Behaviorism (or behaviourism) is a systematic approach to the understanding of human and animal behavior. It assumes that all behavior are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual's history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual's current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Thus, although behaviorists generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental factors.
Behaviorism combines elements of philosophy, methodology, and psychological theory. It emerged in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally. The earliest derivatives of Behaviorism can be traced back to the late 1800s where Edward Thorndike pioneered the law of effect (a process that involved strengthening behavior through the use of reinforcement).
During the first half of the twentieth century, John B. Watson devised methodological behaviorism, which rejected introspective methods and sought to understand behavior by only measuring observable behaviors and events. It was not until the 1930s that B. F. Skinner suggested that private events—including thoughts and feelings—should be subjected to the same controlling variables as observable behavior which became the basis for his philosophy called radical behaviorism. While Watson and Ivan Pavlov investigated the stimulus-response procedures of classical conditioning, Skinner assessed the controlling nature of consequences and also the antecedents (or discriminative stimuli) that signal the behavior; the technique became known as operant conditioning.
The application of radical behaviorism—known as applied behavior analysis—is used in a variety of settings, including, for example, organizational behavior management, to the treatment of mental disorders, such as autism and substance abuse. In addition, while behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in cognitive behavior therapies, which have demonstrated utility in treating certain pathologies, including simple phobias, PTSD, and mood disorders.
There is no universally agreed-upon classification, but some titles given to the various branches of behaviorism include:
- Methodological behaviorism: Watson's behaviorism states that only public events (behaviors of an individual) can be objectively observed, and that therefore private events (thoughts and feelings) should be ignored. It also became the basis for the early approach behavior modification in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Radical behaviorism: Skinner's behaviorism theorizes that processes within the organism should be acknowledged, particularly the presence of private events (such as thoughts and feelings), and suggests that environmental variables also control these internal events just as they control observable behaviors. Radical behaviorism forms the core philosophy behind behavior analysis. Willard Van Orman Quine used many of radical behaviorism's ideas in his study of knowledge and language.
- Teleological behaviorism: Post-Skinnerian, purposive, close to microeconomics. Focuses on objective observation as opposed to cognitive processes.
- Theoretical behaviorism: Post-Skinnerian, accepts observable internal states ("within the skin" once meant "unobservable", but with modern technology we are not so constrained); dynamic, but eclectic in choice of theoretical structures, emphasizes parsimony.
- Biological behaviorism: Post-Skinnerian, centered on perceptual and motor modules of behavior, theory of behavior systems.
- Psychological behaviorism: As proposed by Arthur W. Staats, this version of behaviorism centers on the practical control of human behavior. It is noted for its use of time-outs, token-reinforcement and other methods, which importantly influenced modern approaches to child development, education, and abnormal psychology.
Two subtypes are:
- Hullian and post-Hullian: theoretical, group data, not dynamic, physiological;
- Purposive: Tolman's behavioristic anticipation of cognitive psychology
B. F. Skinner proposed radical behaviorism as the conceptual underpinning of the experimental analysis of behavior. This view differs from other approaches to behavioral research in various ways but, most notably here, it contrasts with methodological behaviorism in accepting feelings, states of mind and introspection as behaviors subject to scientific investigation. Like methodological behaviorism it rejects the reflex as a model of all behavior, and it defends the science of behavior as complementary to but independent of physiology. Radical behaviorism overlaps considerably with other western philosophical positions such as American pragmatism.
Experimental and conceptual innovations
This essentially philosophical position gained strength from the success of Skinner's early experimental work with rats and pigeons, summarized in his books The Behavior of Organisms and Schedules of Reinforcement. Of particular importance was his concept of the operant response, of which the canonical example was the rat's lever-press. In contrast with the idea of a physiological or reflex response, an operant is a class of structurally distinct but functionally equivalent responses. For example, while a rat might press a lever with its left paw or its right paw or its tail, all of these responses operate on the world in the same way and have a common consequence. Operants are often thought of as species of responses, where the individuals differ but the class coheres in its function-shared consequences with operants and reproductive success with species. This is a clear distinction between Skinner's theory and S–R theory.
