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It has sometimes been said that “behave is what organisms do.” Behaviorism is built on this assumption, and its goal is to promote the scientific study of behavior. The behavior, in particular, of individual organisms. Not of social groups. Not of cultures. But of persons and animals.

This entry considers different types of behaviorism and outlines reasons for and against being a behaviorist. It consider contributions of behaviorism to the study of behavior. Special attention is given to the so-called “radical behaviorism” of B. F. Skinner (1904–90). Skinner is given special (not exclusive) attention because he is the behaviorist who has received the most attention from philosophers, fellow scientists and the public at large. General lessons can also be learned from Skinner about the conduct of behavioral science in general. The entry describes those lessons.

1. What is Behaviorism?

2. three types of behaviorism, 3. roots of behaviorism, 4. popularity of behaviorism, 5. why be a behaviorist, 6. skinner’s social worldview, 7. why be anti-behaviorist, 8. conclusion, other internet resources, related entries.

One has to be careful with “ism” words. They often have both loose and strict meanings. And sometimes multiple meanings of each type. ‘Behaviorism’ is no exception. Loosely speaking, behaviorism is an attitude – a way of conceiving of empirical constraints on psychological state attribution. Strictly speaking, behaviorism is a doctrine – a way of doing psychological or behavioral science itself.

Wilfred Sellars (1912–89), the distinguished philosopher, noted that a person may qualify as a behaviorist, loosely or attitudinally speaking, if they insist on confirming “hypotheses about psychological events in terms of behavioral criteria” (1963, p. 22). A behaviorist, so understood, is someone who demands behavioral evidence for any psychological hypothesis. For such a person, there is no knowable difference between two states of mind (beliefs, desires, etc.) unless there is a demonstrable difference in the behavior associated with each state. Consider the current belief of a person that it is raining. If there is no difference in his or her behavior between believing that it is raining and believing that it is not raining, there is no grounds for attributing the one belief rather than the other. The attribution is empirically empty or unconstrained.

Arguably, there is nothing truly exciting about behaviorism loosely understood. It enthrones behavioral evidence, an arguably inescapable premise not just in psychological science but in ordinary discourse about mind and behavior. Just how behavioral evidence should be ‘enthroned’ (especially in science) may be debated. But enthronement itself is not in question.

Not so behaviorism the doctrine. It has been widely and vigorously debated. This entry is about the doctrine, not the attitude. Behaviorism, the doctrine, has caused considerable excitation among both advocates and critics. In a manner of speaking, it is a doctrine, or family of doctrines, about how to enthrone behavior not just in the science of psychology but in the metaphysics of human and animal behavior.

Behaviorism, the doctrine, is committed in its fullest and most complete sense to the truth of the following three sets of claims.

The three sets of claims are logically distinct. Moreover, taken independently, each helps to form a type of behaviorism. “Methodological” behaviorism is committed to the truth of (1). “Psychological” behaviorism is committed to the truth of (2). “Analytical” behaviorism (also known as “philosophical” or “logical” behaviorism) is committed to the truth of the sub-statement in (3) that mental terms or concepts can and should be translated into behavioral concepts.

Other nomenclature is sometimes used to classify behaviorisms. Georges Rey (1997, p. 96), for example, classifies behaviorisms as methodological, analytical, and radical, where “radical” is Rey’s term for what is here classified as psychological behaviorism. The term “radical” is instead reserved for the psychological behaviorism of B. F. Skinner. Skinner employs the expression “radical behaviorism” to describe his brand of behaviorism or his philosophy of behaviorism (see Skinner 1974, p. 18). In the classification scheme used in this entry, radical behaviorism is a sub-type of psychological behaviorism, primarily, although it combines all three types of behaviorism (methodological, analytical, and psychological).

Methodological behaviorism is a normative theory about the scientific conduct of psychology. It claims that psychology should concern itself with the behavior of organisms (human and nonhuman animals). Psychology should not concern itself with mental states or events or with constructing internal information processing accounts of behavior. According to methodological behaviorism, reference to mental states, such as an animal’s beliefs or desires, adds nothing to what psychology can and should understand about the sources of behavior. Mental states are private entities which, given the necessary publicity of science, do not form proper objects of empirical study. Methodological behaviorism is a dominant theme in the writings of John Watson (1878–1958).

Psychological behaviorism is a research program within psychology. It purports to explain human and animal behavior in terms of external physical stimuli, responses, learning histories, and (for certain types of behavior) reinforcements. Psychological behaviorism is present in the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), Edward Thorndike (1874–1949), as well as Watson. Its fullest and most influential expression is B. F. Skinner’s work on schedules of reinforcement.

To illustrate, consider a hungry rat in an experimental chamber. If a particular movement, such as pressing a lever when a light is on, is followed by the presentation of food, then the likelihood of the rat’s pressing the lever when hungry, again, and the light is on, is increased. Such presentations are reinforcements, such lights are (discriminative) stimuli, such lever pressings are responses, and such trials or associations are learning histories.

Analytical or logical behaviorism is a theory within philosophy about the meaning or semantics of mental terms or concepts. It says that the very idea of a mental state or condition is the idea of a behavioral disposition or family of behavioral tendencies, evident in how a person behaves in one situation rather than another. When we attribute a belief, for example, to someone, we are not saying that he or she is in a particular internal state or condition. Instead, we are characterizing the person in terms of what he or she might do in particular situations or environmental interactions. Analytical behaviorism may be found in the work of Gilbert Ryle (1900–76) and the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–51) (if perhaps not without controversy in interpretation, in Wittgenstein’s case). More recently, the philosopher-psychologist U. T. Place (1924–2000) advocated a brand of analytical behaviorism restricted to intentional or representational states of mind, such as beliefs, which Place took to constitute a type, although not the only type, of mentality (see Graham and Valentine 2004). Arguably, a version of analytical or logical behaviorism may also be found in the work of Daniel Dennett on the ascription of states of consciousness via a method he calls ‘heterophenomenology’ (Dennett 2005, pp. 25–56). (See also Melser 2004.)

Each of methodological, psychological, and analytical behaviorism has historical foundations. Analytical behaviorism traces its historical roots to the philosophical movement known as Logical Positivism (see Smith 1986). Logical positivism proposes that the meaning of statements used in science must be understood in terms of experimental conditions or observations that verify their truth. This positivist doctrine is known as “verificationism.” In psychology, verificationism underpins or grounds analytical behaviorism, namely, the claim that mental concepts refer to behavioral tendencies and so must be translated into behavioral terms.

Analytical behaviorism helps to avoid a metaphysical position known as substance dualism. Substance dualism is the doctrine that mental states take place in a special, non-physical mental substance (the immaterial mind). By contrast, for analytical behaviorism, the belief that I have as I arrive on time for a 2pm dental appointment, namely, that I have a 2pm appointment, is not the property of a mental substance. Believing is a family of tendencies of my body. In addition, for an analytical behaviorist, we cannot identify the belief about my arrival independently of that arrival or other members of this family of tendencies. So, we also cannot treat it as the cause of the arrival. Cause and effect are, as Hume taught, conceptually distinct existences. Believing that I have a 2pm appointment is not distinct from my arrival and so cannot be part of the causal foundations of arrival.

Psychological behaviorism’s historical roots consist, in part, in the classical associationism of the British Empiricists, foremost John Locke (1632–1704) and David Hume (1711–76). According to classical associationism, intelligent behavior is the product of associative learning. As a result of associations or pairings between perceptual experiences or stimulations on the one hand, and ideas or thoughts on the other, persons and animals acquire knowledge of their environment and how to act. Associations enable creatures to discover the causal structure of the world. Association is most helpfully viewed as the acquisition of knowledge about relations between events. Intelligence in behavior is a mark of such knowledge.

Classical associationism relied on introspectible entities, such as perceptual experiences or stimulations as the first links in associations, and thoughts or ideas as the second links. Psychological behaviorism, motivated by experimental interests, claims that to understand the origins of behavior, reference to stimulations (experiences) should be replaced by reference to stimuli (physical events in the environment), and that reference to thoughts or ideas should be eliminated or displaced in favor of reference to responses (overt behavior, motor movement). Psychological behaviorism is associationism without appeal to inner mental events.

Don’t human beings talk of introspectible entities, thoughts, feelings, and so on, even if these are not recognized by behaviorism or best understood as behavioral tendencies? Psychological behaviorists regard the practice of talking about one’s own states of mind, and of introspectively reporting those states, as potentially useful data in psychological experiments, but as not presupposing the metaphysical subjectivity or non-physical presence of those states. There are different sorts of causes behind introspective reports, and psychological behaviorists take these and other elements of introspection to be amenable to behavioral analysis. (For additional discussion, see Section 5 of this entry). (See, for comparison, Dennett’s method of heterophenomenology; Dennett 1991, pp. 72–81)

The task of psychological behaviorism is to specify types of association, understand how environmental events control behavior, discover and elucidate causal regularities or laws or functional relations which govern the formation of associations, and predict how behavior will change as the environment changes. The word “conditioning” is commonly used to specify the process involved in acquiring new associations. Animals in so-called “operant” conditioning experiments are not learning to, for example, press levers. Instead, they are learning about the relationship between events in their environment, for example, that a particular behavior, pressing the lever in the presences of a light, causes food to appear.

In its historical foundations, methodological behaviorism shares with analytical behaviorism the influence of positivism. One of the main goals of positivism was to unify psychology with natural science. Watson wrote that “psychology as a behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control” (1913, p. 158). Watson also wrote of the purpose of psychology as follows: “To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction” (1930, p. 11).

Though logically distinct, methodological, psychological, and analytical behaviorisms are sometimes found in one behaviorism. Skinner’s radical behaviorism combines all three forms of behaviorism. It follows analytical strictures (at least loosely) in paraphrasing mental terms behaviorally, when or if they cannot be eliminated from explanatory discourse. In Verbal Behavior (1957) and elsewhere, Skinner tries to show how mental terms can be given behavioral interpretations. In About Behaviorism (1974) he says that when mental terminology cannot be eliminated it can be “translated into behavior” (p. 18, Skinner brackets the expression with his own double quotes).

Radical behaviorism is concerned with the behavior of organisms, not with internal processing (if treated or described differently from overt behavior). So, it is a form of methodological behaviorism. Finally, radical behaviorism understands behavior as a reflection of frequency effects among stimuli, which means that it is a form of psychological behaviorism.

Behaviorism of one sort or another was an immensely popular research program or methodological commitment among students of behavior from about the third decade of the twentieth century through its middle decades, at least until the beginnings of the cognitive science revolution. Cognitive science began to mature roughly from 1960 until 1985 (see Bechtel, Abrahamsen, and Graham 1998, pp. 15–17). In addition to Ryle and Wittgenstein, philosophers with sympathies for behaviorism included Carnap (1932–33), Hempel (1949), and Quine (1960). Quine, for example, took a behaviorist approach to the study of language. Quine claimed that the notion of psychological or mental activity has no place in a scientific account of either the origins or the meaning of speech. To talk in a scientifically disciplined manner about the meaning of an utterance is to talk about stimuli for the utterance, its so-called “stimulus meaning”. Hempel (1949) claimed that “all psychological statements that are meaningful … are translatable into statements that do not involve psychological concepts,” but only concepts for physical behavior (p. 18).

Among psychologists behaviorism was even more popular than among philosophers. In addition to Pavlov, Skinner, Thorndike, and Watson, the list of behaviorists among psychologists included, among others, E. C. Tolman (1886–1959), C. L. Hull (1884–52), and E. R. Guthrie (1886–1959). Tolman, for example, wrote that “everything important in psychology … can be investigated in essence through the continued experimental and theoretical analysis of the determiners of rat behavior at a choice point in a maze” (1938, p. 34).

Behaviorists created journals, organized societies, and founded psychology graduate programs reflective of behaviorism. Behaviorists organized themselves into different types of research clusters, whose differences stemmed from such factors as varying approaches to conditioning and experimentation. Some clusters were named as follows: “the experimental analysis of behavior”, “behavior analysis”, “functional analysis”, and, of course, “radical behaviorism”. These labels sometimes were responsible for the titles of behaviorism’s leading societies and journals, including the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis (SABA), and the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (begun in 1958) as well as the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (begun in 1968).

Behaviorism generated a type of therapy, known as behavior therapy (see Rimm and Masters 1974; Erwin 1978). It developed behavior management techniques for autistic children (see Lovaas and Newsom 1976) and token economies for the management of chronic schizophrenics (see Stahl and Leitenberg 1976). It fueled discussions of how best to understand the behavior of nonhuman animals and of the relevance of laboratory study to the natural environmental occurrence of animal behavior (see Schwartz and Lacey 1982).

Behaviorism stumbled upon various critical difficulties with some of its commitments. One difficulty is confusion about the effects of reinforcement on behavior (see Gallistel 1990). In its original sense, a stimulus such as food is a reinforcer only if its presentation increases the frequency of a response in a type of associative conditioning known as operant conditioning. A problem with this definition is that it defines reinforcers as stimuli that change behavior. The presentation of food, however, may have no observable effect on response frequency with respect to food even in cases in which an animal is food deprived or hungry. Rather, response frequency can be associated with an animal’s ability to identify and remember temporal or spatial properties of the circumstances in which a stimulus (say, food) is presented. This and other difficulties prompted changes in behaviorism’s commitments and new directions of research. One alternative direction has been the study of the role of short term memory in contributing to reinforcement effects on the so-called trajectory of behavior (see Killeen 1994).

Another stumbling block, in the case of analytical behaviorism, is the fact that the behavioral sentences that are intended to offer the behavioral paraphrases of mental terms almost always use mental terms themselves (see Chisholm 1957). In the example of my belief that I have a 2pm dental appointment, one must also speak of my desire to arrive at 2pm, otherwise the behavior of arriving at 2pm could not count as believing that I have a 2pm appointment. The term “desire” is a mental term. Critics of analytical behaviorism have charged that we can never escape from using mental terms in the characterization of the meaning of mental terms. This suggests that mental discourse cannot be displaced by behavioral discourse. At least it cannot be displaced term-by-term. Perhaps analytical behaviorists need to paraphrase a whole swarm of mental terms at once so as to recognize the presumption that the attribution of any one such mental term presupposes the application of others (see Rey 1997, p. 154–5).

Why would anyone be a behaviorist? There are three main reasons (see also Zuriff 1985).

The first reason is epistemic or evidential. Warrant or evidence for saying, at least in the third person case, that an animal or person is in a certain mental state, for example, possesses a certain belief, is grounded in behavior, understood as observable behavior. Moreover, the conceptual space or step between the claim that behavior warrants the attribution of belief and the claim that believing consists in behavior itself is a short and in some ways appealing step. If we look, for example, at how people are taught to use mental concepts and terms—terms like “believe”, “desire”, and so on—conditions of use appear inseparably connected with behavioral tendencies in certain circumstances. If mental state attribution bears a special connection with behavior, it is tempting to say that mentality just consists in behavioral tendencies.

The second reason can be expressed as follows: One major difference between mentalistic (mental states in-the-head) and associationist or conditioning accounts of behavior is that mentalistic accounts tend to have a strong nativist bent. This is true even though there may be nothing inherently nativist about mentalistic accounts (see Cowie 1998).

Mentalistic accounts tend to assume, and sometimes even explicitly to embrace (see Fodor 1981), the hypothesis that the mind possesses at birth or innately a set of procedures or internally represented processing rules which are deployed when learning or acquiring new responses. Behaviorism, by contrast, is anti-nativist. Behaviorism, therefore, appeals to theorists who deny that there are innate rules by which organisms learn. To Skinner and Watson organisms learn without being innately or pre-experientially provided with implicit procedures by which to learn. Learning does not consist, at least initially, in rule-governed behavior. Learning is what organisms do in response to stimuli. For a behaviorist an organism learns, as it were, from its successes and mistakes. “Rules,” says Skinner (1984a), “are derived from contingencies, which specify discriminative stimuli, responses, and consequences” (p. 583). (See also Dennett 1978).

Much contemporary work in cognitive science on the set of models known as connectionist or parallel distributed processing (PDP) models seems to share behaviorism’s anti-nativism about learning. PDP model building takes an approach to learning which is response oriented rather than rule-governed and this is because, like behaviorism, it has roots in associationism (see Bechtel 1985; compare Graham 1991 with Maloney 1991). Whether PDP models ultimately are or must be anti-nativist depends upon what counts as native or innate rules (Bechtel and Abrahamsen 1991, pp. 103–105).

The third reason for behaviorism’s appeal, popular at least historically, is related to its disdain for reference to inner mental or mentalistic information processing as explanatory causes of behavior. The disdain is most vigorously exemplified in the work of Skinner. Skinner’s skepticism about explanatory references to mental innerness may be described as follows.

