defense of a science of behavior complementary to but independent of physiology. Radical behaviorism has considerable overlap with other western philosophical positions such as American pragmatism.[4]

Experimental and conceptual innovations

This essentially philosophical position gained strength from the success of Skinner's early experimental work with rats and pigeons, summarized in his books The Behavior of Organisms[5] and Schedules of Reinforcement.[6] Of particular importance was his concept of the operant response, of which the canonical example was the rat's lever-press. In contrast with the idea of a physiological or reflex response, an operant is a class of structurally distinct but functionally equivalent responses. For example, while a rat might press a lever with its left paw or its right paw or its tail, all of these responses operate on the world in the same way and have a common consequence. Operants are often thought of as species of responses, where the individuals differ but the class coheres in its function—shared consequences with operants and reproductive success with species. This is a clear distinction between Skinner's theory and S-R theory.

Skinner's empirical work expanded on earlier research on trial-and-error learning by researchers such as Thorndike and Guthrie with both conceptual reformulations – Thorndike's notion of a stimulus-response 'association' or 'connection' was abandoned; and methodological ones – the use of the 'free operant', so called because the animal was now permitted to respond at its own rate rather than in a series of trials determined by the experimenter procedures. With this method, Skinner carried out substantial experimental work on the effects of different schedules and rates of reinforcement on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons. He achieved remarkable success in training animals to perform unexpected responses, and to emit large numbers of responses, and to demonstrate many empirical regularities at the purely behavioral level. This lent some credibility to his conceptual analysis. It is largely his conceptual analysis that made his work much more rigorous than his peers, a point which can be seen clearly in his seminal work Are Theories of Learning Necessary? in which he criticizes what he viewed to be theoretical weaknesses then common in the study of psychology. An important descendant of the experimental analysis of behavior is the Society for Quantitative Analysis of Behavior.[7]

Relation to language

As Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with Verbal Behavior[8] and other language-related publications;[9] Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky.[10] Skinner did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas,[11] and the disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed.[12][13] In addition; innate theory is opposed the to behaviorist theory which claims that language is a set of habit that can be acquired by means of conditioning. According to some, this process that the behaviorists define is a very slow and gentle process to explain a phenomena complicated as language learning. What was important for a behaviorist's analysis of human behavior was not language acquisition so much as the interaction between language and overt behavior. In an essay republished in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement,[14] Skinner took the view that humans could construct linguistic stimuli that would then acquire control over their behavior in the same way that external stimuli could. The possibility of such "instructional control" over behavior meant that contingencies of reinforcement would not always produce the same effects on human behavior as they reliably do in other animals. The focus of a radical behaviorist analysis of human behavior therefore shifted to an attempt to understand the interaction between instructional control and contingency control, and also to understand the behavioral processes that determine what instructions are constructed and what control they acquire over behavior. Recently a new, promising line of behavioral research on language was started under the name of Relational Frame Theory.

Molar versus molecular behaviorism

Skinner's view of behavior is most often characterized as a "molecular" view of behavior; that is, behavior can be decomposed into atomistic parts or molecules. This view is inconsistent with Skinner's complete description of behavior as delineated in other works, including his 1981 article "Selection by Consequences." Skinner proposed that a complete account of behavior requires understanding of selection history at three levels: biology (the natural selection or phylogeny of the animal); behavior (the reinforcement history or ontogeny of the behavioral repertoire of the animal); and for some species, culture (the cultural practices of the social group to which the animal belongs). This whole organism then interacts with its environment. Molecular behaviorists use notions from melioration theory, negative power function discounting or additive versions of negative power function discounting.[15]

Molar behaviorists, such as Howard Rachlin, Richard Herrnstein, and William Baum, argue that behavior cannot be understood by focusing on events in the moment. That is, they argue that behavior is best understood as the ultimate product of an organism's history and that molecular behaviorists are committing a fallacy by inventing fictitious proximal causes for behavior. Molar behaviorists argue that standard molecular constructs, such as "associative strength," are better replaced by molar variables such as rate of reinforcement.[16] Thus, a molar behaviorist would describe "loving someone" as a pattern of loving behavior over time; there is no isolated, proximal cause of loving behavior, only a history of behaviors (of which the current behavior might be an example) that can be summarized as "love."

Behaviorism in philosophy

Behaviorism is a psychological movement that can be contrasted with philosophy of mind. The basic premise of radical behaviorism is that the study of behavior should be a natural science, such as chemistry or physics, without any reference to hypothetical inner states of organisms as causes for their behavior. A modern example of such analysis would be Fantino and colleagues' work on behavioral approaches to reasoning.[17] Other varieties, such as theoretical behaviorism, permit internal states, but do not require them to be mental or have any relation to subjective experience. Behaviorism takes a functional view of behavior.

