The paper is dedicated to the study of origin of behaviorism, its main principles and contribution that it made into psychology. To get the necessary information, literature review was conducted with the results of the studies analyzed so as to meet the purpose of the study. First, definition of behaviorism is provided, followed by description of three main periods that existed in the history of behaviorism – Watson’s behaviorism, Skinner’s neobehaviorism and social behaviorism. Then the main mistakes of behaviorism are defined and conclusion is made as to the contribution of behaviorism into psychology. In particular, it is stated that it did not solve the task of building a truly scientific psychology. Based on the mechanistic materialism, behaviorism came to the denial of any objective meaning of mental processes and ignored their study, which in practice led to serious distortions in the application of psychology in different practical situations.
Keywords: behaviorism, neobehaviorism, social behaviorism, Skinner, Watson.
In the beginning of the XX century behaviorism became one of the most powerful trends in science, in particular – in psychology. It is defined as a trend in psychology that acquired its influence at the beginning of the XX century (Hergenhahn, 2009). Behaviorism was similar to psychoanalysis in that both directions of psychology were opposed to those aspects of associationism that are related to the concept of consciousness, but the basis of the opposition was different. Behaviorists believed that notions such as awareness, experience and others are subjective.
They thought so, because all of the concepts are based on non-scientific method of investigation, only on people’s introspection (Moore, 2011). The basis of all research should be formed only by the results of those studies that are fixed by objective means. External and internal activity was called reaction. By the reaction they first of all meant movement, as it can be recorded by objective means. In this paper the historical perspectives of behaviorism will be analyzed, as well as its contribution into psychology.
John Watson derived the following formula: S - R. In this formula, S is an incentive, R is a reaction. Incentive makes the body behave in a certain way and hence there follows some specific reaction. In classical behaviorism stimulus was perceived as the only one to predetermine the nature of the reaction that occurs in future (Moore, 2010). This suggests that it is necessary to conduct more tests, experiments, record the obtained data, and analyze it. Through analysis the relevant regularities could be developed and understood.
Popularity of behaviorism can be explained by simplicity of presentation of this direction and, accordingly, the simplicity of its principles. Watson’s formula was considered universal, but further studies did not confirm this.
In fact, everything was much more complicated: one stimulus may result in multiple sets of reactions. Therefore, scientists processed formula S - R and entered another point. This point was called "intervening variables." Here behaviorists first retreated from their main rule: what cannot have an objective confirmation should not be regarded as scientific. They developed a new formula S – O – R (Moore, 2011). Now behaviorists believed that this new point, although it cannot be objectively confirmed, also has an impact on the reaction formation. Consequently, the stimulus is not working alone - it only works in conjunction with an intermediate variable.
Neobehaviorism of Skinner
As any other trend, after certain time behaviorism divided into several types. One of them was neobehaviorism. One of the most prominent scientific figures of this movement was Skinner. He believed that science had no right to research something that cannot be objectively confirmed. He thought that such research, i.e., objectively unconfirmed, is unscientific. It is not reasonable to conduct it, since energy, time and money will be needlessly wasted. Skinner mainly studied the mechanisms of human behavior. The main purpose of his research was to learn how to "program" a person's behavior in order to achieve the maximum result of the “programming” customer.
Skinner actively realized the practice of the carrot and the stick approach: he believed that the positive stimulus contributes more to the formation of the desired behavior. His associates conducted hundreds of experiments (Moore, 2010). It was found that this method was actually the most effective. Skinner did not deal with the goals of education, as he was more interested in how a particular individual would behave in a given situation. While being not interested and not explaining, at least to himself, why he conducted such studies, he wondered how to do it.
In his studies, the scientist did not pay any attention to psychoanalytic sociology and failed with his concept. It did not frighten him. He believed that if behaviorism could not give a specific answer to a question, it means that such a response did not exist at all. Because of this, Skinner neither denied nor agreed with the fact that every person had creativity (Moore, 2010). Creativity should prevail among scientists or, for example, among engineers at the plant, not to mention the artists. It is clear what an engineer at a plant is doing: he designs, develops new models. Factory workers collect the given models. If all people have creativity developed at the same level, who will collect the model? Therefore, if society has a lot of people with strong creativity, that will only be worse for the society itself.
Skinner's work attracted liberal psychologists, as he claimed that people are formed only under the influence of society. In the human nature there is nothing that would predetermine their further development. Skinner, in contrast to Sigmund Freud, was not worried about human passions. He believed that a person was always acting in accordance with his usefulness. I.e. a person before making this or other act reflects on its usefulness. Such thinking is instinctive; a person is simply trying to win over the public’s disposition, to take his own place in it. This suggests that people are more concerned with the public interest (and therefore society must raise it in all of its members) than with their passions.
Behavioral Errors. Social Behaviorism
Most U.S. scientists studying aggression and its manifestations are committed to behaviorism. Although they deviate from Skinner’s beliefs, they still believe that the object of study is not the man himself (as an individual), but rather the process of committing the action. In this they agree with the views of Skinner and also deny the teachings of Sigmund Freud (Hergenhahn, 2009). Scientists believe that a person uses force for a reason, and in order to maximize the benefits of such a position in society, which he considers valid, even though it really is not such, as the respect is based on fear.
There can be distinguished the following basic errors of behaviorists:
1) They do not understand that it is not possible to consider any act without taking into account a particular person;
2) They do not understand that under identical conditions using the same "incentives" may have many versions of "reaction."
Main Principles of Behaviorism and Contribution into Psychology
The main principles are as follows:
- Psychology is a science that should be studied in the relative scientific manner.
- Behavior can be defined as the result of stimulus-reaction, which is applied to even the most complex behavior.
- Behaviorism is concerned with the behavior that can be observed, not the internal realities like thinking.
- Environment determines behavior (conditioning).
Behaviorists made a significant contribution to the development of empirical and mathematical methods of studying behavior, posing a number of psychological problems, particularly those relating to learning - the acquisition of new behaviors by a person. The main value of behaviorism for the development of categorical system of psychology is development of categories of the behavioral sciences, expanding the field of psychology to include also external, bodily reactions. However, due to methodological flaws in the original concept of behaviorism is in the 20's of the XX century is began to collapse in a number of areas that combined its basic doctrine with elements of other theories (e.g., Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis and others).
Behaviorism, as well as the previous directions, did not solve the task of building a truly scientific psychology. Based on the mechanistic materialism, behaviorism came to the denial of any objective meaning of mental processes and ignored their study, which in practice led to serious distortions in the application of psychology in teaching, economic life, etc. It is not reasonable to agree with the denial of the role of consciousness in human behavior, as taught by behaviorism. No matter how behaviorists claimed the opposite, the fact remains that in the thoughts and feelings are the driving force of a person to commit certain actions.
Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Moore, J. (2011). Behaviorism. The Psychological Record, 61(3), 52-60.
Moore, J. (2010). Philosophy of Science, with Special Consideration Given to Behaviorism as the Philosophy of the Science of Behavior. The Psychological Record, 60(1), 165-171.