Suppose we try to explain the public behavior of a person by describing how they represent,conceptualize or think about their situation. Suppose they conceive or think of their situation in a certain way, not as bare, as filled with items without attributes, but as things, as trees, as people, as walruses, walls, and wallets. Suppose, we also say, a person never merely interacts with their environment; but rather interacts with their environment as they perceive, see, or represent it. So, for example, thinking of something as a wallet, a person reaches for it. Perceiving something as a walrus, they back away from it. Classifying something as a wall, they don’t bump into it. So understood, behavior is endogenously produced movement, viz. behavior that has its causal origin within the person who thinks of or represents their situation in a certain way.

Skinner would object to such claims. He would object not because he believes that the eye is innocent or that inner or endogenous activity does not occur. He would object because he believes that behavior must be explained in terms that do not themselves presuppose the very thing that is explained. The outside (public) behavior of a person is not accounted for by referring to the inside (inner processing, cognitive activity) behavior of the person (say, his or her classifying or analyzing their environment) if, therein, the behavior of the person ultimately is unexplained. “The objection,” wrote Skinner, “to inner states is not that they do not exist, but that they are not relevant in a functional analysis” (Skinner 1953, p. 35). ‘Not relevant’ means, for Skinner, explanatorily circular or regressive.

Skinner charges that since mental activity is a form of behavior (albeit inner), the only non-regressive, non-circular way to explain behavior is to appeal to something non-behavioral. This non-behavioral something is environmental stimuli and an organism’s interactions with, and reinforcement from, the environment.

So, the third reason for behaviorism’s appeal is that it tries to avoid (what it claims is) circular, regressive explanations of behavior. It aims to refrain from accounting for one type of behavior (overt) in terms of another type of behavior (covert), all the while, in some sense, leaving behavior unexplained.

It should be noted that Skinner’s views about explanation and the purported circularity of explanation by reference to inner processing are both extreme and scientifically contestable, and that many who have self-identified as behaviorists including Guthrie, Tolman, and Hull, or continue to work within the tradition, broadly understood, including Killeen (1987) and Rescorla (1990), take exception to much that Skinner has said about explanatory references to innerness. Also Skinner himself is not always clear about his aversion to innerness. Skinner’s derisive attitude towards explanatory references to mental innerness stems, in part, not just from fears of explanatory circularity but from his conviction that if the language of psychology is permitted to refer to internal processing, this goes some way towards permitting talk of immaterial mental substances, agents endowed with contra-causal free will, and little persons (homunculi) within bodies. Each of these Skinner takes to be incompatible with a scientific worldview (see Skinner 1971; see also Day 1976). Finally, it must be noted that Skinner’s aversion to explanatory references to innerness is not an aversion to inner mental states or processes per se. He readily admits that private thoughts and so on exist. Skinner countenances talk of inner events but only provided that their innerness is treated in the same manner as public behavior or overt responses. An adequate science of behavior, he claims, must describe events taking place within the skin of the organism as part of behavior itself (see Skinner 1976). “So far as I am concerned,” he wrote in 1984 in a special issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted to his work, “whatever happens when we inspect a public stimulus is in every respect similar to what happens when we introspect a private one” (Skinner 1984b, p. 575; compare Graham 1984, pp. 558–9).

Skinner does not have much to say about just how inner (covert, private) behavior (like thinking, classifying, and analyzing) can be described in the same manner as public or overt behavior. But his idea is roughly as follows. Just as we may describe overt behavior or motor movement in terms of concepts like stimulus, response, conditioning, reinforcement, and so on, so we may deploy the very same terms in describing inner or covert behavior. One thought or line of thought may reinforce another thought. An act of analysis may serve as a stimulus for an effort at classification. And so on. Purely ‘mentalistic’ activities may be at least roughly parsed in terms of behavioral concepts — a topic to be revisited later in the entry (in the 7th Section).

Skinner is the only major figure in the history of behaviorism to offer a socio-political world view based on his commitment to behaviorism. Skinner constructed a theory as well as narrative picture in Walden Two (1948) of what an ideal human society would be like if designed according to behaviorist principles (see also Skinner 1971). Skinner’s social worldview illustrates his aversions to free will, to homunculi, and to dualism as well as his positive reasons for claiming that a person’s history of environmental interactions controls his or her behavior.

One possible feature of human behavior which Skinner deliberately rejects is that people freely or creatively make their own environments (see Chomsky 1971, Black 1973). Skinner protests that “it is in the nature of an experimental analysis of human behavior that it should strip away the functions previously assigned to a free or autonomous person and transfer them one by one to the controlling environment” (1971, p. 198).

Critics have raised several objections to the Skinnerian social picture. One of the most persuasive, and certainly one of the most frequent, adverts to Skinner’s vision of the ideal human society. It is a question asked of the fictional founder of Walden Two, Frazier, by the philosopher Castle. It is the question of what is the best social or communal mode of existence for a human being. Frazier’s, and therein Skinner’s, response to this question is both too general and incomplete. Frazier/Skinner praises the values of health, friendship, relaxation, rest, and so forth. However, these values are hardly the detailed basis of a social system.

There is a notorious difficulty in social theory of specifying the appropriate level of detail at which a blueprint for a new and ideal society must be presented (see Arnold 1990, pp. 4–10). Skinner identifies the behavioristic principles and learning incentives that he hopes will reduce systematic injustices in social systems. He also describes a few practices (concerning child rearing and the like) that are intended to contribute to human happiness. However, he offers only the haziest descriptions of the daily lives of Walden Two citizens and no suggestions for how best to resolve disputes about alternative ways of life that are prima facie consistent with behaviorist principles (see Kane 1996, p. 203). He gives little or no serious attention to the crucial general problem of inter-personal conflict resolution and to the role of institutional arrangements in resolving conflicts.

In an essay which appeared in The Behavior Analyst (1985), nearly forty years after the publication of Walden Two, Skinner, in the guise of Frazier, tried to clarify his characterization of ideal human circumstances. He wrote that in the ideal human society “people just naturally do the things they need to do to maintain themselves … and treat each other well, and they just naturally do a hundred other things they enjoy doing because they do not have to do them” (p. 9). However, of course, doing a hundred things humans enjoy doing means only that Walden Two is vaguely defined, not that its culturally instituted habits and the character of its institutions merit emulation.

The incompleteness of Skinner’s description of the ideal human society or life is so widely acknowledged that one might wonder if actual experiments in Walden Two living could lend useful detail to his blueprint. More than one such social experiment has been conducted. Perhaps the most interesting (in part because the community has evolved away from its Skinnerian roots) is the Twin Oaks Community in Virginia in the U.S.A., which can be indirectly explored via the Internet (see Other Internet Resources).

Behaviorism is dismissed by cognitive scientists developing intricate internal information processing models of cognition. Its laboratory routines or experimental regimens are neglected by cognitive ethologists and ecological psychologists convinced that its methods are irrelevant to studying how animals and persons behave in their natural and social environment. Its traditional relative indifference towards neuroscience and deference to environmental contingencies is rejected by neuroscientists sure that direct study of the brain is the only way to understand the truly proximate causes of behavior.

But by no means has behaviorism disappeared. Robust elements of behaviorism survive in both behavior therapy and laboratory-based animal learning theory (of which more below). In the metaphysics of mind, too, behavioristic themes survive in the approach to mind known as Functionalism. Functionalism defines states of mind as states that play causal-functional roles in animals or systems in which they occur. Paul Churchland writes of Functionalism as follows: “The essential or defining feature of any type of mental states is the set of causal relations it bears to … bodily behavior” (1984, p. 36). This functionalist notion is similar to the behaviorist idea that reference to behavior and to stimulus/response relations enters centrally and essentially into any account of what it means for a creature to behave or to be subject, in the scheme of analytical or logical behaviorism, to the attribution of mental states.

Fans of the so-called and now widely discussed Extended Mind Hypothesis (EMH) also share a kinship with behaviorism or at least with Skinner. The defining hypothesis of EMH is that “mental” representation is a matter that spills out from the brain or head into the world and cultural environment (Levy 2007). Representations are things external to the head or which bear special individuating relationships with external devices or forms of cultural activity. Skinner’s misgivings about depicting the power of mental representation as something confined to the head (brain, inner mind) are at least loosely akin to EMH’s shift to depict representationality as environmentally extended.

Elements, however, are elements. Behaviorism is no longer a dominating research program.

Why has the influence of behaviorism declined? The deepest and most complex reason for behaviorism’s decline in influence is its commitment to the thesis that behavior can be explained without reference to non-behavioral and inner mental (cognitive, representational, or interpretative) activity. Behavior, for Skinner, can be explained just by reference to its “functional” (Skinner’s term) relation to or co-variation with the environment and to the animal’s history of environmental interaction. Neurophysiological and neurobiological conditions, for Skinner, sustain or implement these functional or causal relations. But they do not serve as ultimate or independent sources or explanations of behavior. Behavior, Skinner (1953) wrote, cannot be accounted for “while staying wholly inside [an animal]; eventually we must turn to forces operating upon the organism from without.” “Unless there is a weak spot in our causal chain so that the second [neurological] link is not lawfully determined by the first [environmental stimuli], or the third [behavior] by the second, the first and third links must be lawfully related.” (p. 35) “Valid information about the second link may throw light on this relationship but can in no way alter it.” (ibid.) It is “external variables of which behavior is a function.” (ibid.)

Skinner was no triumphalist about neuroscience. Neuroscience, for him, more or less just identifies organismic physical processes that underlie animal/environment interactions. Therein, it rides evidential or epistemic piggyback on radical behaviorism’s prior description of those interactions. “The organism”, he says, “is not empty, and it cannot adequately be treated simply as a black box” (1976, p. 233). “Something is done today which affects the behavior of the organism tomorrow” (p. 233). Neuroscience describes inside-the-box mechanisms that permit today’s reinforcing stimulus to affect tomorrow’s behavior. The neural box is not empty, but it is unable, except in cases of malfunction or breakdown, to disengage the animal from past patterns of behavior that have been reinforced. It cannot exercise independent or non-environmentally countervailing authority over behavior.

For many critics of behaviorism it seems obvious that, at a minimum, the occurrence and character of behavior (especially human behavior) does not depend primarily upon an individual’s reinforcement history, although that is a factor, but on the fact that the environment or learning history is represented by an individual and how (the manner in which) it is represented. The fact that the environment is represented by me constrains or informs the functional or causal relations that hold between my behavior and the environment and may, from an anti-behaviorist perspective, partially disengage my behavior from its conditioning or reinforcement history. No matter, for example, how tirelessly and repeatedly I have been reinforced for pointing to or eating ice cream, such a history is impotent if I just don’t see a potential stimulus as ice cream or represent it to myself as ice cream or if I desire to hide the fact that something is ice cream from others. My conditioning history, narrowly understood as unrepresented by me, is behaviorally less important than the environment or my learning history as represented or interpreted by me.

Similarly, for many critics of behaviorism, if representationality comes between environment and behavior, this implies that Skinner is too restrictive or limited in his attitude towards the role of brain mechanisms in producing or controlling behavior. The brain is no mere passive memory bank of behavior/environment interactions (see Roediger and Goff 1998). The central nervous system, which otherwise sustains my reinforcement history, contains systems or neurocomputational sub-systems that implement or encode whatever representational content or meaning the environment has for me. It is also an active interpretation machine or semantic engine, often critically performing environmentally untethered and behavior controlling tasks. Such talk of representation or interpretation, however, is a perspective from which behaviorism—most certainly in Skinner— wishes and tries to depart.

One defining aspiration of traditional behaviorism is that it tried to free psychology from having to theorize about how animals and persons represent (internally, in the head) their environment. This effort at freedom was important, historically, because it seemed that behavior/environment connections are a lot clearer and more manageable experimentally than internal representations. Unfortunately, for behaviorism, it’s hard to imagine a more restrictive rule for psychology than one which prohibits hypotheses about representational storage and processing. Stephen Stich, for example, complains against Skinner that “we now have an enormous collection of experimental data which, it would seem, simply cannot be made sense of unless we postulate something like” information processing mechanisms in the heads of organisms (1998, p. 649).

A second reason for rejecting behaviorism is that some features of mentality—some elements, in particular, of the conscious mental life of persons—have characteristic ‘qualia’ or presentationally immediate or phenomenal qualities. To be in pain, for example, is not merely to produce appropriate pain behavior under the right environmental circumstances, but it is to experience a ‘like-thisness’ to the pain (as something dull or sharp, perhaps). A purely behaviorist creature, a ‘zombie’, as it were, may engage in pain behavior, including beneath the skin pain responses, yet completely lack whatever is qualitatively distinctive of and proper to pain (its painfulness). (See also Graham 1998, pp. 47–51 and Graham and Horgan 2000. On the scope of the phenomenal in human mentality, see Graham, Horgan, and Tienson 2009).

The philosopher-psychologist U. T. Place, although otherwise sympathetic to the application of behaviorist ideas to matters of mind, argued that phenomenal qualia cannot be analyzed in behaviorist terms. He claimed that qualia are neither behavior nor dispositions to behave. “They make themselves felt,” he said, “from the very moment that the experience of whose qualia they are” comes into existence (2000, p. 191; reprinted in Graham and Valentine 2004). They are instantaneous features of processes or events rather than dispositions manifested over time. Qualitative mental events (such as sensations, perceptual experiences, and so on), for Place, undergird dispositions to behave rather than count as dispositions. Indeed, it is tempting to postulate that the qualitative aspects of mentality affect non-qualitative elements of internal processing, and that they, for example, contribute to arousal, attention, and receptivity to associative conditioning.

The third reason for rejecting behaviorism is connected with Noam Chomsky. Chomsky has been one of behaviorism’s most successful and damaging critics. In a review of Skinner’s book on verbal behavior (see above), Chomsky (1959) charged that behaviorist models of language learning cannot explain various facts about language acquisition, such as the rapid acquisition of language by young children, which is sometimes referred to as the phenomenon of “lexical explosion.” A child’s linguistic abilities appear to be radically underdetermined by the evidence of verbal behavior offered to the child in the short period in which he or she expresses those abilities. By the age of four or five (normal) children have an almost limitless capacity to understand and produce sentences which they have never heard before. Chomsky also argued that it seems plainly untrue that language learning depends on the application of detailed reinforcement. A child does not, as an English speaker in the presence of a house, utter “house” repeatedly in the presence of reinforcing elders. Language as such seems to be learned without, in a sense, being explicitly taught or taught in detail, and behaviorism doesn’t offer an account of how this could be so. Chomsky’s own speculations about the psychological realities underlying language development include the hypothesis that the rules or principles underlying linguistic behavior are abstract (applying to all human languages) and innate (part of our native psychological endowment as human beings). When put to the test of uttering a grammatical sentence, a person, for Chomsky, has a virtually infinite number of possible responses available, and the only way in which to understand this virtually infinite generative capacity is to suppose that a person possesses a powerful and abstract innate grammar (underlying whatever competence he or she may have in one or more particular natural languages).

The problem to which Chomsky refers, which is the problem of behavioral competence and thus performance outstripping individual learning histories, goes beyond merely the issue of linguistic behavior in young children. It appears to be a fundamental fact about human beings that our behavior and behavioral capacities often surpass the limitations of individual reinforcement histories. Our history of reinforcement is often too impoverished to determine uniquely what we do or how we do it. Much learning, therefore, seems to require pre-existing or innate representational structures or principled constraints within which learning occurs. (See also Brewer 1974, but compare with Bates et al. 1998 and Cowie 1998).

Is the case against behaviorism definitive? Decisive? Paul Meehl noted decades ago that theories in psychology seem to disappear not under the force of decisive refutation but rather because researchers lose interest in their theoretical orientations (Meehl 1978). One implication of Meehl’s thesis is that a once popular “Ism”, not having been decisively refuted, may restore some of its former prominence if it mutates or transforms itself so as to incorporate responses to criticisms. What may this mean for behaviorism? It may mean that some version of the doctrine might rebound.

Skinner claimed that neural activities subserve or underlie behavior/environment relations and that the organism’s contribution to these relations does not reduce to neurophysiological properties. But this does not mean that behaviorism cannot gain useful alliance with neuroscience. Reference to brain structures (neurobiology, neurochemistry, and so on) may help in explaining behavior even if such references do not ultimately displace reference to environmental contingencies in a behaviorist account.

Such is a lesson of animal modeling in which behaviorist themes still enjoy currency. Animal models of addiction, habit and instrumental learning are particularly noteworthy because they bring behavioral research into closer contact than did traditional psychological behaviorism with research on the brain mechanisms underlying reinforcement, especially positive reinforcement (West 2006, pp. 91–108). One result of this contact is the discovery that sensitized neural systems responsible for heightened reinforcement value or strength can be dissociated from the hedonic utility or pleasurable quality of reinforcement (see Robinson and Berridge 2003). The power of a stimulus to reinforce behavior may be independent of whether it is a source or cause of pleasure. Focus on brain mechanisms underlying reinforcement also forms the centerpiece of one of the most active research programs in current neuroscience, so-called neuroeconomics, which weds study of the brain’s reward systems with models of valuation and economic decision making (see Montague and Berns 2002; Nestler and Malenka 2004; Ross et al 2008). Behaviorism may do well to purchase some of neuroeconomic’s conceptual currency, especially since some advocates of the program see themselves as behaviorists in spirit if not stereotypical letter and honor the work of a number of theorists in the behavioristic tradition of the experimental analysis of behavior, such as George Ainslie, Richard Herrnstein and Howard Rachlin, on how patterns of behavior relate to patterns of reward or reinforcement (see Ross et al. 2008, especially p. 10). One important assumption in neuroeconomics is that full explanations of organism/environmental interactions will combine facts about such things as reinforcement schedules with appeal to neurocomputational modeling and to the neurochemistry and neurobiology of reinforcement.