There are points of view within analytic philosophy that have called themselves, or have been called by others, behaviorist. In logical behaviorism (as held, e.g., by Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel), the meaning of psychological statements are their verification conditions, which consist of performed overt behavior. W. V. Quine made use of a type of behaviorism, influenced by some of Skinner's ideas, in his own work on language. Gilbert Ryle defended a distinct strain of philosophical behaviorism, sketched in his book The Concept of Mind. Ryle's central claim was that instances of dualism frequently represented 'category mistakes,' and hence that they were really misunderstandings of the use of ordinary language. Daniel Dennett likewise acknowledges himself to be a type of behaviorist.[18]

It is sometimes argued that Ludwig Wittgenstein defended a behaviorist position, but while there are important relations between his thought and behaviorism, the claim that he was a behaviorist is quite controversial (e.g., the Beetle in a box argument). Mathematician Alan Turing is also sometimes considered a behaviorist,[citation needed] but he himself did not make this identification .

21st Century behavior analysis

As of 2007, modern day behaviorism, known as "behavior analysis," is a thriving field. The Association for Behavior Analysis: International currently has 32 state and regional chapters within the United States. Approximately 30 additional chapters have also developed throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. In addition to 34 annual conferences held by ABAI in the United States and Canada, ABAI held the 5th annual International conference in Norway in 2009.

The interests among behavior analysts today are wide ranging, as a review of the 30 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) within ABAI indicates. Such interests include everything from developmental disabilities and autism, to cultural psychology, clinical psychology, verbal behavior, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM; behavior analytic I/O psychology). OBM has developed a particularly strong following within behavior analysis, as evidenced by the formation of the OBM Network and the influential Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM; recently ratest the 3rd highest impact journal in applied psychology by ISI JOBM rating).

Modern behavior analysis has also witnessed a massive resurgence in research and applications related to language and cognition, with the development of Relational Frame Theory (RFT; described as a "Post-Skinnerian account of language and cognition").[19] RFT also forms the empirical basis for the highly successful and data-driven Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In fact, researchers and practitioners in RFT/ACT have become sufficiently prominent that they have formed their own specialized organization, known as the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS).

Some of the current prominent behavior analytic journals include the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) JEAB website, the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM), Behavior and Social Issues (BSI) , as well as the Psychological Record. Currently, the U.S. has 14 ABAI accredited MA and PhD programs for comprehensive study in behavior analysis.

Behavior Analysis and Culture

Cultural analysis has always been at the philosophical core of Radical Behaviorism from the early days (As seen in Skinner's Walden Two, Science & Human Behavior, Beyond Freedom & Dignity, and About Behaviorism.)

During the 1980s, behavior analysts, most notably Sigrid Glenn, had a productive interchange with cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris (the most notable proponent of "Cultural Materialism") regarding interdisciplinary work. Very recently, behavior analysts have produced a set of basic exploratory experiments in an effort toward this end.[20]