Skinner's empirical work expanded on earlier research on trial-and-error learning by researchers such as Thorndike and Guthrie with both conceptual reformulations—Thorndike's notion of a stimulus–response "association" or "connection" was abandoned; and methodological ones—the use of the "free operant", so called because the animal was now permitted to respond at its own rate rather than in a series of trials determined by the experimenter procedures. With this method, Skinner carried out substantial experimental work on the effects of different schedules and rates of reinforcement on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons. He achieved remarkable success in training animals to perform unexpected responses, to emit large numbers of responses, and to demonstrate many empirical regularities at the purely behavioral level. This lent some credibility to his conceptual analysis. It is largely his conceptual analysis that made his work much more rigorous than his peers', a point which can be seen clearly in his seminal work Are Theories of Learning Necessary? in which he criticizes what he viewed to be theoretical weaknesses then common in the study of psychology. An important descendant of the experimental analysis of behavior is the Society for Quantitative Analysis of Behavior.
Relation to language
As Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with his 1957 book Verbal Behavior and other language-related publications; Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky.
Skinner did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas, and the disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed. Innateness theory is opposed to behaviorist theory which claims that language is a set of habits that can be acquired by means of conditioning. According to some, this process that the behaviorists define is a very slow and gentle process to explain a phenomenon as complicated as language learning. What was important for a behaviorist's analysis of human behavior was not language acquisition so much as the interaction between language and overt behavior. In an essay republished in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement, Skinner took the view that humans could construct linguistic stimuli that would then acquire control over their behavior in the same way that external stimuli could. The possibility of such "instructional control" over behavior meant that contingencies of reinforcement would not always produce the same effects on human behavior as they reliably do in other animals. The focus of a radical behaviorist analysis of human behavior therefore shifted to an attempt to understand the interaction between instructional control and contingency control, and also to understand the behavioral processes that determine what instructions are constructed and what control they acquire over behavior. Recently, a new line of behavioral research on language was started under the name of relational frame theory.
Behaviourism focuses on one particular view of learning: a change in external behaviour achieved through using reinforcement and repetition (Rote learning) to shape behavior. Skinner found that behaviors could be shaped when the use of reinforcement was implemented. Desired behavior is rewarded, while the undesired behavior is punished. Incorporating behaviorism into the classroom allowed educators to assist their students in excelling both academically and personally. In the field of language learning, this type of teaching was called the audio-lingual method, characterised by the whole class using choral chanting of key phrases, dialogues and immediate correction.
Within the behaviourist view of learning, the "teacher" is the dominant person in the classroom and takes complete control, evaluation of learning comes from the teacher who decides what is right or wrong. The learner does not have any opportunity for evaluation or reflection within the learning process, they are simply told what is right or wrong. The conceptualization of learning using this approach could be considered "superficial" as the focus is on external changes in behaviour i.e. not interested in the internal processes of learning leading to behaviour change and has no place for the emotions involved the process.
Whether this approach is right or wrong, it cannot be denied that an aspect of memorization is regarded by key scholars as critical in any language learning.
Operant conditioning was developed by B.F. Skinner in 1937 and deals with the modification of "voluntary behaviour" or operant behaviour. Operant behavior operates on the environment and is maintained by its consequences. Reinforcement and punishment, the core tools of operant conditioning, are either positive (delivered following a response), or negative (withdrawn following a response). Skinner created the Skinner Box or operant conditioning chamber to test the effects of operant conditioning principles on rats. From this study, he discovered that the rats learned very effectively if they were rewarded frequently. Skinner also found that he could shape the rats' behavior through the use of rewards, which could, in turn, be applied to human learning as well.