Other potential sources of utility or renewal? The continued popularity of so-called economic behavior therapy is noteworthy because it offers a potential domain of testing application for the regimen of behaviorism. Early versions of behavior therapy sought to apply restricted results from Skinnerian or Pavlovian conditioning paradigms to human behavior problems. No minds should be spoken of; just behavior—stimuli, responses, and reinforcement. Therapy shapes behavior not thought. Successive generations of behavior therapy relax those conceptual restrictions. Advocates refer to themselves as cognitive behavior therapists (e.g. Mahoney 1974; Meichenbaum 1977). Clients’ behavior problems are described by referring to their beliefs, desires, intentions, memories, and so on. Even the language of self-reflexive thought and belief (so-called ‘meta-cognition’) figures in some accounts of behavioral difficulties and interventions (Wells 2000). One goal of such language is to encourage clients to monitor and self-reinforce their own behavior. Self-reinforcement is an essential feature of behavioral self-control (Rachlin 2000; Ainslie 2001). The monitoring process may include a number of checking and error detection processes and correction of behavior in a client’s current life circumstances (West 2006).

It may be wondered whether cognitive behavior therapy is aptly consistent with behaviorist doctrine. Much depends on how beliefs and desires are understood. If beliefs and desires are understood as states that somehow spill out into the environment and are individuated in terms of their non-mentalistic, behavior-like role in organism/environment interactions, this would be consistent with traditional behaviorist doctrine. It would reflect the principle of logical or analytical behaviorism that if mental terms are to be used in the description and explanation of behavior, they must be defined or paraphrased in non-mental behavioral terms. Prospects for belief/desire individuation in non-mental, environmentally externalist terms may look doubtful however, especially in cases of conscious attitudes(see Horgan, Tienson and Graham 2006). But the topic of the forms and limits of behavior therapy and the range of its plausible application is open for continued further exploration.

In 1977 Willard Day, a behavioral psychologist and founding editor of the journal Behaviorism (later known as Behavior and Philosophy), published Skinner’s “Why I am not a cognitive psychologist” (Skinner 1977). Skinner began the paper by stating that “the variables of which human behavior is a function lie in the environment” (p. 1). Skinner ended by remarking that “cognitive constructs give … a misleading account of what” is inside a human being (p. 10)

More than a decade earlier, in 1966 Carl Hempel had announced his defection from behaviorism:

In order to characterize … behavioral patterns, propensities, or capacities … we need not only a suitable behavioristic vocabulary, but psychological terms as well. (p. 110)

Hempel had come to believe that it is a mistake to imagine that human behavior can be understood exclusively in non-mental, behavioristic terms.

Contemporary psychology and philosophy largely share Hempel’s conviction that the explanation of behavior cannot omit invoking a creature’s representation of its world. Psychology must use psychological terms. Behavior without cognition is blind. Psychological theorizing without reference to internal cognitive processing is explanatorily impaired. To say this, of course, is not to a priori preclude that behaviorism will recover some of its prominence. Just how to conceive of cognitive processing (even where to locate it) remains a heated subject of debate (see Melser 2004; see also Levy 2007, pp. 29–64). But if behaviorism is to recover some of its prominence, this recovery may require a reformulation of its doctrines that is attune to developments (like that of neuroeconomics) in neuroscience as well as in novel therapeutic orientations.

Skinner’s vantage point on or special contribution to behaviorism mates the science of behavior with the language of organism/environment interactions. But we humans don’t just run and mate and walk and eat in this or that environment. We think, classify, analyze, imagine, and theorize. In addition to our outer behavior, we have highly complex inner lives, wherein we are active, often imaginatively, in our heads, all the while often remaining as stuck as posts, as still as stones. Call our inner life ‘behavior’ if one wants, but this piece of linguistic stipulation does not mean that the probability or occurrence of inner events is shaped by the same environmental contingencies as overt behavior or bodily movements. It does not mean that understanding a sentence or composing an entry for this encyclopedia consist of the same general modes of discriminatory responses as learning how to move one’s body in pursuit of a food source. How the Inner Representational World of mind maps into the Country of Behaviorism remains the “ism’s” still incompletely charted territory.

How to cite this entry . Preview the PDF version of this entry at the Friends of the SEP Society . Look up topics and thinkers related to this entry at the Internet Philosophy Ontology Project (InPhO). Enhanced bibliography for this entry at PhilPapers , with links to its database.

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Learning Theory

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Behaviorism is a psychological school of thought that seeks to identify observable, measurable laws that explain human (and animal) behavior. Rather than looking inward to incorporate the subject’s thoughts and feelings, classical behaviorism focused on observable behavioral outputs, presuming that each behavior was carried out in response to environmental stimuli or a result of the individual’s past conditioning—which may have included consequences, such as rewards or punishments. What’s more, proponents argued that any task or behavior could be modified with the right conditioning, regardless of individual traits and thinking patterns.

Behaviorism was most dominant in the first half of the twentieth century. Though the field did evolve beyond its early hyperfocus on external behavior, it is no longer widely cited amongst clinicians or academics because modern psychology tends to privilege the inner landscape of emotions and thought. Still, behavioral therapy techniques are used to help with developing new skills, connecting the steps required to complete a task, and rewarding desired behavior, particularly in the areas of developmental delays and the modification of problematic behaviors. The theory of behaviorism laid the groundwork for understanding how we learn, and has had a durable influence on everything from animal training to parenting techniques to teaching standards.

The Basics of Behaviorism

Why people like behaviorist approaches to the mind, the criticisms of behaviorism.

A golden retriever dog eating from a bowl and licking its lips

Behaviorism emerged in the early 1900s, largely in response to other popular schools of thought at the time—including Freudian psychology, which emphasized the importance of unconscious thoughts and urges. Early behaviorists aimed to transform psychology into a more objective scientific discipline that, like biology or chemistry, focused on measurable, observable phenomenon, rather than the unobservable internal phenomena that Freud and his contemporaries prioritized. Classical behaviorists did not deny that humans have thoughts and emotions; rather, they argued that because such internal cognitions could not be measured or documented, they were not relevant for the study of human behavior. Though such theories have been largely discounted, some elements of behaviorism—particularly those related to radical behaviorism, a theory promoted by noted psychologist B.F. Skinner—remain in use today

Who first came up with behaviorism?

An American psychologist named John B. Watson, born in 1898, is considered the “father” of behaviorism. Watson primarily studied animal behavior and child development and was (in)famous for conducting the “Little Albert” experiment, now widely seen as unethical. Though his work is still taught to psychology students, some argue that his legacy should be rethought .

What is classical conditioning?

Classical conditioning is a form of learning in which the repeated pairing of two stimuli will cause an organism to respond to one stimulus as if the other was present, even when it isn’t. A famous example of classical conditioning is an experiment conducted by Ivan Pavlov, who observed that dogs could be made to salivate in response to unrelated auditory or visual stimuli. In one version of the experiment, food—which itself caused the dogs to salivate—was repeatedly paired with a whistling sound. After being conditioned, the dogs would salivate at the mere sound of the whistle—even if food never arrived.

What is operant conditioning?

Operant conditioning is a form of learning in which an organism modifies its behavior in response to repeated rewards or punishments. A child who touches a hot stove, for example, will be burned; that negative consequence will likely lead them to avoid touching hot stoves in the future.

What is the difference between methodological behaviorism and radical behaviorism?

“Methodological behaviorism,” credited to John Watson, argues that because only external behaviors can be observed, they are all that should be measured and studied. “Radical behaviorism,” devised by B.F. Skinner, argues that thoughts and feelings represent “inner behavior” and can be studied and modified, just like external behaviors. 

Does punishment help teach good behavior?

Behaviorism does not suggest that negative consequences necessarily promote desired behavior—rather, they teach the organism to avoid undesired behavior. Spanking , for example, is a common example of negative consequences being used to manage behavior—a child who misbehaves is punished, and (in theory) avoids the bad behavior in the future. However, the child has not learned a positive replacement behavior, and the punished behavior may reappear once the punitive consequences (i.e. spanking) are stopped.

What was the Little Albert experiment?

The “Little Albert” experiment was an early-20th-century behaviorist study in which an infant (dubbed “Albert”) was conditioned to fear certain animals and objects—such as a rat, a white rabbit, and a Santa Claus mask—because each was paired with a loud, frightening sound. The experiment is now considered unethical because the researchers did not attempt to “decondition” the infant afterward, potentially leaving him with lasting fears of harmless objects; some experts also speculate that “Albert’s” mother was coerced into participating. Though several historians have claimed to have discovered the identity of “Albert,” the child’s true identity—and the aftereffects of the study—remain debated.

Where is behaviorism used today?

Behaviorist principles are sometimes used today to treat mental health challenges, such as phobias or PTSD ; exposure therapy , for example, aims to weaken conditioned responses to certain feared stimuli. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), a therapy used to treat autism, is based on behaviorist principles. Behaviorism also shows up in organizational psychology , particularly in the use of rewards and punishments to modify employee behavior. 

By Patrizia Tilly / shutterstock

One reason behaviorism rose to prominence in the 1920s is that it implies human behavior is predictable. People often expect, or hope, that others will behave in a predictable fashion, even if that isn’t always the case. On a social level, behavioral predictability builds confidence and trust—and behaviors and attitudes that deviate too far from the established norm or that are erratic and unpredictable are often considered unacceptable. Thus, the idea that one can predict how another person will behave or elicit a standard response using operant conditioning was enticing to generations of psychologists. And though behaviorism is no longer a dominant school of thought in psychology, it hasn’t been entirely discounted—many modern approaches incorporate behaviorist elements with some success.

Can behaviorism be useful during therapy?

Many modern therapies, such as behavior therapy or exposure therapy, rely in part on behaviorist techniques. Behavior therapy, for example, makes use of positive and negative consequences (such as praise or the loss of privileges) to modify a child’s behavior; such therapy has been shown to be effective for developmental disorders such as ADHD .

Can teachers use behaviorism to help students master skills?

Because behaviorism suggests that learning happens primarily via conditioning, behavioral approaches to teaching make use of rewards and punishments in order to reinforce desired concepts and behaviors. Such techniques may prove useful for simple behaviors or learning rooted in repetition; however, it is not thought to be effective in helping students master more complex concepts or engage in critical thinking. 

Can people use behavioral modification to change others’ behavior?

The principles of reinforcement can be used in interpersonal relationships; indeed, parents very often use the promise of a reward or the threat of a punishment to change their child’s behavior. Romantic partners can also make use of reinforcement to modify each other’s behavior—for example, “rewarding” a partner with affection when they complete a needed chore. Evidence suggests, however, that such “conditional regard” can backfire in romantic relationships .

Sad child crying during therapy

Behaviorism is no longer as dominant as it once was, and many psychologists today discount most aspects of both classical behaviorism and radical behaviorism. While most modern therapeutic approaches aim to change behavior to some extent, they typically do so by targeting thoughts and emotions, rather than focusing primarily on rewards and punishment . There are exceptions to this—such as in the treatment of autism or other developmental disorders—but even these are not without their critics. Indeed, some psychologists argue that using behaviorist approaches to treat developmental disorders is both ineffective and potentially harmful.

Why did behaviorism start to lose popularity?

Behaviorism began to decline in popularity when cognitive psychology, which prioritizes the study of internal mental processes such as attention and memory , started to gain steam in the 1960s. Psychologists of the time were frustrated by the limits of behaviorism and felt that it was unable to truly explain the complex realities of human behavior. An influential critique by linguist Noam Chomsky is credited with dismantling much of behaviorism’s influence.

What are some critiques of behaviorism?

Among the most common criticisms of behaviorism are that it is reductionist and that it ignores the complexity of human thought and emotion, as well as the possibility of free will . Some modern applications of behaviorism—most notably applied behavior analysis—have been criticized for modifying behavior at the expense of personal agency; some have suggested that the use of behaviorist techniques to treat autism , in particular, can be harmful.

What are the criticisms of applied behavior analysis (ABA)?

ABA remains a popular approach to treating autism. Some autism advocates, however, argue that ABA uses punishment and/or negative reinforcement to force autistic individuals to behave in neurotypical ways, even when it does not benefit them. They also argue that it  does not address the underlying reasons for autistic behaviors —using reinforcement to get an autistic person to stop hand-flapping, for example, does not target his motivation for doing so in the first place, and thus leaves him with an unmet internal need. 

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Behaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Look