List of notable behaviorists

See also


  1. ^ a b Skinner, B.F. (16 April 1984). "The operational analysis of psychological terms". Behavioral and brain sciences(Print) 7 (4): 547–581. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  2. ^ Baum, William M. (1994). Understanding behaviorism: science, behavior, and culture. New York, NY: HarperCollins College Publishers. ISBN 0-06-500286-5. 
  3. ^ a b Fraley, LF (2001). "Strategic interdisciplinary relations between a natural science community and a psychology community" (pdf). The Behavior Analyst Today 2 (4): 209–324. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  4. ^ Moxley, RA (2004). "Pragmatic selectionism: The philosophy of behavior analysis" (pdf). The Behavior Analyst Today 5 (1): 108–125. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  5. ^ Skinner, B. F. (1991). The Behavior of Organisms. Copley Pub Group. p. 473. ISBN 0-87411-487-X. 
  6. ^ Cheney, Carl D.; Ferster, Charles B. (1997). Schedules of Reinforcement (B. F. Skinner Reprint Series). Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group. p. 758. ISBN 0-87411-828-X. 
  7. ^ Commons, ML (2001). "A short history of the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior" (pdf). Behavior Analyst Today 2 (3): 275–279. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  8. ^ Skinner, Burrhus Frederick (1957). Verbal Behavior. Acton, Massachusetts: Copley Publishing Group. ISBN 1-58390-021-7. 
  9. ^ Skinner, BF (1969). An operant analysis of problem-solving. pp. 133–157. ; chapter in Skinner, B.F. (1969). Contingencies of reinforcement: a theoretical analysis. Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 283. ISBN 0-13-171728-6. 
  10. ^ Chomsky, Noam (1959). "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior". Language 35 (35): 26–58. doi:10.2307/411334. 
  11. ^ Skinner, B. F. (1972). "I Have Been Misunderstood..". Center Magazine (March-April): 63. 
  12. ^ MacCorquodale, K. (1970). "On Chomsky's Review of Skinner's VERBAL BEHAVIOR". Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 13 (1): 83–99. doi:10.1901/jeab.1970.13-83. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  13. ^ Stemmer N (1990). "Skinner's verbal behavior, Chomsky's review, and mentalism". J Exp Anal Behav 54 (3): 307–15. doi:10.1901/jeab.1990.54-307. PMID 2103585. 
  14. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1969). Contingencies of reinforcement: a theoretical analysis. Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 283. ISBN 0-13-171728-6. 
  15. ^ Fantino E (2000). "Delay-reduction theory--the case for temporal context: comment on Grace and Savastano (2000)". J Exp Psychol Gen 129 (4): 444–6. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.129.4.444. PMID 11142857. 
  16. ^ Baum, W.M. (2003). "The molar view of behavior and its usefulness in behavior analysis". Behavior Analyst Today 4: 78–81. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  17. ^ Fantino, E.; Stolarz-fantino, S.; Navarro, A. (2003). "Logical fallacies: A behavioral approach to reasoning". The Behavior Analyst Today 4: 109–17. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  18. ^ Dennett, DC. "The Message is: There is no Medium". Tufts University. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  19. ^ Hayes, S.C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Roche, B. (2001) Relational Frame Theory: A Post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. Kluwer Academic: New York.
  20. ^ Ward, T.A., Eastman, R., & Ninness, C. (2009). "An Experimental Analysis of Cultural Materialism: The Effects of Various Modes of Production on Resource Sharing". Behavior and Social Issues, 18, 1-23.

Further reading

  • Baum, W. M. (2005) Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, Culture and Evolution. Blackwell.
  • Ferster, C. B., and Skinner, B. F. (1957). Schedules of reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Mills, John A., Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology, Paperback Edition, New York University Press 2000
  • Lattal, K.A and Chase, P.N. (2003) "Behavior Theory and Philosophy". Plenum
  • Plotnik, Rod. (2005) Introduction to Psychology. Thomson-Wadsworth (ISBN 0-534-63407-9)
  • Rachlin, H. (1991) Introduction to modern behaviorism. (3rd edition.) New York: Freeman.
  • Skinner, B.F., Beyond Freedom & Dignity, Hackett Publishing Co, Inc 2002
  • Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1945). The operational analysis of psychological terms. Psychological Review. 52, 270-277, 290-294.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior (ISBN 0-02-929040-6) Online version
  • Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1969). Contingencies of reinforcement: a theoretical analysis. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
  • Skinner, B. F. (1981). Selection by consequences. Science, 213, 501-514.
  • Staddon, J. (2001) The new behaviorism: Mind, mechanism and society. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press. Pp. xiii, 1-211.
  • Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158-177. (on-line)
  • Watson, J. B. (1919). Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist
  • Watson, J. B. (1924). Behaviorism
  • Zuriff, G. E. (1985). Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction, Columbia University Press

External links

Simple English

Behaviorism or Behaviourism is the theory that all things organisms do should be seen as behaviour.[1] Behaviourism says that behaviour can be studied scientifically, without knowing what the physiology of an event is, and without using theories such as that of the mind.[2] According to behaviourism, all behaviour can be observed.

People who influenced behaviorism a great deal were Ivan Pavlov, Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner.[3]

Pavlov investigated classical conditioning, but did not agree with Behaviourism or Behaviotists. Thorndike and Watson rejected introspective methods and wanted to restrict psychology to experimental methods. Skinner's research focused on Operant conditioning.

Today, ideas from behaviourism are used in therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behaviotal therapy can help people cope with anxieties and phobias, as well as with certain forms of addiction.


  1. Skinner, B.F. (16 April 1984). "The operational analysis of psychological terms". Behavioral and brain sciences(Print) 7 (4): 547–581. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  2. Baum, William M. (1994). Understanding behaviorism: science, behavior, and culture. New York, NY: HarperCollins College Publishers. ISBN 0-06-500286-5. 
  3. Fraley, LF (2001). "Strategic interdisciplinary relations between a natural science community and a psychology community" (pdf). The Behavior Analyst Today 2 (4): 209–324. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 


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