Although operant conditioning plays the largest role in discussions of behavioral mechanisms, classical conditioning (or Pavlovian conditioning or respondent conditioning) is also an important behavior-analytic process that need not refer to mental or other internal processes. Pavlov's experiments with dogs provide the most familiar example of the classical conditioning procedure. In simple conditioning, the dog was presented with a stimulus such as a light or a sound, and then food was placed in the dog's mouth. After a few repetitions of this sequence, the light or sound by itself caused the dog to salivate. Although Pavlov proposed some tentative physiological processes that might be involved in classical conditioning, these have not been confirmed. The idea of classical conditioning helped behaviorist John Watson discover the key mechanism behind how humans acquire the behaviors that they do, which was to find a natural reflex that produces the response being considered.
Watson's "Behaviourist Manifesto" has three aspects that deserve special recognition: one is that psychology should be purely objective, with any interpretation of conscious experience being removed, thus leading to psychology as the "science of behaviour"; the second one is that the goals of psychology should be to predict and control behaviour (as opposed to describe and explain conscious mental states; the third one is that there is no notable distinction between human and non-human behaviour. Following Darwin's theory of evolution, this would simply mean that human behaviour is just a more complex version in respect to behaviour displayed by other species.
Molecular versus molar behaviorism
Skinner's view of behavior is most often characterized as a "molecular" view of behavior; that is, behavior can be decomposed into atomistic parts or molecules. This view is inconsistent with Skinner's complete description of behavior as delineated in other works, including his 1981 article "Selection by Consequences". Skinner proposed that a complete account of behavior requires understanding of selection history at three levels: biology (the natural selection or phylogeny of the animal); behavior (the reinforcement history or ontogeny of the behavioral repertoire of the animal); and for some species, culture (the cultural practices of the social group to which the animal belongs). This whole organism then interacts with its environment. Molecular behaviorists use notions from melioration theory, negative power function discounting or additive versions of negative power function discounting.
Molar behaviorists, such as Howard Rachlin, Richard Herrnstein, and William Baum, argue that behavior cannot be understood by focusing on events in the moment. That is, they argue that behavior is best understood as the ultimate product of an organism's history and that molecular behaviorists are committing a fallacy by inventing fictitious proximal causes for behavior. Molar behaviorists argue that standard molecular constructs, such as "associative strength", are better replaced by molar variables such as rate of reinforcement. Thus, a molar behaviorist would describe "loving someone" as a pattern of loving behavior over time; there is no isolated, proximal cause of loving behavior, only a history of behaviors (of which the current behavior might be an example) that can be summarized as "love".
Behaviorism is a psychological movement that can be contrasted with philosophy of mind. The basic premise of radical behaviorism is that the study of behavior should be a natural science, such as chemistry or physics, without any reference to hypothetical inner states of organisms as causes for their behavior. Less radical varieties are unconcerned with philosophical positions on internal, mental and subjective experience. Behaviorism takes a functional view of behavior. According to Edmund Fantino and colleagues: "Behavior analysis has much to offer the study of phenomena normally dominated by cognitive and social psychologists. We hope that successful application of behavioral theory and methodology will not only shed light on central problems in judgment and choice but will also generate greater appreciation of the behavioral approach."
Behaviorist sentiments are not uncommon within philosophy of language and analytic philosophy. It is sometimes argued that Ludwig Wittgenstein defended a behaviorist position (e.g., the beetle in a box argument)—but while there are important relations between his thought and behaviorism, the claim that he was a behaviorist is quite controversial. Mathematician Alan Turing is also sometimes considered a behaviorist, but he himself did not make this identification. In logical and empirical positivism (as held, e.g., by Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel), the meaning of psychological statements are their verification conditions, which consist of performed overt behavior. W.V. Quine made use of a type of behaviorism, influenced by some of Skinner's ideas, in his own work on language. Gilbert Ryle defended a distinct strain of philosophical behaviorism, sketched in his book The Concept of Mind. Ryle's central claim was that instances of dualism frequently represented "category mistakes", and hence that they were really misunderstandings of the use of ordinary language. Daniel Dennett likewise acknowledges himself to be a type of behaviorist, though he offers extensive criticism of radical behaviorism and refutes Skinner's rejection of the value of intentional idioms and the possibility of free will.