This paper explores the theory of behaviorism and evaluates its effectiveness as a theory of personality. It takes into consideration all aspects of the behaviorism theory, including Pavlov's classical conditioning and Skinner's operant conditioning. Additional research in this field by scientists such as Thorndike is also included. As a result of this critical look at behaviorism, its weaknesses as a comprehensive personality theory are revealed. At the same time, its merits when restricted to certain areas of psychology and treatment of disorders are discussed.
For as long as human beings can remember, they have always been interested in what makes them who they are and what aspects of their being set each of them apart from others of their species. The answer according to behaviorists is nothing more than the world in which they grew up. Behaviorism is the theory that human nature can be fully understood by the laws inherent in the natural environment. As one of the oldest theories of personality, behaviorism dates back to Descartes, who introduced the idea of a stimulus and called the person a machine dependent on external events whose soul was the ghost in the machine. Behaviorism takes this idea to another level. Although most theories operate to some degree on the assumption that humans have some sort of free will and are moral thinking entities, behaviorism refuses to acknowledge the internal workings of persons. In the mind of the behaviorist, persons are nothing more than simple mediators between behavior and the environment (Skinner, 1993, p 428). The dismissal of the internal workings of human beings leads to one problem opponents have with the behavioral theory. This, along with its incapability of explaining the human phenomenon of language and memory, build a convincing case against behaviorism as a comprehensive theory. Yet although these criticisms indicate its comprehensive failure, they do not deny that behaviorism and its ideas have much to teach the world about the particular behaviors expressed by humankind. The Theory of Behaviorism Classical Conditioning The Pavlovian experiment. While studying digestive reflexes in dogs, Russian scientist, Pavlov, made the discovery that led to the real beginnings of behavioral theory. He could reliably predict that dogs would salivate when food was placed in the mouth through a reflex called the "salivary reflex" in digestion. Yet he soon realized that, after time, the salivary reflex occurred even before the food was offered. Because the sound of the door and the sight of the attendant carrying the food "had repeatedly and reliably preceded the delivery of food to the mouth in the past," the dogs had transferred the reflex to these events (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, p. 21). Thus, the dogs began salivating simply at the door's sound and the attendant's presence. Pavlov continued experimenting with the dogs using a tone to signal for food. He found that the results matched and the dogs had begun to salivate with the tone and without food (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, pp. 20-24). What Pavlov discovered was first order conditioning. In this process, a neutral stimulus that causes no natural response in an organism is associated with an unconditioned stimulus, an event that automatically or naturally causes a response. This usually temporal association causes the response to the unconditioned stimulus, the unconditioned response, to transfer to the neutral stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus no longer needs to be there for the response to occur in the presence of the formerly neutral stimulus. Given that this response is not natural and has to be learned, the response is now a conditioned response and the neutral stimulus is now a conditioned stimulus. In Pavlov's experiment the tone was the neutral stimulus that was associated with the unconditioned stimulus of food. The unconditioned response of salivation became a conditioned response to the newly conditioned stimulus of the tone (Beecroft, 1966, pp. 8-10). Second order conditioning. When another neutral stimulus is introduced and associated with the conditioned stimulus, even further conditioning takes place. The conditioned response trained to occur only after the conditioned stimulus now transfers to the neutral stimulus making it another conditioned stimulus. Now the second conditioned stimulus can cause the response without both the first conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus. Thus, many new conditioned responses can be learned (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, p 48). When second order or even first order conditioning occur with frightening unconditioned stimuli, phobias or irrational fears develop. In a study performed by Watson and Rayner (1920), an intense fear of rats was generated in a little boy named Albert. Whenever Albert would reach for a rat, the researchers would make a loud noise and scare him. Through classical conditioning, Albert associated rats with the loud fearful noise and transferred his fear with the noise to fear of rats. He then went further and associated rats, which are furry, to all furry objects. Due to second order conditioning, little Albert formed an irrational fear of all furry objects (Mischel, 1993, pp. 298-299). Modern classical conditioning. Whereas Pavlov and most of his contemporaries saw classical conditioning as learning that comes from exposing an organism to associations of environmental events, modern classical conditioning theorists, like R. A. Rescorla, prefer to define it in more specific terms. Rescorla emphasizes the fact that contiguity or a temporal relationship between the unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus is not enough for Pavlovian conditioning to occur. Instead, the conditioned stimulus must relate some information about the unconditioned stimulus (Rescorla, 1988, pp. 151-153). The importance of this distinction can be seen in the experimental work done by Kamin (1969) and his blocking effect. In his experiment, rats were exposed to a tone followed by a shock. Following Pavlovian conditioning principles, the tone became a conditioned response. Yet, when the same rats were exposed to a tone and a light followed by a shock, no conditioning occurred with the light. This was because the tone had already related the information of the shock's arrival. So, any information the light would have given would have been useless. Even though the light was associated temporally with the shock, there was no conditioning because there was no information related (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, p. 53). Operant Conditioning Thorndike's law of effect. Although evidence of classical conditioning was there, E. L. Thorndike did not believe that it was comprehensive because most behavior in the natural environment was not simple enough to be explained by Pavlov's theory. He conducted an experiment where he put a cat in a cage with a latch on the door and a piece of salmon outside of the cage. After first trying to reach through the cage and then scratching at the bars of the cage, the cat finally hit the latch on the door and the door opened. With the repetition of this experiment, the amount of time and effort spent on the futile activities of reaching and scratching by the cats became less and the releasing of the latch occurred sooner. Thorndike's analysis of this behavior was that the behavior that produced the desired effect became dominant and therefore, occurred faster in the next experiments. He argued that more complicated behavior was influenced by anticipated results, not by a triggering stimulus as Pavlov had supposed. This idea became known as the law of effect, and it provided the basis for Skinner's operant conditioning analysis of behavior (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, pp. 24-26). Skinner's positive and negative reinforcement. Although Thorndike developed the basic law of effect, Skinner took this law and constructed a research program around it. He based this program on the experiments he had conducted in his study of punishment and reward. According to Skinner, the behavior caused by the law of effect was called operant conditioning because the behavior of an organism changed or operated on the environment. There were no real environmental stimuli forcing a response from an organism as in classical conditioning. Operant conditioning consists of two important elements, the operant or response and the consequence. If the consequence is favorable or positively reinforcing, then the likelihood of another similar response is more than if the consequence is punishing (Mischel, 1993, pp. 304-308). For instance, in Skinner's experiment a rat was put into a box with a lever. Each time the lever was depressed, food was released. As a result, the rat learned to press the lever to receive favorable consequences. However, when the food was replaced with shocks, the lever depressing stopped almost immediately due to punishing consequences. Similar results were produced by stopping the positive reinforcement of food altogether in a process called extinction, but the operant conditioned response decreased at a much slower rate than when punishment was used. This kind of operant conditioning occurs in the rewarding or punishing discipline action taken towards a child (Schwartz, 1982, pp. 27-53). Discriminative stimuli. The effect stimuli have on an operant response is different than in Pavlovian conditioning because the stimuli do not cause the response. They simply guide the response towards a positive or negative consequence. These operant response stimuli are called discriminative stimuli because they discriminate between the good and the bad consequences and indicate what response will be the most fruitful. For instance, a red stoplight indicates that one should step on the brakes. Although there is nothing that naturally forces humans to stop at a red light, they do stop. This is because the red indicates that if they do not, negative consequences will follow (Schwartz & Lacey, 1982, pp. 30-31). Avoidance theory. Although it is not always the case with discriminative stimuli, the red stop light stimuli and the appropriate stop response are also an example of the behavior known as avoidance-escape behavior. Put simply, the stimulus indicates that a negative consequence will follow if an action is not carried out, so the action is carried out. This may seem confusing given that extinction occurs in the sudden absence of any positive reinforcement. However, as shown in the experiments done by Rescorla and Solomon (1967), this is not the case. An animal was placed on one side of a partitioned box and trained to jump over the partition to avoid a shock. When the shock was removed, the animal retained its conditioned jumping behavior. Apparently in avoidant behavior, the escape or absence of reinforcement occurs because of a response. The animals in the box learned to expect shock if they did not respond or no shock if they did. Thus, the extinction occurred because they continued to respond to supposedly eliminate the shock (Schwartz & Lacey, 1982, 87-90). Schedules of reinforcement. Another exception to the extinction rule is an operant conditioned response that has been conditioned by intermittent schedules of reinforcement. There are four types of intermittent schedules: fixed interval schedules that reinforce a response after a certain fixed amount of time, variable interval schedules that reinforce a response after an amount of time that varies from reinforcement to reinforcement, fixed ratio schedules that reinforce a response after a certain fixed number of responses have been made, and varied ratio schedules that reinforce a response after varied numbers of responses are made. As strange as it may seem, maintenance of behavior is actually increased on these intermittent schedules as opposed to continuously reinforced behavior. This is due to the fact that with these occasional reinforcement patterns, the extinction of reinforcement takes a long time to recognize. As soon as it is recognized though, another reinforcement occurs and the extinction of the reinforcement now takes even longer to recognize. Thus, intermittent schedules keep the organism "guessing" as to when the reinforcement will occur and will reinforce the behavior without the actual reinforcement taking place (Schwartz & Lacey, 1982, pp. 91-101). Natural selection by consequences. In an attempt to convince his critics of the validity of his theory of operant conditioning, Skinner drew some interesting parallels between his theory and Darwin's theory of natural selection. According to Skinner, operant conditioning is nothing more than "a second kind of selection by consequences" (Skinner, 1984b, p. 477). He pointed out that although natural selection was necessary for the survival of the species, operant conditioning was necessary for an individual to learn. Also, evolutionary advances occurred because species with these advantages were more efficient in passing on the advantage, and operant conditioning occurs because certain reinforcements have affected the individual in a more efficient manner. Skinner goes on to draw the parallel between the evolution of living beings from molecules without the concept of life and the initiation of operant behavior from the environment without the concept of an independent mind. Finally, Skinner mentions how species adapt to the environment in the same way an individual adapts to a situation. By comparing these two theories, Skinner hoped to show that like the theory of natural selection, his contemporaries should accept the theory of operant behavior (Skinner, 1984b, pp. 477-481). The Validity of Behaviorism Criticisms of the Behaviorist Theory Contradictions with the ideas of Darwin's natural selection. Whereas Darwin's theory has been widely accepted by most scientists, behaviorism is constantly coming under fire from critics. Indeed, this is why Skinner chooses to align his theory with Darwin's, to give credibility to his own. However, as B. Dahlbom (1984) points out, some ideas in Darwinism contradict Skinner's operant conditioning. Darwin believes humans are constantly improving themselves to gain better self-control. Yet, "to increase self-control means to increase liberty" or fee-will, something Skinner's very theory denies exists (Dahlbom, 1984, p. 486). Thus, the very base on which Skinner has formed his theory is a direct contradiction of Darwin's ideas (Dahlbom, 1984, pp. 484-486). At the same time, as W. Wyrwicka (1984) shows, Skinner compares the positive reinforcement drive inherent in operant conditioning with Darwin's proposal of the natural selection drive inherent in nature. According to Wyrwicka, the natural selection drive is dependent on what is necessary for the survival of the species, and "the consequences of operant behavior are not so much survival as sensory gratification" (Wyrwicka, 1984, p. 502). Given that what is most pleasurable to the senses is not always what is best for the survival of one's genes, often these two drives contradict each other. For example, smoking crack and participating in dangerous sports are two popular activities despite the hazards they pose to one's life. Obviously, Darwinism is more accepted than operant conditioning. By contradicting Darwin's ideas, Skinner's operant conditioning theory loses much of the support Skinner hoped to gain with his parallels (Wyrwicka, 1984, pp. 501-502). Failure to show adequate generalizability in human behavior. Although many experiments have been done showing evidence of both Pavlovian conditioning and operant conditioning, all of these experiments have been based on animals and their behavior. K. Boulding (1984) questions Skinner's application of principles of animal behavior to the much more complex human behavior. In using animals as substitutes for humans in the exploration of human behavior, Skinner is making the big assumption that general laws relating to the behavior of animals can be applied to describe the complex relations in the human world. If this assumption proves false, then the entire foundation upon which behaviorism rests will come crashing down. More experiments with human participants must be done to prove the validity of this theory (Boulding, 1984 pp. 483-484). Inability to explain the development of human language. Although Skinner's ideas on operant conditioning are able to explain phobias and neurosis, they are sadly lacking in applicability to the more complex human behaviors of language and memory. The theory's inability to explain the language phenomenon has in fact drawn a large number of critics to dismiss the theory. Although Skinner has responded to the criticism, his arguments remain weak and relatively unproven. Whereas public objective stimuli act as operational stimuli for the verbal responses, private stimuli or concepts such as "I'm hungry" are harder to explain. According to Skinner, the acquisition of verbal responses for private stimuli can be explained in four ways. First, he claims that private stimuli and the community do not need a connection. As long as there are some sort of public stimuli that can be associated with the private stimuli, a child can learn. Also, the public can deduce the private stimuli through nonverbal signs, such as groaning and facial expressions. However this association of public and private events can often be misinterpreted. His third theory that certain public and private stimuli are identical gives a very short list of identical stimuli, and his final theory that private stimuli can be generalized to public stimuli with coinciding characteristics gives very inaccurate results (Skinner, 1984a, pp. 511-517). M. E. P. Seligman offers an interesting alternative to Skinner's weak explanation of language. He explains that although operational and classical conditioning are important, there is a third principle involved in determining the behavior of an organism. This is the genetic preparedness of an organism to associate certain stimuli or reinforcers to responses. An organism brings with it to an experiment certain equipment and tendencies decided by genetics, which cause certain conditioned stimuli and unconditioned stimuli to be more or less associable. Therefore, the organism is more or less prepared by evolution to relate the two stimuli. Seligman classifies these tendencies towards association into three categories: Prepared or easily able to associate two stimuli, unprepared or somewhat difficult to associate two stimuli , and contraprepared or unable to associate two stimuli. The problem with behaviorists, he argues, is that they have mainly concentrated their experiments on unprepared sets of stimuli such as lights and shock. They provide the small amount of input needed for the unprepared association to take place and then create laws that generalize unprepared behavior to all types behavior. Thus, although the behaviorist laws may hold true for the unprepared sets of stimuli tested in labs, they have trouble explaining behaviors that are prepared (Seligman, 1970, pp. 406-408). In order to prove his theory, Seligman gives an example of an experiment conducted by Rozin and Garcia (1971) in which rats were fed saccharine tasting water while bright light flashed and noise sounded. At the same time, the rats were treated with X-ray radiation to cause nausea and illness. When the rats became ill a few hours later, they acquired an aversion to saccharine tasting water but not to light or noise. According to Seligman (1970), evolution had prepared the rats to associate taste with illness, but had contraprepared the association between noise/light and illness (pp. 411-412). When Seligman's theory of preparedness is applied to the language problem, it gives a plausible solution. Language is simply composed of well-prepared stimuli that are easily able to create relationships between verbal words and ideas or objects. In fact, they are so easy that often there is extremely little input needed for the associations to be made. But if this theory is taken as the truth, which it cannot be without further research, then this implies that there is a genetic factor that along with the environment creates personality. This rejects the comprehensive behaviorism theory so espoused by Skinner and his collaborators (Seligman, 1970, pp. 416-417). Applications of a Valid Behaviorist Theory The evidence shown, particularly that of language, points to the failure of behaviorism as a comprehensive theory. However, there is nothing that denies behaviorism is valid when limited to certain areas of psychology. Given that numerous experiments have shown there is merit in the behaviorist theory, certain ideas of this theory can be used in the treatment of disorders. With the ideas of behaviorism, vast improvements can be made in the treatment of neurosis and phobias. Rather than focusing on the root of the problem like a traditional psychopathologist, a behaviorist could focus on eliminating the symptom by bringing classical and operant conditioning into play. By reinforcing the extinction of the symptom, the psychopathological illness of the patient could be eliminated (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, pp. 194-196). Vast improvements could also be made in the areas of treating alcoholism and nicotine addiction. Using Pavlovian principles, addiction occurs because of both the pleasurable physiological effects of nicotine and alcohol, unconditioned stimuli, and the taste of nicotine and alcohol, conditioned stimuli. When one stops ingesting the substance, as in traditional treatment procedures, it is extremely easy to become addicted again. After all, "simply not presenting a conditioned stimulus does not eliminate the relation between it and the unconditioned stimuli" (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, p. 197). With just one use, the taste and unconditioned pleasurable effects become associated with each other again. However, if the taste of nicotine or alcohol, the conditioned response, is paired with a new unpleasant effect such as nausea and vomiting, the result will be a negative aversion to the substances in question. Such was the case when both an old alcoholic man and a young chain smoking adolescent were given apomorphine paired with alcohol and nicotine, respectively. The drug apomorphine induced severe feelings of nausea and vomiting which caused both of them to give up these addictive substances for life. This process is called counterconditioning and has had remarkable success in curing addictions (Schwartz & Lacy, 1982, pp. 196-200). Conclusion: On the Theory of Behaviorism The criticisms posed by this paper have long plagued the theory of behaviorism and prevented it from being truly acceptable by most scientists. In fact, today there are very few scientists who believe that the behaviorist theory is as comprehensive as it was once thought to be. In spite of the holes in the theory, there can be no doubt as to the usefulness of the research done in the field of behaviorism. One cannot totally dismiss the effect the environment has on behavior nor the role it plays in developing personality as shown through this research. Indeed, when the theory of behaviorism is applied to combat certain disorders, the results have shown it to be remarkably effective. Therefore, although comprehensive behaviorism must be abandoned, its ideas cannot be ignored when applied to certain situations.
Peer Commentary Behaviorism: More Than a Failure to Follow in Darwin's Footsteps Alissa D. Eischens Northwestern University In "Behaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Look," Naik raises many valid arguments against the merits of behavioral theory as a theory of personality. On the whole, I am in agreement with Naik's rejection of behaviorism as a comprehensive theory. Like Naik, I believe that behaviorism's rejection of mental processes invalidate its ability to adequately explain human behavior and personality. By touching upon the problems behaviorism has in explaining language and memory, Naik makes a good argument against behaviorism's ability to account for the complexities of human behavior. I also agree wholeheartedly with Naik's proposal concerning the inadequacy of animal experiments' application to human behavior. I too feel that human behavior is too complex to be explained solely through animal models. Naik's criticism citing the Seligman (1970) article is valid in that behaviorism has largely tried to apply unprepared stimuli experiments to behavior in general. Naik also makes a good argument for the use of behavioral techniques in curing addiction. Although I reiterate that I am in agreement with Naik's general argument, I believe some of the article's arguments could be stronger. Using Skinner's desire to align himself with Darwin may not be invalid; however, just because Skinner fails to gain acceptance in Darwinesque fashion does not immediately render his theory invalid. Surely, Skinner probably hoped to gain the acceptance Darwin's theory has enjoyed in the scientific community. But even though his theory has not gained such widespread acceptance, I do not believe that Skinner tried to ride Darwin's proverbial coattails. Instead, Skinner's comparison to Darwin's theory should be seen more as illustrative rather than as a basis for proving the theory's worth. Skinner tries to pick up where Darwin left off; I do not think Skinner relied as heavily on the acceptance of Darwinian theory as Naik suggests. I also take exception to the argument Naik makes using the Wyrwicka (1984) article for support. Positive reinforcement is not solely concerned with sensory gratification. Positive reinforcement can play an important role in social relationships, and given that humans are social beings, successful relationships can be very important. Finally, I have trouble accepting behaviorism's effectiveness as a treatment for psychopathology. Perhaps if examples had been provided to elucidate this idea I would be more accepting. However, psychopathology by its very name implies the inner workings of the brain, something Naik has asserted that behaviorism denies. Therefore, I fail to see how behavioral techniques could cure psychopathological disorders. Perhaps people with these disorders could be conditioned to act contrary to their problems, but I do not believe conditioning would eliminate the roots of those problems. I believe that Naik has made a cogent argument against behaviorism as a comprehensive theory, with the exceptions I have noted. Rather than focusing on the Darwinian aspect of Skinner's theory, Naik would do well to go into further depth concerning behaviorism's denial of the mind and inability to explain language, where I believe the true roots of behaviorism's failure lie.
Peer Commentary Accepting an Invalid Theory and Flaws in the Flaws of Behaviorism Nathan C. Popkins Northwestern University Naik's assessment of behaviorism, in the broader sense, is both correct and logical. There are definite problems with the theory of behaviorism, with its infamous "black box" (which Naik addresses indirectly in her discussion on the failure of behaviorism to explain the development of language), and the attempts by behaviorists to extrapolate animal behavior to humans. However, Naik also devotes a lengthy section of her paper to the applications of what she calls a "valid" behaviorist theory. Naik's explanation of the failure of behaviorism to explain the development of human language (not the broader "black box," but specifically the development of language) cites a potentially flawed argument that is easiest to refute by counterexample. The sections of Naik's paper on the flaws of behaviorism and on the applications of a valid behaviorist theory betray her conclusion. Naik's conclusion is that behaviorism is an invalid theory in personality because of the flaws inherent in behaviorist theory. The correlation between Naik's criticisms of behaviorism and her conclusion is obvious: Behaviorism is not a "great" or valid theory in personality. This is a logical conclusion given the cited flaws in the theory. The problem in the logic of Naik's paper stems from her description of the applications of behaviorism. According to Naik, these applications validate behaviorism. Naik cites examples of the applications of behaviorism. These are not theoretical uses for behaviorist theory, but applications that are proven effective and are currently in use. Naik claims that although behaviorism fails to meet the criteria of greatness in the broad sense, behaviorism can still be valid in certain situations. Essentially, this is like claiming that behaviorism is not a great theory, except for the times that it is a great theory. The second major shortcoming in Naik's paper (though no fault of her own) is the citation of a common argument against behaviorism that involves the failure of behaviorism to describe the development of language. This does not refer to the process of an infant learning to talk (as behaviorism is actually a very convenient way of describing this process) but rather the original development of language in the human race. This argument is basically based on the concept that the very first humans to attempt to develop a language (this was, in all likelihood, not an active attempt, but rather something that just sort of happened) had no previous examples on which to base their actions and speech. In other words, they had no behavior after which to pattern their own. In this argument, however, counterexample can be used to show that, to an extent, this is untrue. Naik's example of the phrase, "I'm hungry," is very useful for illustrating this phenomenon of the development of language. Imagine, before language had developed, a group of early humans are about to eat. One of these humans makes a noise, then begins to eat. The original noise is of no consequence whatsoever. However, this random action has established a precedent. According to behaviorism, a repetition of this noise by the other humans before eating would make sense. It is only logical to assume that this noise, after several iterations, would just naturally come to mean, "I'm hungry," or, "Let's eat." Through this behavioristic process, it is not difficult to imagine how language would proceed to develop. Naik cites the major accepted flaws in behaviorism. If these are relevant, her conclusion that behaviorism is not a valid theory in personality is correct. However, she also needs to look for another possible explanation for what she calls applications of a valid behaviorist theory.
Peer Commentary Behaviorism: A More Inclusive Approach Timothy Tasker Northwestern University In "Behaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Look," Naik takes a close look at the field of personality known as behaviorism. This is accomplished in an effective manner with a substantial base of support. However, more importantly, Naik's portrayal of behaviorism lacks some key concepts that I shall discuss later in this review. First, let us start with the strong points this author puts forth. Contrary to popular belief, behaviorism was not developed by Pavlov, but by Descartes much earlier in France. This factual information concerning the origin of behaviorism has been reflected effectively in the paper by Naik. The ideas put forth are quite solid and one is hard pressed to argue with the evidence cited or the arguments made. I feel that the acceptance of the limitations of behaviorism is of great credit to the author. Naik does not blindly support behaviorism, but can find the limitatons inherent here and finds that parts of this theory are more applicable than ideas contained in this theory. What I find most convincing is the choice of theorists that have been cited. Naik chose to reflect the vast number of ideas and amount of research contained in the theory of behaviorism by citing a varied group of authors. All of these have their own separate ideas as to what is important to behaviorism, and their contributions to the theory as it stands today are effectively noted. As a result of writing the paper in a chronological sequence, Naik has given us an evolution of behaviorism. The ideas submitted by one researcher are built upon well in the next section by citing the work of another. What we end up with is a structure that, however unstable the materials with which it was built, was built up pragmatically. The problems that are intrinsic here are more a result of this theory's inability to withstand the criticisms others have put forth. The faults for which I do hold Naik accountable are the lack of inclusive information that has been well documented throughout the development of the theory of behaviorism. There is a blatant neglect of the ideas of generalization, discrimination, extinction, and spontaneous recovery. The idea of generalization was touched upon in this article, but not paid the full respects that it deserves. Naik noted the famous experiment of baby Albert and his eventual aversion to all furry objects/animals. This can be fully explined by generalization. When an organism is presented with a stimulus that will cause some degree of a response, the response will be found, under certain conditions, to be "generalized" for other similar stimuli. In other words, when baby Albert eventully developed an aversion for all furry objects, specifically a cat, the principle that explains his aversion to the cat is generalization. Although Naik discussed its existence, I believe that it is necessary to name and further evaluate this principle that behaviorists deem so important. Discrimination is another important factor that I believe has been dealt with in an incorrect manner by this article. Discrimination is essentially the idea that opposes generalization. It can be seen when an organism will respond to a certain stimulus, but fails to produce the same response when presented with a similar stimulus. A good example of this that could have been suggested is a pet that at first may respond to all noises, then learns to respond only to the human voice, and will then respond solely to the voice of its owner. For humans, discrimination is key for our survival. We need to constantly screen out stimuli and discriminate between like stimuli for us to be effective and survive. The last factor of this theory that I feel has been unattended to is the principle of extinction. When Naik discusses the varying schedules of reinforcement, she hints at the existence of the extinction principle. Extinction is the idea that organisms will show a rapid decrease in their response to a stimulus if the response is not rewarded or is rewarded less frequently than when introduced. According to this idea an organism will eventually lose or "forget" its response to a conditioned stimulus if the reinforcement is not provided. The exception to the extinction principle can be seen in spontaneous recovery. When the organism is not presented with the conditioned stimulus for quite some time and then the stimulus is suddenly presented, the organism will generally respond accordingly. In Naik's article this idea is nowhere to be found. I find fault with the article overall for its non-inclusiveness.
Author Response Concepts Need Clarification, Not Renovation Payal Naik Northwestern University I would like to thank the peer commentators for their valuable suggestions and critiques. A perfect paper is an extremely rare thing, and if anything, the words of my reviewers have shown me that my paper has plenty of flaws. Yet, at the same time, I feel that these flaws are not due to problems with the content or ideology of my paper but rather a lack of clarification or explanation of my ideas. Thus, taking into account the suggestions of my peers, I will attempt to clarify what my paper is saying. In her commentary, Eischens explains Skinner's comparison of Darwin's natural selection and his own selection by consequences as illustrative and not a fundamental part of his theory. Yet, by mentioning his comparison in my paper, I was not attempting to show this comparison to be a fundamental part of the theory, but rather to point out that there are contradictions between the two theories. These contradictions hinder the acceptability of behaviorism because Darwinism has already been accepted as fact and any contradictions are therefore false. By bringing Darwinism and behaviorism together, Skinner is simply making the contradiction obvious. Also, Eischens states that psychopathology "by its very name implies the inner workings of the brain" and thus cannot be treated with a behaviorist approach. This is a very good point and I must confess that as it stands in my paper, it is a major flaw. Instead of claiming behaviorism can treat psychopathological problems, I should assert that behaviorism can treat symptoms that have been associated with psychopathological problems in the past. After all, behaviorists only want to eliminate the problem and do not care about discovering the source. On the other hand, Popkins seems to argue in favor of behaviorism and its uses. He states that by showing the success in the application of behaviorism, I am proving the validity of behaviorism. Yet, although I agree that these applications prove that behaviorism is sometimes valid in our present world, a comprehensive behavioristic theory has not been validated. In effect, I am saying that comprehensive behaviorism is not a great theory because it fails to answer some key concepts. One of these concepts is language. Popkins also feels that behaviorism can account for the development of language. I am not saying that it does not account for the development of language but rather that it does not account for the easy conditioning of language. However, if behaviorism is combined with a theory on genetic preparedness, these key concepts are answered and the applications still hold true. Tasker focuses on the lack of an explanation of certain concepts included in the theory of behaviorism. These include generalization, discrimination, extinction, and spontaneous recovery. I can only say that I did in fact include generalization, discrimination, and extinction. Although I agree that I make these explanations brief, these concepts are not essential to my argument. Thus, the compact ideas have no real consequence on the paper. If I included the full explanations for them, I would just be adding unnecessary details, and the majority of the paper would be devoted to the explanation of the theory and not the criticism. Once again, I would like to reiterate that the suggestions of the peer commentators are greatly appreciated. Their criticisms have pinpointed some of the weaknesses in my paper. However, whereas they have stated that these flaws stem from the content of the paper, I believe that the problem is in lack of clarification and proper communication of my ideas. Nevertheless, I still stand by the validity of my paper and the concepts and criticism it contains.
References Beecroft, R. S. (1966). Method in classical conditioning. In R. S. Beecroft, Classical conditioning (pp. 8-26). Goleta, CA: Psychonomic Press. Boulding, K. E. (1984). B. F. Skinner: A dissident view. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 483-484. Dahlbom, B. (1984). Skinner, selection, and self-control. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 484-486. Kamin, L. J. (1969). Predictability, surprise, attention and conditioning. In B. A. Campbell & R. M. Church (Eds.), Punishment and aversive behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. Mischel, W. (1993). Behavioral conceptions. In W. Mischel, Introduction to personality (pp. 295-316). New York: Harcourt Brace. Rescorla, R. A. (1988). Pavlovlian conditioning: It's not what you think it is. American Psychologist, 43, 151-160. Rescorla, R. A., & Solomon, R. L. (1967). Two-process learning theory: Relations between Pavlovian conditioning and instrumental learning. Psychological Review, 74, 151-182. Rozin, P., & Garcia, J. (1971). Specific hungers and poison avoidance as adaptive specializations of learning. Psychological Review, 78, 459-486. Schwartz, B., & Lacey, H. (1982). Behaviorism, science, and human nature. New York: Norton. Seligman, M. E. P. (1970). On the generality of the laws of learning. Psychological Review, 77, 406-418. Skinner, B. F. (1931). The concept of the reflex in the description of behavior. Journal of General Psychology, 5, 427-458. Skinner, B. F. (1984a). Operational analysis of psychological terms. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 511-517. Skinner, B. F. (1984b). Selection by consequences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 477-481. Wyrwicka, W. (1984). Natural selection and operant behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 501-502.

