Although behaviorism is now considered part of psychology, it was not always. Early behaviorists tried hard to set themselves apart from the psychology of their day, which many believed focused too much on the subconscious mind. Behaviorism was the first attempt to study human behavior using the scientific method. However, there were many different approaches to behaviorism.
II. The Early Foundations of Behaviorism
A. The structuralism versus functionalism debate
1. Structuralism: Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Tichener tried to show that they could use introspection as a scientific method with the goal of objectively understanding the structures of the human mind or consciousness.
2. Functionalism: William James and later behaviorists were more interested in how the mind works and why the mind reacts to stimuli as it does.
B. Functionalism was a direct extension of Darwinism.
C. John Watson, William James, and Chauncy Wright were proponents of functionalism, which allowed researchers to apply the scientific method to behavioral science and behavioral psychology (Green, 2009).
D. Studies like Twitmyers knee-jerk reflexes would later influence Pavlov.
III. Perception and Cognition and Behaviorism
A. Like behaviorism, the study of human perception and cognition used scientific methods to measure human responses to stimuli.
B. Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Tichener (Moore, 2011).
IV. John Watson
A. John Watson is known as the founder of behaviorism.
B. Watson was not just interested in measuring or observing human behavior and responses, but also changing it or controlling it.
C. Watson was adamant that behaviorism was different from psychology and more reliable as a scientific study because Watson (1913) believed that psychology used esoteric methods, and could not establish itself as a natural science (p. 163).
V. The heyday of behaviorism: Conditioning
A. Pavlovs experiments on conditioning
B. Skinner and classical/operant conditioning
Behaviorism evolved from the 19th century onwards, as the methods used to study human behavior changed to incorporate scientific tools. Behaviorism also evolved as researchers became interested in the entire gamut of the human experience, both in terms of what mental processes are, how they function, and how those processes and functions impact behavior. The functionalist study of behaviorism was sometimes at odds with the structuralist approach relying more on intuition than on objectively measurable means. However, Wundt and Tichener still were interested in what are now considered scientifically measurable things like perception. Functionalism then evolved into behaviorism and ultimately to classical conditioning. Pavlovs and Skinners research on classical conditioning helped to fulfill Watsons ultimate objective of turning behaviorism into an applied science. Behaviorism could be used not just to understand human behavior but also to help people change their behavior.
Clark, R. E. (2004). The classical origins of Pavlov’s conditioning. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 39(4), 279-294.
Green, C. D. (2009). Darwinian theory, functionalism, and the first American psychological revolution. American Psychologist, 64(2), 75-83. doi: 10.1037/a0013338
Moore, J. (2011). Behaviorism. The Psychological Record, 61(3), 449-464.
Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20(2), 158-177. doi:10.1037/h0074428
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