This is Dennett's main point in "Skinner Skinned." Dennett argues that there is a crucial difference between explaining and explaining away… If our explanation of apparently rational behavior turns out to be extremely simple, we may want to say that the behavior was not really rational after all. But if the explanation is very complex and intricate, we may want to say not that the behavior is not rational, but that we now have a better understanding of what rationality consists in. (Compare: if we find out how a computer program solves problems in linear algebra, we don't say it's not really solving them, we just say we know how it does it. On the other hand, in cases like Weizenbaum's ELIZA program, the explanation of how the computer carries on a conversation is so simple that the right thing to say seems to be that the machine isn't really carrying on a conversation, it's just a trick.)
21st-century behavior analysis
The early term behavior modification has been obsolete since the 1990s as it currently refers to the brief revival of methodological behaviorism in the late 1950s and again from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Applied behavior analysis—the term that replaced behavior modification—has emerged into a thriving field.
The Association for Behavior Analysis: International (ABAI) currently has 32 state and regional chapters within the United States. Approximately 30 additional chapters have also developed throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific. In addition to 34 annual conferences held by ABAI in the United States and Canada, ABAI held the 5th annual International conference in Norway in 2009. The independent development of behaviour analysis outside the US also continues to develop. For example, the UK Society for Behaviour Analysis was founded in 2013 to further the advancement of the science and practice of behaviour analysis across the UK. And in terms of motivation, there remains strong interest in the variety of human motivational behaviour factors, e.g., indeed one could argue that the entire career counselling and advisory industry has at least partly been predicated on analysing individual behaviours. Some, may go as far as suggesting that the current rapid change in organisational behaviour could partly be attributed to some of these theories and the theories that are related to it.
The interests among behavior analysts today are wide ranging, as a review of the 30 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) within ABAI indicates. Such interests include everything from developmental disabilities and autism, to cultural psychology, clinical psychology, verbal behavior, Organizational Behavior Management (OBM; behavior analytic I–O psychology). OBM has developed a particularly strong following within behavior analysis, as evidenced by the formation of the OBM Network and the influential Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM; recently rated the 3rd highest impact journal in applied psychology by ISI JOBM rating).
Applications of behavioral technology, also known as applied behavior analysis or ABA, have been particularly well established in the area of developmental disabilities since the 1960s. Treatment of individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has grown especially rapidly since the mid-1990s. This demand for services encouraged the formation of a professional credentialing program administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. (BACB) and accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. As of early 2012, there are over 300 BACB approved course sequences offered by about 200 colleges and universities worldwide preparing students for this credential and approximately 11,000 BACB certificants, most working in the United States. The Association of Professional Behavior Analysts was formed in 2008 to meet the needs of these ABA professionals.
Modern behavior analysis has also witnessed a massive resurgence in research and applications related to language and cognition, with the development of relational frame theory (RFT; described as a "Post-Skinnerian account of language and cognition"). RFT also forms the empirical basis for the highly successful and data-driven acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In fact, researchers and practitioners in RFT/ACT have become sufficiently prominent that they have formed their own specialized organization that is highly behaviorally oriented, known as the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS). It has rapidly grown in its few years of existence to reach about 5,000 members worldwide.
Some of the current prominent behavior analytic journals include the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) JEAB website, the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM), Behavior and Social Issues (BSI), as well as the Psychological Record. Currently, the US has 14 ABAI accredited MA and PhD programs for comprehensive study in behavior analysis.
Behavior analysis and culture
Cultural analysis has always been at the philosophical core of radical behaviorism from the early days (as seen in Skinner's Walden Two, Science & Human Behavior, Beyond Freedom & Dignity, and About Behaviorism).
During the 1980s, behavior analysts, most notably Sigrid Glenn, had a productive interchange with cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris (the most notable proponent of "Cultural Materialism") regarding interdisciplinary work. Very recently, behavior analysts have produced a set of basic exploratory experiments in an effort toward this end. Behaviorism is also frequently used in game development, although this application is controversial.