Critical Evaluation: 3 Steps to Assess the Big Picture

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Critical Evaluation: 3 Steps to Assess the Big Picture

The following is excerpted from   Chapter 2 of   Applying Critical Evaluation (SHRM, 2017), written by Jennifer Currence.  

Recently, I was sitting on a (covered) hotel balcony, reading while a storm rolled in; I love the smell of approaching rain. As I awaited the impending downpour, I noticed the flurry of activity below me. My room was situated above a parking lot, and the valet attendants were running to fetch the cars before the rain came in. As I looked down over the lot, it occurred to me how different the cars looked from above. I was only seven floors up, but I couldn't really even tell the difference in the types of cars—was it a car or an SUV? Was it a Mercedes or a Ford? Was it a late model, or was it older? They all looked disproportionate compared with what I was accustomed to: They appeared a lot longer when looking directly down on them than they do when I'm standing next to them. I looked around and realized that I could see the entire lot from my vantage point, and there were some poor parking jobs over the lines and some wasted space in one corner of the lot. These were all things I would not be able to see as quickly (or at all!) if I were downstairs standing in the lot next to the vehicles. 

There are several advantages to stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. And doing so can help others too. I once knew a fisherman who said he would take his boat to where the birds were circling in the sky. The birds had the better view to see the fish in the water. Back on land and in our companies, the "30,000-foot view" can also be helpful in many ways:

It's important to start with the big-view approach. When we get too far into a process, it's more difficult for our human brains to think of other options. In this chapter, we'll review three steps to getting started on your critical evaluation journey: understanding the situation, identifying the desired outcome, and planning your process.  

STEP 1: Understand the Situation

To use our critical evaluation skills, we need to have a situation to evaluate. These situations come to our attention in one of two ways: Either we are hit with an issue to evaluate, or we create one by evaluating. Let me explain. 

In the first instance, an issue in the organization is blatant and nearly impossible to ignore. An example could be that your bottom-line profits are low, and the company is unclear exactly why this is happening. The company needs to critically evaluate what's going on in order to fix the problem. In this case, HR needs to critically evaluate how the "people part" of the business is affecting the bottom line. How is your turnover different from others in your industry? How much is that costing the company? If your turnover is high, why are people leaving? No, I mean, why are they really leaving? 

In the second instance, sometimes over the course of our daily work, we uncover data that make us say, "Hmm." Consider an HR manager who is gathering census data for a new benefits broker. Through the process of collecting the information on all of the employees, he notices that several employees have birthdates in the 1960s. When he sorts the data and extrapolates that one demographic piece of information, he learns that 40 percent of the workforce is over the age of 55. Houston, we have a situation! He realizes he is going to need to critically evaluate these individuals and their positions, strategically consider the long-term effects on the company, and analyze the need for and creation of a succession plan. 

Before we go any further, there's a third thing to consider when identifying the situation, and that is—maybe there is no situation. This consideration, however, is still part of the critical evaluation process. For example, let's say your CFO thinks your employee turnover is too high and wants you to prepare a plan to reduce it. Upon doing some critical evaluation on the subject, you learn that your company's turnover is actually five percent below normal. You look at what prompted your CFO's request and notice that three people left the company within the past two months, which is above average for your organization. When you look at why those individuals left, however, you see that one moved away, one retired, and the other one had a baby and decided to stay home. When you approach your CFO with this information, you both agree that there's really not a problem that needs fixing and that your time is better spent on other projects. You've still critically evaluated the situation; you've just come to the conclusion that nothing further needs to be done in this situation. I love when that happens! It's like coming home to a meal made in the crockpot. You've already done all the work, and now there's nothing else to do but enjoy the fruits of your labor. 

STEP 2: Identify the Desired Outcome

Once you have identified your issue, the next step is to clarify what you would rather have instead. Be specific. For example, if your top-line revenue is down, how "down" is it? Is the company 2 percent off target or 18 percent off target? If your revenues last year were $22 million, what exactly do you want them to be, and by when? Does the company want to target the same $25 million next year that it had targeted (and missed) for this year? Or does it want to increase the goal to $28 million? (This is just the "what" stage—the "how" will come later.) One tool you can use (and are likely already familiar with) is the framework of SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound to help you clarify the outcome for your organization. Actually, SMART goals are a great tool for critical evaluation because each component provides a sort of framework to more easily evaluate the situation critically. A SMART goal worksheet is provided for you in Appendix II of this book.

Another way to identify your goal is to do a gap analysis, also called a variance analysis. In other words, look at where you are versus where you want to be. (Think of analysis, the "A" in the ADDIE model, discussed later in this chapter.) What is the difference? What steps do you need to take to get there? What's missing? What's in the way? In conducting a gap analysis, completing an environmental scan to help you see the big picture is sometimes useful. These can help potentially identify an obstacle that you might otherwise overlook.  

STEP 3: Plan Your Process

You've probably heard the adage "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." I've found it to be true in life and in business. Research has shown that for every one minute spent planning, you will earn 10 minutes in execution. Talk about increasing your efficiency! There are a few things to consider as you create an action plan. First, you need to select a framework, then determine which stakeholders you will involve in the process, and lastly consider which tools will be helpful for you in this journey (and don't forget to work your plan, or all of that planning will be for nothing!). Several models can help you develop your action plan. Here are three that you can consider. 

Jennifer Currence is the president of OnCore Management Solutions in Tampa Bay, Fla., where she partners with leaders and companies to improve performance of people operations. She is a national and international speaker on per­formance improvement and human resources topics such as creating a dynamic onboarding program, developing business acumen, and cre­ating a coaching environment and is the author of the SHRM Competency Series: Making an Impact in Small Business .

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critically evaluate behaviorism

Essay question words: “critically evaluate/review”

(Last updated: 13 May 2021)

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What does it mean to critically evaluate something or to provide a critical review? We won’t lie – these terms are complicated. But the following paragraph, and the rest of this blog post below, may help your understanding:

Typically, the word “critical” has a negative connotation. Think of words like “critique” and “criticise” and you see why. However, with essay writing, being asked to write “critically” does not necessarily mean you need to be negative. Instead, you are voicing your opinion in a logical and coherent way that is based upon evidence and evaluation.

When faced with the task to “critically evaluate” or to provide a “critical review”, it is important to remember that there is going to be some element of description. But you need to be able to build on that description to further justify your point. Let’s go through some examples.

Descriptive writing

Descriptive writing really focuses on answering the four ‘w’ questions – what, where, who, when. In descriptive writing you are going to need to focus on the following:

As you can see from the table above, all of the ‘w’ questions are really important and are essential components to writing a good essay . The purpose of these components is to let the reader get the essential information they need to understand the main idea. Yet if you stop here, you only end up with a descriptive essay, which does not meet the requirements of criticality that are requested by the professor or TA.

Critical writing

Critical writing gives you the opportunity to go beyond the descriptive, so when you critically evaluate or critically review something, you are moving toward analysis and evaluation. This type of critical writing asks you to assess the how, why, what if, so what and what next questions. As you will begin to notice, these questions require much more explanation that the ‘w’ questions (each of which you could likely answer in 10 words or less). Let’s look at some of these questions below:

Managing the descriptive and critical

Anyone who has done a lot of writing or who has seen many students’ writing will tell you that there are plenty of ways to write an essay . Yet while there are many strategies, when writing in English, there are certain expectations that the reader has when working through a paragraph or larger piece of writing. Therefore, in order to satisfy the reader that you have successfully completed a critical review or evaluation, you need to make sure that the reader gets what they are expecting.

The first step is to carefully read the article/piece of work that you are going to be critically assessing. Often, students feel like, just because something has been published in an academic journal, that it is an excellent piece of writing that cannot be questioned. But this isn’t necessarily true. The author of that article made certain decisions during the research and writing processes. It is your job to evaluate and analyse what they have done and whether the author has presented any evidence that you can draw conclusions from or make links between areas of knowledge.

In an academic journal article, there are often two places where you will be able to find the easiest opportunities to critically evaluate the work: the methodology and the discussion. In the methodology, the author has made certain decisions about how they are going to answer the research question presented. They have usually (in empirical research) identified a sample, context, and certain instruments (e.g. questionnaire, interviews, observations, etc.). Perhaps one of the easiest ways you can critically evaluate this information is to determine whether or not the sample size is big enough or whether the context applies globally or only to the region where the research took place. For example, a sample of 250 undergraduate students might seem like a lot, but if they are all from a remote area of Pakistan, their situation may not be applicable to undergraduate students who are studying in the UK. Highlighting this issue is one of the more basic forms of criticality because you are applying your own judgements to a situation.

Another area where you might be able to critically evaluate a paper is in the discussion section. It’s in this section where the author expresses their point of view and how their findings relate to other aspects of research. In some articles, you might find that the author has made claims . So if we consider the same group of 250 undergraduate students in Pakistan, the author might find that of the 250 students 225 felt that learning English was important for job security in the future. Therefore, the author might claim that students should learn English if they want to secure a good job in the future. With this argument you could evaluate whether this statement is actually true. We already know that 250 is not representative globally, but we can also assume that students in a remote area of Pakistan may not have access to the same opportunities as students in Beijing. These students may come to a different conclusion about English (potentially).

The point of a critical evaluation is to demonstrate that you can think beyond what you are being told. By taking steps to question what is being written and presented to you, you may be better able to write a critical review and to reflect on how and why the author took the position they did. No research study is perfect and it is your job to determine what could have been modified or changed to fit a different situation.

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Freud and Bandura: A Critical Evaluation of Two Human Behaviour Theories Essay Example

Freud and Bandura: A Critical Evaluation of Two Human Behaviour Theories Essay Example

This essay will briefly outline and critically evaluate Freud's theory of Psychoanalysis and Bandura's Social cognitive learning theory to determine which provides a better account of human behaviour. Instincts are inborn, driving forces that are unconsciously embedded and largely govern our behaviour (Freud 1925b; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Freud's theory of human behaviour is comprised of a blend of competing instinctual drives that include hunger, thirst and sexuality (Hall 1999; Ryckman, 2004).

Freud identifies these drives deterministically, not in terms of their object but their source (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Instinctual drives become activated when physical needs prompt humans to seek out gratification in the external world with the aim to return to a former more balanced state of mind (Hall, 1999; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Freud (1961) referred to drives that

wanted to be satisfied instantaneously as being part of the pleasure principle.

The plan of the pleasure principal is to relieve the individual of tension and to bring satisfaction (Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004). Instinctual drives are lead by cognitive processes such as perception, as humans hunt for and source out information in the external environment about pleasure (Ryckman, 2004). Freud's alternate principal, the reality principal, exists in a support role to the pleasure principal and occasionally needs to defer the pleasure principal in order to satisfy the needs of the Id within the scope of reality (Burger, 2008; Freud, 1961; Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004).

A clash between instinctual drives and social expectations contributes to internal conflict and defence mechanisms such as repression in the development of personality (Ryckman, 2004). Freud (1923) categorized personality into three parts called the id, eg

and superego respectively. These parts become intergraded during his stages of psychosexual development that supposed that in the period of childhood, sexual drives change their focus from oral, to anal then to genital regions in the body (Freud, 1923).

Further to this, Freud postulated that during each of these important stages parents would need to develop a suitable balance of permitting gratification in order for their children to develop into well adjusted adults (Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004). The Id is an egocentric personality structure that is apparent from birth (Jones, 1963). The function of the Id is to satisfy instinctual drives in harmony with the pleasure principal (Burger, 2008; Hall, 1999). There is a lively interaction between the pleasure component of the Id and the reality component of the Ego (Hall, 1999).

The Superego represents a group of learned ideals and its primary role is to prevent the urges of the id and persuade the ego towards morality rather than reality (Ryckman, 2004). Internal conflict is said to be a result of the id, ego and super ego competing for the limited amount of psychic energy available and an undying state of tension resulting from longing for pleasure, having anxiety for reality, and an obligation to moral conduct (Burger, 2008 ; Ryckman, 2004).

Compromise formations serve to balance the tension of the conscious with the pleasurable gratification of the unconscious (Monte & Sollod, 2003; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2). Repression is the most basic defence mechanism that attempts to keep socially unwanted Id impulses from reaching consciousness (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2006; Hall 1999; Ryckman, 2004). Through the analyses of dreams, Freud discovered that certain thoughts were reserved

from consciousness on the basis of being too painful to admit (Ryckman, 2004)

Bandura's theory of human behaviour consists of biological, social and cognitive classes of motivation (Newbery, 2009, Week 6 Forum). The majority of human behavioural patterns are retained in neural codes as opposed to innate programming which gives humans the capability to learn an assortment of behaviours (Bandura, 1997; Friedman ; Schustack 2001). Regarding social learning, Bandura (1977) classified vicarious learning into four components.

Firstly, the attention process where the learner must have their senses directed on the situation; secondly, the retention process where coding and storing information takes place, thirdly, motor reproduction where mental representations are rehearsed and finally, motivation, the positive or negative outcome of the behaviour that has been observed (Bandura, 1977). With regards to motivation, Bandura (1971) noted that the distinction between learning a new behaviour and using it depends on reinforcement.

Bandura stressed the role of the cognition as a behavioural motivator and viewed cognitive events as being able to determine which environmental events are perceived, the manner of interpretation and the behavioural outcome (Bandura, 1986). Bandura (1971) recognised that higher order cognitive processes can enable humans to participate in such internal functions as foresight and value expectations.

The concept of 'reciprocal determinism' depicts a system of influences that makes up the internal functions mentioned and external factor such as reward and punishment that are part of a structure of intermingled influences that affect not just behaviour but each other (Bandura, 1971; Burger, 2008; Friedman ; Schustack, 2001). After much research, Bandura (1971) concluded personality as an interaction of three components being the environment, behavior, and psychological processes. A distinct part of

Bandura's theory is his understanding of the outcomes of self-efficacy.

Self efficacy is a person's belief in their ability to be successful at a particular task and he described this in terms of how people think, feel and behave, for example, if someone expects that they will not succeed in accomplishing an outcome, they will not make a respectable attempt at it (Bandura 1995; 1997). Such expectancies arise from a range of grounds such as vicarious learning or their own past performance outcomes (Burger, 2008). Self efficacy evolves throughout life as the individual develops new skills and growth with experience and understanding (Bandura, 1997).

On comparing Freud and Bandura's accounts of the origin and nature of human behaviour, it is important to recognise that sometimes irrelevant criteria are introduced, via the literature that may affect the integrity of any real attempt for appraising the usefulness of either theory. Perhaps, this may apply more so to Freud; especially in the areas of ad hominem arguments, restricted samples, and value laden labels relating to pessimism and optimism. It should be remembered that we are not looking at these theories as treatment modalities for therapeutic intervention.

Rather, we are more interested in determining which explanatory models more comprehensively explains human behaviour, holistically, expansively, and more adequately approaches a plausible and fully integrated model. On the basis of this comparison, it is more likely that Freud's model provides a more detailed account. It is difficult to appraise Freud's theory of human behaviour as his work in this area was not so much a singular theory, but more of a collection of theories.

Freud's account of human behaviour has its share of identifiable weaknesses

and his 'theory' has received a great deal of criticism regarding its logical testability and empirical support. Freud's 'theory' has been rejected by many for not meeting the purported requirements of the testability criterion and for its supposed overuse of metaphors (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Criticisms have also been levelled at the relative vagueness and ambiguity of Freud's concepts and the difficulties they generate for drawing comprehensible and testable hypotheses (Ryckman, 2004).

Further condemnation comes with Freud's 'theory' being generally difficult, some would say impossible, to test empirically and the fact that much of his observational support is anecdotal (Newbery, 2009, Week 6 Forum; Friedman & Schustack, 2009). It is recognised that the test conditions for Freud's work were not based in a laboratory but in a clinic where conditions could not have been controlled and, whilst he conducted psychoanalysis in his clinic, he did not record the patient's observations at the time in which he heard them; thus giving room for error as his recall of this information may be been distorted (Ryckman, 2004).

Stanovich (1998) commented that psychoanalysis showed limited ability to forecast behaviour and that the therapy process worked best in reverse by explaining an individuals previous behaviour subsequent to being aware of the facts. Hence, its strength may lie in its 'ability' to more broadly explain human behaviour given a more complex constellation of contributing factors. Although we may concede there are a number of valid criticisms of Freud's 'theory', there is also quite an array of recognised positives.

Freud stressed that the consequences of personality patterns were developed early on for the individual; which is consistent with more elaborate recent theories

of personality (Friedman ; Schustack, 2009). Freud's 'theory' also recognised that not all psychological phenomena were of a conscious nature and that unconscious cognitive processing was a likely contributor to human experience and behaviour (Friedman & Schustack, 2009).

It provides information about the likely influences and effects of unconscious processes, including instinctual drives, and not just those phenomena normally associated with consciousness experience (Monte & Sollod, 2003). Freud assumed multiple levels of operation in the brain, not unlike more modern theories of parallel cognitive processing (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). More complex aspects of human personality were also catered for by Freud's 'theory'; especially in the area of psychological defences and the rationale put forward for less attributable behavioural responses (Friedman ; Schustack, 2009).

Freud's account of human behaviour could be described as one based on pure associationism and, on closer examination, remains consistent with any observed phenomena identified via more mainstream conditioning and social learning theories. According to Ryckman (2004), Freud's 'theory' actually explored a range of diverse behaviour types with incredible interpretation and it created a theoretical organization that overtly tried to account for all human behaviour (Ryckman, 2004).

Some would say that Freud's 'theory' demonstrates a widespread understanding of behaviour and personality, and has great explanatory power that crosses a range of behaviours (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2). It seems that Bandura's theoretical stance fills the void in traditional behaviourism by providing a more cognitive approach to explaining human behaviour (Ryckman, 2004). Bandura's work was more suited to creating a body of knowledge based on 'scientific' research.

It is true to say that Bandura's theoretical work was mostly carried out via experimental research on larger sample groups, but

the actual quality of the research may be challenged for its broader psychological integrity. Whilst demonstrating logical testability, being clear and simple to understand and upholding a scientific model, the criticism here is that social cognitive theory conducts a high number of experiments that merely state the obvious and do not delve into explaining causes and this is simply inadequate for a good quality theory of human behaviour (Burger, 2008; Mitchell ; Jolley 1988; Newbery, 2009 Lecture 7).

It is apparent that Bandura's theory contains a preponderance of descriptions and constellation of observable tendencies attributable to human behaviour (Newbury, 2009, Lecture 7). Although, the question remains as, is that simply enough? Hence, further criticisms of Bandura's theory come from it being too narrow in description of personality and limited in its approach to thinking, emotion and conscious levels are limited (Burger, 2008). Compared to Freud, Bandura's theory is restricted in its interdisciplinary impact and the variety of factors it touches on appears to be simply a learned collection of behavioural repertoire.

Bandura tends to limit human behaviour to the type of thoughts and behaviours that are learned and stored in neural codes and there is no allowance for the range of behaviours and tendencies that are associated with instinctive biological functions. Compared to Freud's theory, Bandura lacks explanatory power by overlooking the biological basis of behaviour and the unconscious motivations and conflicts that Freud addressed and by leaving out these components it appears to have no account for cognition (Monte ; Sollod, 2003; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 7).

According to Newbery (2009, Lecture 7, p. 5) cognition can be termed as being 'policy-neutral' that is, it cannot prompt behaviour

by itself. Newbery (2009, Lecture 7) goes further to say that Bandura fails to specify an account of why specific outcomes are wanted, but instead just provides a general explanation of behaviour. Contrary to Freud, Bandura rejects internal, bodily sources of motivation and appears to offer nothing more than a concept that the self chooses to act or not - detaching self from bodily source of motivation (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 7).

Although Bandura may be credited with having conducted a large volume of meritorious work, his explanatory model of human behaviour deals with a fairly restrictive constellation of observable behaviour types; via isolated research studies that account for why each of these may exist. However, Freud's is an explanatory model that takes into account biological determinants of behaviour - including instinctual drives, neural plasticity and genetics - whilst remaining consistent with all the more simpler and specific theories on behaviour and conditioning; including social learning theories.

Where it demonstrates superiority is in the area of integrating how a 'society of competing impulses' can form a complex neural architecture that gives rise to the formation and experiential effects of 'mind' and its recognition of heuristics in the form of meaningful experience and its influential effects this has on determining human thought and behaviour.

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Why Is It Important To Critically Evaluate Human Behavior?

critically evaluate behaviorism

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On Critical Thinking

Several years ago some teaching colleagues were talking about the real value of teaching psychology students to think critically. After some heated discussion, the last word was had by a colleague from North Carolina. “The real value of being a good critical thinker in psychology is so you won’t be a jerk,” he said with a smile. That observation remains one of my favorites in justifying why teaching critical thinking skills should be an important goal in psychology. However, I believe it captures only a fraction of the real value of teaching students to think critically about behavior.

What I s Critical Thinking?

Although there is little agreement about what it means to think critically in psychology, I like the following broad definition: The propensity and skills to engage in activity with reflec tive skepticism focused on deciding what to believe or do

Students often arrive at their first introductory course with what they believe is a thorough grasp of how life works. After all, they have been alive for at least 18 years, have witnessed their fair shares of crisis, joy, and tragedy, and have successfully navigated their way in to your classroom.

These students have had a lot of time to develop their own personal theories about how the world works and most are quite satisfied with the results. They often pride themselves on how good they are with people as well as how astute they are in understanding and explaining the motives of others. And they think they know what psychology is. Many are surprised- and sometimes disappointed- to discover that psychology is a science, and the rigor of psychological research is a shock. The breadth and depth of psychology feel daunting. Regardless of their sophistication in the discipline, students often are armed with a single strategy to survive the experience: Memorize the book and hope it works out on the exam. In many cases, this strategy will serve them well. Unfortunately, student exposure to critical thinking skill development may be more accidental than planful on the part of most teachers. Collaboration in my department and with other colleagues over the years has persuaded me that we need to approach critical thinking skills in a purposeful, systematic, and developmental manner from the introductory course through the capstone experience, propose that we need to teach critical thinking skills in three domains of psychology: practical (the “jerk avoidance” function), theoretical (developing scientific explanations for behavior), and methodological (testing scientific ideas). I will explore each of these areas and then offer some general suggestions about how psychology teachers can improve their purposeful pursuit of critical thinking objectives.

Practical Domain

Practical critical thinking is often expressed as a long-term, implicit goal of teachers of psychology, even though they may not spend much academic time teaching how to transfer critical thinking skills to make students wise consumers, more careful judges of character, or more cautious interpreters of behavior. Accurate appraisal of behavior is essential, yet few teachers invest time in helping students understand how vulnerable their own interpretations are to error.

Encourage practice in accurate description and interpretation of behavior by presenting students with ambiguous behavior samples. Ask them to distinguish what they observe (What is the behavior?) from the inferences they draw from the behavior (What is the meaning of the behavior?). I have found that cartoons, such as Simon Bond’s Uns p eakable Acts, can be a good resource for refining observation skills. Students quickly recognize that crisp behavioral descriptions are typically consistent from observer to observer, but inferences vary wildly. They recognize that their interpretations are highly personal and sometimes biased by their own values and preferences. As a result of experiencing such strong individual differences in interpretation, students may learn to be appropriately less confident of their immediate conclusions, more tolerant of ambiguity, and more likely to propose alternative explanations. As they acquire a good understanding of scientific procedures, effective control techniques, and legitimate forms of evidence, they may be less likely to fall victim to the multitude of off-base claims about behavior that confront us all. (How many Elvis sightings can be valid in one year?)

Theoretical Domain

Theoretical critical thinking involves helping the student develop an appreciation for scientific explanations of behavior. This means learning not just the content of psychology but how and why psychology is organized into concepts, principles, laws, and theories. Developing theoretical skills begins in the introductory course where the primary critical thinking objective is understanding and applying concepts appropriately. For example, when you introduce students to the principles of reinforcement, you can ask them to find examples of the principles in the news or to make up stories that illustrate the principles.