Behavior informatics and behavior computing
With the fast growth of big behavioral data and applications, behavior analysis is ubiquitous. Understanding behavior from the informatics and computing perspective becomes increasingly critical for in-depth understanding of what, why and how behaviors are formed, interact, evolve, change and affect business and decision. Behavior informatics and behavior computing deeply explore behavior intelligence and behavior insights from the informatics and computing perspectives.
Criticisms and limitations of behaviorism
In the second half of the 20th century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the cognitive revolution. This shift was due to methodological behaviorism being highly criticized for not examining mental processes, and this led to the development of the cognitive therapy movement.
In the mid-20th century, three main influences arose that would inspire and shape cognitive psychology as a formal school of thought:
- With the development of new warfare technology during WWII, the need for a greater understanding of human performance came to prominence. Problems such as how to best train soldiers to use new technology and how to deal with matters of attention while under duress became areas of need for military personnel. Behaviorism provided little if any insight into these matters and it was the work of Donald Broadbent, integrating concepts from human performance research and the recently developed information theory, that forged the way in this area.
- Developments in computer science would lead to parallels being drawn between human thought and the computational functionality of computers, opening entirely new areas of psychological thought. Allen Newell and Herbert Simon spent years developing the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) and later worked with cognitive psychologists regarding the implications of AI. The effective result was more of a framework conceptualization of mental functions with their counterparts in computers (memory, storage, retrieval, etc.)
- Noam Chomsky's 1959 critique of behaviorism, and empiricism more generally, initiated what would come to be known as the "cognitive revolution".
- Formal recognition of the field involved the establishment of research institutions such as George Mandler's Center for Human Information Processing in 1964. Mandler described the origins of cognitive psychology in a 2002 article in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
In the early years of cognitive psychology, behaviorist critics held that the empiricism it pursued was incompatible with the concept of internal mental states. Cognitive neuroscience, however, continues to gather evidence of direct correlations between physiological brain activity and putative mental states, endorsing the basis for cognitive psychology.
At the start of the 20th century, attitudes in America were characterised by pragmatism, which led to a preference for behaviorism as the primary approach in psychology. J.B. Watson was a key figure with his stimulus-response approach. By conducting experiments on animals he was aiming to be able to predict and control behaviour. Behaviourism eventually failed because it could not provide realistic psychology of human action and thought – it was too based in physical concepts to explain phenomena like memory and thought. This led to what is often termed as the "cognitive revolution".
List of notable behaviorists
- Animal training
- Antecedent stimuli
- Behavior analysis of child development
- Behavioral change theories
- Behavioral economics
- Behavioral medicine
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Direct instruction
- Dog behaviorist
- Functional analysis (psychology)
- List of publications in psychology § Behaviorism
- The Logic of Modern Physics
- Mentalism (psychology)
- Models of abnormality § Behavioural model
- Observational learning
- Organizational behavior management
- Pharmacology § Behavioral pharmacology
- Positive behavior support
- Professional practice of behavior analysis
- Social skills training
- Token economy
- Behavior therapy
- Behavioral activation
- Clinical behavior analysis
- Contingency management
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Discrete trial training
- Exposure and response prevention
- Exposure therapy
- Functional analytic psychotherapy
- Habit reversal training
- Pivotal response treatment
- Rational emotive behavior therapy
- Systematic desensitization
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- Automated Behavior analysis
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- Graham, George. "Behaviorism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- "Behaviorism". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Behaviorism
- Books and Journal Articles On Behaviorism
- Wuerzburg University: behaviourism
- B.F. Skinner Foundation
- Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies
- Skinner's Theories
- APA Behaviour Analysis
- Association for Behavior Analysis
- Theory of Behavioral Anthropology (Documents No. 9 and 10 in English)
- California Association for Behavior Analysis
- Examining Learning From Multiple Perspectives by Michigan State University
- Association for Contextual Behavioral Science
- Behavior Analysis Online Tutorials