Mid-level courses in the major require more sophistication, moving students beyond application of concepts and principles to learning and applying theories. For instance, you can provide a rich case study in abnormal psychology and ask students to make sense of the case from different perspectives, emphasizing theoretical flexibility or accurate use of existing and accepted frameworks in psychology to explain patterns of behavior. In advanced courses we can justifiably ask students to evaluate theory, selecting the most useful or rejecting the least helpful. For example, students can contrast different models to explain drug addiction in physiological psychology. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of existing frameworks, they can select which theories serve best as they learn to justify their criticisms based on evidence and reason.

Capstone, honors, and graduate courses go beyond theory evaluation to encourage students to create theory. Students select a complex question about behavior (for example, identifying mechanisms that underlie autism or language acquisition) and develop their own theory-based explanations for the behavior. This challenge requires them to synthesize and integrate existing theory as well as devise new insights into the behavior.

Methodological Domain

Most departments offer many opportunities for students to develop their methodological critical thinking abilities by applying different research methods in psychology. Beginning students must first learn what the scientific method entails. The next step is to apply their understanding of scientific method by identifying design elements in existing research. For example, any detailed description of an experimental design can help students practice distinguishing the independent from the dependent variable and identifying how researchers controlled for alternative explanations. The next methodological critical thinking goals include evaluating the quality of existing research design and challenging the conclusions of research findings. Students may need to feel empowered by the teacher to overcome the reverence they sometimes demonstrate for anything in print, including their textbooks. Asking students to do a critical analysis on a fairly sophisticated design may simply be too big a leap for them to make. They are likely to fare better if given examples of bad design so they can build their critical abilities and confidence in order to tackle more sophisticated designs. (Examples of bad design can be found in The Critical Thinking Companion for Introductory Psychology or they can be easily constructed with a little time and imagination). Students will develop and execute their own research designs in their capstone methodology courses. Asking students to conduct their own independent research, whether a comprehensive survey on parental attitudes, a naturalistic study of museum patrons’ behavior, or a well-designed experiment on paired associate learning, prompts students to integrate their critical thinking skills and gives them practice with conventional writing forms in psychology. In evaluating their work I have found it helpful to ask students to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their own work- as an additional opportunity to think critically-before giving them my feedback.

Additional Suggestions

Adopting explicit critical thinking objectives, regardless of the domain of critical thinking, may entail some strategy changes on the part of the teacher.

• Introduce psychology as an ope n-end ed, growing enterprise . Students often think that their entry into the discipline represents an end-point where everything good and true has already been discovered. That conclusion encourages passivity rather than criticality. Point out that research is psychology’ s way of growing and developing. Each new discovery in psychology represents a potentially elegant act of critical thinking. A lot of room for discovery remains. New ideas will be developed and old conceptions discarded.

• Require student performance that goes beyond memorization . Group work, essays, debates, themes, letters to famous psychologists, journals, current event examples- all of these and more can be used as a means of developing the higher skills involved in critical thinking in psychology. Find faulty cause-effect conclusions in the tabloids (e.g., “Eating broccoli increases your IQ!”) and have students design studies to confirm or discredit the headline’s claims. Ask students to identify what kinds of evidence would warrant belief in commercial claims. Although it is difficult, even well designed objective test items can capture critical thinking skills so that students are challenged beyond mere repetition and recall.

• Clarify your expectations about performance with explicit, public criteria. Devising clear performance criteria for psychology projects will enhance student success. Students often complain that they don’t understand “what you want” when you assign work. Performance criteria specify the standards that you will use to evaluate their work. For example, perfonnance criteria for the observation exercise described earlier might include the following: The student describes behavior accurately; offers i nference that is reasonable for the context; and identifies personal factors that might influence infer ence. Perfonnance criteria facilitate giving detailed feedback easily and can also promote student self-assessment.

• Label good examples of critical thinking when these occur spontaneously. Students may not recognize when they are thinking critically. When you identify examples of good thinking or exploit examples that could be improved, it enhances students’ ability to understand. One of my students made this vivid for me when she commented on the good connection she had made between a course concept and an insight from her literature class, “That is what you mean by critical thinking?” There after I have been careful to label a good critical thinking insight.

• Endorse a questioning attitude. Students often assume that if they have questions about their reading, then they are somehow being dishonorable, rude, or stupid. Having  discussions early in the course about the role of good questions in enhancing the quality of the subject and expanding the sharpness of the mind may set a more critical stage on which students can play. Model critical thinking from some insights you have had about behavior or from some research you have conducted in the past. Congratulate students who offer good examples of the principles under study. Thank students who ask concept-related questions and describe why you think their questions are good. Leave time and space for more. Your own excitement about critical thinking can be a great incentive for students to seek that excitement.

• Brace yourself . When you include more opportunity for student critical thinking in class, there is much more opportunity for the class to go astray. Stepping away from the podium and engaging the students to perform what they know necessitates some loss of control, or at least some enhanced risk. However, the advantage is that no class will ever feel completely predictable, and this can be a source of stimulation for students and the professor as well.

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As far back as I can remember over 50 yrs. ago. I have been talking psychology to friends, or helping them to solve problems. I never thought about psy. back then, but now I realize I really love helping people. How can I become a critical thinker without condemning people?

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using a case study explain use of critical thinking in counseling process.

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Do you have any current readings with Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology, besides John Russcio’s work?

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About the Author

Jane Halonen received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1980. She is Professor of Psychology at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she has served as Chair of Psychology and Dean of the Behavior Sciences Department. Halonen is past president of the Council for Teachers of Undergraduate Psychology. A fellow of APA's Division 2 (Teaching), she has been active on the Committee of Undergraduate Education, helped design the 1991 APA Conference on Undergraduate Educational Quality, and currently serves as a committee member to develop standards for the teaching of high school psychology.

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Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

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Social learning theory, proposed by Albert Bandura, emphasizes the importance of observing, modeling, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others.

Social learning theory considers how both environmental and cognitive factors interact to influence human learning and behavior.

In social learning theory, Albert Bandura (1977) agrees with the behaviorist learning theories of classical conditioning and operant conditioning . However, he adds two important ideas:

Observational Learning

Children observe the people around them behaving in various ways. This is illustrated during the famous Bobo doll experiment (Bandura, 1961).

Individuals that are observed are called models. In society, children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents within the family, characters on children’s TV, friends within their peer group, and teachers at school.

These models provide examples of behavior to observe and imitate, e.g., masculine and feminine, pro and anti-social, etc.

Children pay attention to some of these people (models) and encode their behavior.  At a later time, they may imitate (i.e., copy) the behavior they have observed.

They may do this regardless of whether the behavior is ‘gender appropriate’ or not, but there are a number of processes that make it more likely that a child will reproduce the behavior that society deems appropriate for its gender.

First, the child is more likely to attend to and imitate those people it perceives as similar to itself. Consequently, it is more likely to imitate behavior modeled by people of the same gender.

Second, the people around the child will respond to the behavior it imitates with either reinforcement or punishment.  If a child imitates a model’s behavior and the consequences are rewarding, the child is likely to continue performing the behavior.

If a parent sees a little girl consoling her teddy bear and says, “what a kind girl you are,” this is rewarding for the child and makes it more likely that she will repeat the behavior.  Her behavior has been reinforced (i.e., strengthened).

Reinforcement can be external or internal and can be positive or negative.  If a child wants approval from parents or peers, this approval is an external reinforcement, but feeling happy about being approved of is an internal reinforcement.  A child will behave in a way that it believes will earn approval because it desires approval.

Positive (or negative) reinforcement will have little impact if the reinforcement offered externally does not match with an individual’s needs.  Reinforcement can be positive or negative , but the important factor is that it will usually lead to a change in a person’s behavior.

Third, the child will also take into account what happens to other people when deciding whether or not to copy someone’s actions.  A person learns by observing the consequences of another person’s (i.e., models) behavior, e.g., a younger sister observing an older sister being rewarded for a particular behavior is more likely to repeat that behavior herself.  This is known as vicarious reinforcement.

This relates to an attachment to specific models that possess qualities seen as rewarding. Children will have a number of models with whom they identify. These may be people in their immediate world, such as parents or older siblings, or they could be fantasy characters or people in the media. The motivation to identify with a particular model is that they have a quality that the individual would like to possess.

Identification occurs with another person (the model) and involves taking on (or adopting) observed behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes of the person with whom you are identifying.

The term identification as used by Social Learning Theory, is similar to the Freudian term related to the Oedipus complex.  For example, they both involve internalizing or adopting another person’s behavior.

However, during the Oedipus complex, the child can only identify with the same-sex parent, whereas with Social Learning Theory, the person (child or adult) can potentially identify with any other person.

Identification is different from imitation as it may involve a number of behaviors being adopted, whereas imitation usually involves copying a single behavior.

Mediational Processes

SLT is often described as the ‘bridge’ between traditional learning theory (i.e., behaviorism ) and the cognitive approach. This is because it focuses on how mental (cognitive) factors are involved in learning.

Unlike Skinner , Bandura (1977) believes that humans are active information processors and think about the relationship between their behavior and its consequences.

Observational learning could not occur unless cognitive processes were at work. These mental factors mediate (i.e., intervene) in the learning process to determine whether a new response is acquired.

Therefore, individuals do not automatically observe the behavior of a model and imitate it. There is some thought prior to imitation, and this consideration is called the mediational process. This occurs between observing the behavior (stimulus) and imitating it or not (response).

social Learning Theory Mediational Processes

There are four mediational processes proposed by Bandura:

The individual needs to pay attention to the behavior and its consequences and form a mental representation of the behavior. For a behavior to be imitated, it has to grab our attention. We observe many behaviors on a daily basis, and many of these are not noteworthy. Attention is, therefore, extremely important in whether a behavior influences others to imitate it.

How well the behavior is remembered. The behavior may be noticed, but it is not always remembered, which obviously prevents imitation. It is important, therefore, that a memory of the behavior is formed to be performed later by the observer.

Much of social learning is not immediate, so this process is especially vital in those cases. Even if the behavior is reproduced shortly after seeing it, there needs to be a memory to refer to.


This is the ability to perform the behavior that the model has just demonstrated. We see much behavior daily that we would like to be able to imitate, but this is not always possible. We are limited by our physical ability, and for that reason, even if we wish to reproduce the behavior, we cannot.

This influences our decisions whether to try and imitate it or not. Imagine the scenario of a 90-year-old lady who struggles to walk while watching Dancing on Ice. She may appreciate that the skill is a desirable one, but she will not attempt to imitate it because she physically cannot do it.

The will to perform the behavior. The rewards and punishments that follow a behavior will be considered by the observer. If the perceived rewards outweigh the perceived costs (if there are any), then the behavior will be more likely to be imitated by the observer.

If the vicarious reinforcement is not seen to be important enough to the observer, then they will not imitate the behavior.

Critical Evaluation

The social learning approach takes thought processes into account and acknowledges the role that they play in deciding if a behavior is to be imitated or not.

As such, SLT provides a more comprehensive explanation of human learning by recognizing the role of mediational processes.

For example, Social Learning Theory can explain many more complex social behaviors (such as gender roles and moral behavior) than models of learning based on simple reinforcement .

However, although it can explain some quite complex behavior, it cannot adequately account for how we develop a whole range of behavior, including thoughts and feelings.

We have a lot of cognitive control over our behavior, and just because we have had experiences of violence does not mean we have to reproduce such behavior.

It is for this reason that Bandura modified his theory and in 1986 renamed his Social Learning Theory, Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), as a better description of how we learn from our social experiences.

Some criticisms of social learning theory arise from their commitment to the environment as the chief influence on behavior. It is limiting to describe behavior solely in terms of either nature or nurture, and attempts to do this underestimate the complexity of human behavior.

It is more likely that behavior is due to an interaction between nature (biology) and nurture (environment).

Social learning theory is not a full explanation for all behavior. This is particularly the case when there is no apparent role model in the person’s life to imitate for a given behavior.

The discovery of mirror neurons has lent biological support to the social learning theory. Although research is in its infancy, the recent discovery of “mirror neurons” in primates may constitute a neurological basis for imitation. These are neurons that fire both if the animal does something itself and if it observes the action being done by another.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory . Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology , 63, 575-582

Last Updated 03 Aug 2020

Behaviourism: Skinner’s ‘Reinforcement’ and ‘Conditioning’ Theories

Choose one case study and evaluate it from the perspective of the Behaviourist Approach. Provide strategies for intervention based only on this theory

This essay evaluates case study 3B through the perspective of behaviourism as identified by Skinner et al (1948). The subject in 3B is named Jethro, who is exhibiting signs of disruptive behaviour in school. His actions are analysed from the view of the Behaviourists, using such theories as classical and operant conditioning. Methods for guidance and improvement based on this analysis are then offered.

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Behaviourism is a theory which analyses human behaviour in terms of observable cause and effect, rather than mental processes. It advocates that humans react to positive and negative reinforcement of such behaviour throughout their lives – most notably during childhood and adolescence (Mah, 2007). A behaviourist psychologist named Pavlov (1902) developed the theory of ‘classical conditioning’ through an experiment with using his dogs. The theory then went on to become one of the most vital mechanisms of Behaviourism.

This is where un-conditioned responses such as salivation at the sight of food can be associated with the ringing of a bell that accompanies the smell of food; thereby giving the dog a learned conditioned response. Skinner (1948) added to this by developing ‘operant conditioning’; which suggests that positive reinforcement and negative punishment are able to create similar conditioned responses too. It has also been argued by Behaviourists that humans share this same basic psychology as animals on a fundamental level, and can learn associations between reward and consequence (operant conditioning) and learn conditioned responses to stimuli (classical conditioning) (Costello & Angold, 2000).

Because of this how concrete and empirically-based the approach is, it is the most commonly applied theory to basic classroom dynamics; as good behaviours are rewarded with positive reinforcement (i.e. good grades, a ‘gold sticker’) and bad, maladaptive behaviours are rewarded with negative reinforcement (i.e. bad grades, detention or ‘naughty step’). It is the simplest way to discipline a class. Shirley (2009) has argued that no lesson plan can work if there is no behaviourism present. In light of this, the analysis will look at how Jethro’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours have been reinforced by both his teachers and his parents, and then how his current actions have developed because of this. Any possible suggestions for intervention will then be given in order to re-balance his previous conditioning.

At first glance, Jethro’s behaviour seems to be a product of a lack of reinforcement from his parents and teachers in both a positive and negative respect (Wheldall & Glynn, 1989). He lacks the balance that operant conditioning offers and classical conditioning can be used to explain the way he has associated subjects he does not enjoy with frustration and even aggression. It seems that neither parent nor teacher has attempted to positively associate a subject Jethro doesn’t enjoy with a reward or method that he does enjoy (Porter, 2006). This can be seen from the “challenge” that is posed by adults that spark “angry outbursts” from Jethro. From a behaviourist view, this “challenge” would be seen as another negative reinforcement for his actions, as opposed to engagement on another level that may interest the boy. For example, he enjoys music and is evidently a creative person – perhaps more creative lesson plans would put an end to his aggressive behaviour, as he would then learn a positive conditioned response to that lesson.

A large-scale survey of teachers and pupils entitled ‘The Elton Report’ (1989) suggested that schools’ biggest concern was that of low-level but high-frequency disruptions such as talking during lessons, not waiting, running in corridors and fidgeting. These are called “TooTs” (talking out of turn) by the DFE, and seem to be a very common occurrence in adolescents. Jethro’s behaviours are mostly TooTs such as rudeness, only doing the minimum required and lateness, and could easily be seen as avoidance of activities that he does not gain any sort of positive reinforcement from i.e. truanting classes when he does not like the teacher. Jethro does not gain any reward from these classes, and therefore does not seek to even attempt to participate because he has been conditioned to act out of turn in them and not pay due attention.

It is also evident that musical stimulus gives Jethro pleasure. Akin to how the smell of food gave Pavlov’s dogs a ‘hard-wired’ un-conditioned response (McLeod, 2007), it seems that Jethro did not need to learn his response to music; that it was always present. We can infer that his parents did not aid this response, as they are “too busy” to have even kept any appointments with his head-teacher. This neglect seems to have created these maladaptive behaviours, as children thrive on a token economy with a reward/punishment scheme (Cooper & Upton, 1991).

It could be argued that Jethro’s parents’ neglect of his interests and behaviours acts as its own positive reinforcement of his maladaptive behaviours such as truancy, lateness and being confrontational. This would make Jethro believe that these bad behaviours are in fact good or merely neutral. Without punishment from the primary caregiver, the subject will learn to persist in these behaviours as they go without consequence or even reason (Chung & Nolan, 1998).

Jethro fits into the first group of unruly children as stated by the DFE – the “naughty and disruptive, but responsive” group (DFE, 1994). This can be seen in his sometimes aggressive behaviour, but also in his enjoyment of music. His participation in his town’s Community Action Week makes a good example of how Jethro does indeed respond to positive rewards and stimuli i.e. the act of playing guitar at the old people’s home made him feel elated, or ‘good’; whereas other subjects make him unruly (Premack, 1959).

The “chill-outs” that Jethro receives from teachers shed light on his previous conditioning. Although they could be seen as punishments, they are not the correct punishment to give, as they fail to make a negative association with acting ‘out-of-turn’. Especially given the fact that Jethro is sixteen years old, in the midst of adolescence. It should be noted that adolescents require extra stimulation in their field of interest, as they are beginning to progress up the ‘pyramid of learning’ of Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) and start to create more complex associations and responses as well as being more autonomous (White & Renk, 2011). In light of this, perhaps a harsher punishment is necessary to re-balance the boy’s conditioning, for example – a detention. Arguably this could take place during music class, so as to heighten the negative reinforcement of his behaviour.

However, a strategy such as this may serve to severely harm the boy if carried out repeatedly, as it is clear that he is passionate about music, and music is one lesson that he has “no reported problems” in. Care should be taken so as not to permanently damage Jethro’s positive talents and create an even more negative association with every other aspect of school life. Although, if this punishment is reserved for instances of intense aggression, the strategy may prove fruitful.

Another intervention strategy may be to actively encourage Jethro with more rewards for trying harder in lessons he currently does not enjoy. Presently, there are no signs of any attempt to condition the student into doing more than the very minimum required. Although he is working at his National Curriculum age appropriate levels, the teachers are seen to only “complain”; thereby further reinforcing his response of ‘not trying’. If teachers offered some sort of reward as compensation i.e. being able to complete ‘homework’ in class rather than having to take it home, then maybe Jethro would comply more as he would then have more time to pursue his music, for instance. After a while, Jethro would begin to associate going to class with positive responses and rewards through a teaching style based upon classical and operant conditioning.

Similar to the DFE’s circular 8/94 entitled “Pupil Behaviour and Discipline” (1994); strategies should be implemented that promote respect between students and staff. There should be a token economy with formal rewards that focusses mainly on positive reinforcement for successes, rather than purely negative reinforcements and punishments for acting ‘out of turn’. Clear boundaries of acceptable behaviour are required in order to successfully intervene with Jethro and condition him to be a more respectful, academically-minded student. A liaison between home and school should also be encouraged to ensure Jethro adapts thoroughly as a person, not just a pupil (Ayers et al, 2000).

In conclusion, it is clear that Jethro’s conditioning needs to be re-balanced through a succession of positive and negative reinforcements, coupled with a reward scheme that congratulates ‘good’ behaviour to encourage the student to try harder. At present, his behaviour is un-disciplined because he has not learnt the correct responses to stimuli such as adults’ challenges, work that he does not like and arriving to lessons promptly. With the suggestions offered here, these behaviours will change and make Jethro a more ‘co-operative’ student; to the point of altering his responses to neutral stimuli into positive ones – allowing him to associate the aspects of school life that currently trouble him, with happiness and rewards.

Ayers, H., Clarke, D. & Murray, A. (2000). Perspectives on Behaviour: A Practical Guide to Effective Interventions for Teachers. David Fulton Publishers. ISBN-10: 1853466727.

Chung, C. M. & Nolan, P. (1998). Children with Challenging Behaviour: Past and Present in the United Kingdom. Children and Society. Vol. 12.

Cooper, P. & Upton, G. (1991). Controlling the Urge to Control: An Eco-systemic Approach to Problem Behaviour in Schools. Problem Behaviour. Support for Learning. Vol. 6 No. 1.

Costello, J. & Angold, A. (2000). Bad Behaviour: An Historical Perspective on Disorders of Conduct. Conduct Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence. Cambridge University Press. ISBN-10: 0521786398.

DES. (1989). Discipline in Schools. The Elton Report. London. HMSO.

DFE. (1994). Discipline in Schools, Circular 8/94. London. Department for Education.

Mah, R. (2007). Difficult Behaviour in Early Childhood. Positive Discipline for Pre K-3 Classroom & Beyond. Corwin. ISBN-10: 1412937159.

McLeod, S. (2007). Pavlov’s Dogs. Simply Psychology. Accessed: Last Accessed 04/07/2014.

Porter, L. (2006). Behaviour in Schools: Theory and Practice for Teachers. Open University Press. ISBN-10: 0335220010.

Premack, D. (1959). Empirical Behaviour Laws: Positive Reinforcement. Psychological Review. Vol. 66.

Shirley, R. (2009). The Behaviourist Approach to Teaching in Class. Accessed: Last Accessed 04/07/2014.

Wheldall, K. & Glynn, T. (1989). Effective Classroom Learning. Blackwell. Oxford.

White, R. & Renk, K. (2011). Externalizing Behaviour Problems during Adolescence: An Ecological Perspective. Springer Science and Business Media.

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Child Development Theories and Examples

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

critically evaluate behaviorism

Verywell / JR Bee 

Child development theories focus on explaining how children change and grow over the course of childhood. Such theories center on various aspects of development including social, emotional, and cognitive growth.

The study of human development is a rich and varied subject. We all have personal experience with development, but it is sometimes difficult to understand how and why people grow, learn, and act as they do.

Why do children behave in certain ways? Is their behavior related to their age, family relationships, or individual temperaments? Developmental psychologists strive to answer such questions as well as to understand, explain, and predict behaviors that occur throughout the lifespan.

In order to understand human development, a number of different theories of child development have arisen to explain various aspects of human growth.

Theories of development provide a framework for thinking about human growth and learning. But why do we study development? What can we learn from psychological theories of development? If you have ever wondered about what motivates human thought and behavior, understanding these theories can provide useful insight into individuals and society.

How Our Understanding Has Changed

Child development that occurs from birth to adulthood was largely ignored throughout much of human history. Children were often viewed simply as small versions of adults and little attention was paid to the many advances in cognitive abilities, language usage, and physical growth that occur during childhood and adolescence.

Interest in the field of child development finally began to emerge early in the 20th century, but it tended to focus on abnormal behavior. Eventually, researchers became increasingly interested in other topics including typical child development as well as the influences on development.

How We Come to Understand Changes

Why is it important to study how children grow, learn and change? An understanding of child development is essential because it allows us to fully appreciate the cognitive, emotional, physical, social, and educational growth that children go through from birth and into early adulthood.

Some of the major theories of child development are known as grand theories; they attempt to describe every aspect of development, often using a stage approach. Others are known as mini-theories; they instead focus only on a fairly limited aspect of development such as cognitive or social growth.

There are many child development theories that have been proposed by theorists and researchers. More recent theories outline the developmental stages of children and identify the typical ages at which these growth milestones occur.  

Freud's Psychosexual Developmental Theory

Psychoanalytic theory originated with the work of  Sigmund Freud . Through his clinical work with patients suffering from mental illness, Freud came to believe that childhood experiences and  unconscious  desires influenced behavior.

According to Freud, conflicts that occur during each of these stages can have a lifelong influence on personality and behavior. Freud proposed one of the best-known grand theories of child development.

According to Freud’s psychosexual theory, child development occurs in a series of stages focused on different pleasure areas of the body. During each stage, the child encounters conflicts that play a significant role in the course of development.

His theory suggested that the energy of the libido was focused on different erogenous zones at specific stages. Failure to progress through a stage can result in fixation at that point in development, which Freud believed could have an influence on adult behavior.

So what happens as children complete each stage? And what might result if a child does poorly during a particular point in development? Successfully completing each stage leads to the development of a healthy adult personality.

Failing to resolve the conflicts of a particular stage can result in fixations that can then have an influence on adult behavior.

While some other child development theories suggest that personality continues to change and grow over the entire lifetime, Freud believed that it was early experiences that played the greatest role in shaping development. According to Freud, personality is largely set in stone by the age of five.

Erikson's Psychosocial Developmental Theory

Psychoanalytic theory was an enormously influential force during the first half of the twentieth century. Those inspired and influenced by Freud went on to expand upon Freud's ideas and develop theories of their own. Of these neo-Freudians, Erik Erikson's ideas have become perhaps the best known.

Erikson's eight-stage theory of psychosocial development describes growth and change throughout life, focusing on social interaction and conflicts that arise during different stages of development.

While Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development  shared some similarities with Freud's, it is dramatically different in many ways. Rather than focusing on sexual interest as a driving force in development, Erikson believed that social interaction and experience played decisive roles.

His eight-stage theory of human development described this process from infancy through death. During each stage, people are faced with a developmental conflict that impacts later functioning and further growth.

Unlike many other developmental theories, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory focuses on development across the entire lifespan. At each stage, children and adults face a developmental crisis that serves as a major turning point.

Successfully managing the challenges of each stage leads to the emergence of a lifelong psychological virtue.

Behavioral Child Development Theories

During the first half of the twentieth century, a new school of thought known as behaviorism rose to become a dominant force within psychology. Behaviorists believed that psychology needed to focus only on observable and quantifiable behaviors in order to become a more scientific discipline.

According to the behavioral perspective, all human behavior can be described in terms of environmental influences. Some behaviorists, such as  John B. Watson  and  B.F. Skinner , insisted that learning occurs purely through processes of association and reinforcement.

Behavioral theories of child development focus on how environmental interaction influences behavior and is based on the theories of theorists such as John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B. F. Skinner. These theories deal only with observable behaviors. Development is considered a reaction to rewards, punishments, stimuli, and reinforcement.

This theory differs considerably from other child development theories because it gives no consideration to internal thoughts or feelings. Instead, it focuses purely on how experience shapes who we are.

Two important types of learning that emerged from this approach to development are  classical conditioning  and  operant conditioning . Classical conditioning involves learning by pairing a naturally occurring stimulus with a previously neutral stimulus. Operant conditioning utilizes reinforcement and punishment to modify behaviors.

Piaget's Cognitive Developmental Theory

Cognitive theory is concerned with the development of a person's thought processes. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world. 

Theorist  Jean Piaget  proposed one of the most influential theories of cognitive development.

Piaget proposed an idea that seems obvious now, but helped revolutionize how we think about child development:  Children think differently than adults .  

His cognitive theory seeks to describe and explain the development of thought processes and mental states. It also looks at how these thought processes influence the way we understand and interact with the world.

Piaget then proposed a theory of cognitive development to account for the steps and sequence of children's intellectual development.

Bowlby's Attachment Theory

There is a great deal of research on the social development of children.  John Bowbly  proposed one of the earliest theories of social development. Bowlby believed that early relationships with caregivers play a major role in child development and continue to influence social relationships throughout life.  

Bowlby's attachment theory suggested that children are born with an innate need to form attachments. Such attachments aid in survival by ensuring that the child receives care and protection. Not only that, but these attachments are characterized by clear behavioral and motivational patterns.

In other words, both children and caregivers engage in behaviors designed to ensure proximity. Children strive to stay close and connected to their caregivers who in turn provide a safe haven and a secure base for exploration.

Researchers have also expanded upon Bowlby's original work and have suggested that a number of different attachment styles exist. Children who receive consistent support and care are more likely to develop a secure attachment style, while those who receive less reliable care may develop an ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized style.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Social learning theory is based on the work of psychologist  Albert Bandura . Bandura believed that the conditioning and reinforcement process could not sufficiently explain all of human learning.

For example, how can the conditioning process account for learned behaviors that have not been reinforced through classical conditioning or operant conditioning According to social learning theory, behaviors can also be learned through observation and modeling.

By observing the actions of others, including parents and peers, children develop new skills and acquire new information.

Bandura's child development theory suggests that observation plays a critical role in learning, but this observation does not necessarily need to take the form of watching a live model.  

Instead, people can also learn by listening to verbal instructions about how to perform a behavior as well as through observing either real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in books or films.

Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory

Another psychologist named  Lev Vygotsky  proposed a seminal learning theory that has gone on to become very influential, especially in the field of education. Like Piaget, Vygotsky believed that children learn actively and through hands-on experiences.  

His sociocultural theory also suggested that parents, caregivers, peers and the culture at large were responsible for developing higher-order functions. In Vygotsky's view, learning is an inherently social process. Through interacting with others, learning becomes integrated into an individual's understanding of the world.

This child development theory also introduced the concept of the zone of proximal development, which is the gap between what a person can do with help and what they can do on their own. It is with the help of more knowledgeable others that people are able to progressively learn and increase their skills and scope of understanding.

A Word From Verywell

As you can see, some of psychology's best-known thinkers have developed theories to help explore and explain different aspects of child development. While not all of these theories are fully accepted today, they all had an important influence on our understanding of child development.

Today, contemporary psychologists often draw on a variety of theories and perspectives in order to understand how kids grow, behave, and think. These theories represent just a few of the different ways of thinking about child development.

In reality, fully understanding how children change and grow over the course of childhood requires looking at many different factors that influence physical and psychological growth. Genes, the environment, and the interactions between these two forces determine how kids grow physically as well as mentally.

Bellman M, Byrne O, Sege R. Developmental assessment of children . BMJ. 2013;346:e8687. doi:10.1136/bmj.e8687

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By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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Complex Learned Social Behavior Discovered in Bee’s Waggle Dance

Summary: A bee’s “waggle dance”, an intricate series of motions that signals the location of critical resources to other bees, is improved by social learning and can be culturally transmitted.

Source: UCSD

Passing down shared knowledge from one generation to the next is a hallmark of culture and allows animals to rapidly adapt to a changing environment.

While widely evident in species ranging from human infants to naked mole rats or fledgling songbirds, early social learning has now been documented in insects.

Publishing in the journal  Science , a University of California San Diego researcher and his colleagues uncovered evidence that social learning is fundamental for honey bees. Professor James Nieh of the School of Biological Sciences and his collaborators discovered that the “waggle dance,” which signals the location of critical resources to nestmates through an intricate series of motions, is improved by learning and can be culturally transmitted.

The study demonstrates the importance of early social signal learning in one of the most complex known examples of non-human spatial referential communication.

“We are beginning to understand that, like us, animals can pass down information important for their survival through communities and families. Our new research shows that we can now extend such social learning to include insects,” said Nieh, a professor in the Department of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution.

A social insect with a highly organized community structure, honey bees help ensure the survival of their colonies by communicating the location of food sources to one another through a waggle dance in which bees circle around in figure-eight patterns while waggling their bodies during the central part of the dance.

Performed at breakneck speed (each bee moves a body length in less than one second), the motions within the dance translate visual information from the environment around the hive and the location of the sun into the distance, direction and even the quality of the resource to nestmates.

Transmitting this information accurately is a remarkable feat because bees must move rapidly across an often uneven honeycomb hive surface.

This shows honey bees

Nieh and fellow researchers Shihao Dong, Tao Lin and Ken Tan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) set up experiments testing the details involved in waggle dance communication. They created colonies to study the information transmission process between skilled forager bees and their younger, less experienced nestmates.

The experimenters created colonies in which bees were never able to observe or follow waggle dancers before they first danced. These colonies consisted of young bees that were all the same age. Bees begin to dance when they reach the right age and always follow experienced dancers before they first attempt to dance. In these experimental colonies, bees were therefore never able to learn from more experienced dancers.

“Bees without the opportunity to follow any dancers before they first danced produced significantly more disordered dances with larger waggle angle divergence errors and encoded distance incorrectly,” the researchers noted in the paper.

In contrast, bees that shadowed other dances in control colonies did not suffer from such problems. Like humans, for which early exposure to language development is essential, the bees acquired social cues that were encoded and stayed with them for life (about 38 days). Those that did not learn the correct waggle dance early on were able to improve by subsequently watching other dancers and by practicing, but they were never able to correctly encode distance.

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This distance encoding creates the distinct “dialects” of different honey bee species. In other words, the bees that could never observe other dancers during their critical early stage of learning developed a new dialect that they maintained for the rest of their lives.

“Scientists believe that bee dialects are shaped by their local environments. If so, it makes sense for a colony to pass on a dialect that is well adapted to this environment,” said Nieh. The results therefore provided evidence that social learning shapes honey bee signaling as it does with early communication in many vertebrate species that also benefit from learning.

With their new results, Nieh and his colleagues now would like to understand the role of the environment in shaping bee language. In the future, they would like to find out if older, more experienced bees in the colony that know the distribution of food sources within their environment might be able to pass on an optimized dialect to the next generation.

They are also concerned that external threats could disrupt this early language learning. Multiple studies, including those by Nieh and his collaborators, demonstrated the harm that commonly used pesticides can inflict on bees.

“We know that bees are quite intelligent and have the capacity to do remarkable things,” said Nieh. “Multiple papers and studies have shown that pesticides can harm honey bee cognition and learning, and therefore pesticides might harm their ability to learn how to communicate and potentially even reshape how this communication is transmitted to the next generation of bees in a colony.”

About this social learning research news

Author: Mario Aguilera Source: UCSD Contact: Mario Aguilera – UCSD Image: The image is credited to Heather Broccard Bell

Original Research: The findings will appear in Science

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