Psychology emerged from thephilosophical ideas of relating the mind to the body.
The question of how theintangible mind was able to connect and control the physical body lead to theemergence of the mind-body problem introduced by Rene Descartes (K. Morgan,personal communication, October 3, 2017). An underlying question that wasderived surrounding this problem is what dictates behaviour. The scientificfield of psychology is the product of progression through different approacheson how to solve the mind-body problem or to answer the question of whatdictates behaviour. Of those different approaches, Behaviourism played a vitalrole in that progression. There are two main factors which influenced the rapidgrowth of Behaviourism including advancements in other sciences and the desireto move psychology into the scientific realm.
The development of Behaviourismbased on these two factors and the fact that some methods and theories werehighly plausible produced a peak in support of the movement. However, thatdiminished as some of the main theories were not upheld when questions aboutcomplex behaviour arose and the notion that the mind was not important indictating behaviour backfired, especially when there were other approaches thatincorporated the mind in their principle theories and were able to address thequestions of complex behaviour in a unique way. Although there was a quick riseand fall to the behaviourist movement, it had a massive influence on thedevelopment of modern approaches that psychology is associated with today suchas Cognitive Psychology, not to mention, Behaviourism is still around. The Cognitiveapproach was developed in opposition to behaviourist principles, so with this andthe fact that Behaviourism is still around can be said to be the legacy of themovement.
Thetwo factors that had a significant role in the rapid growth of behaviourism areintertwined. The first factor to influence the growth of behaviourism was thedesire to label psychology as a natural science (Roediger, 2004). Before and inthe early 19th century, psychologists were mainly concerned with thephilosophical questions about mind (K. Morgan, personal communication, October10, 2017). It wasn’t until people like Gustav Fechnerand Wilhelm Wundt, who was heavily influenced by Fechner, that psychology beganto have more of an experimental approach. Wundt established the firstPsychological laboratory in 1879 at Leipzig to continue his work of studyingconsciousness with his method of experimental introspection (Richards, 1998, p.24-25).
However, introspection failed as a proper form of experimentation,which disallowed for psychology to be a credited science. In opposition to introspection,but continuous with the desire to move into a more scientific realm, Behaviourismwas the movement to finally do that. The founder of this movement, J.B.
Watson,had a belief that practical knowledge came from science and so in hisestablishment of Behaviourism he focused on eliminating introspectioncompletely and only focusing on behaviour (Richards 1998, p. 48). According to Watson (1913), “psychology as thebehaviourist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of naturalscience” (para.1) and “introspection forms no essential part of its methods,nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with whichthey lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness” (para.
1). Itwasn’t only the appeal of acquiring the label of science that influenced thegrowth of the behaviourist movement. The second factor that influenced the rapidgrowth of behaviourism was advancements in other scientific fields, specificallyfrom biology with Darwin’s Origin of Spicespublished in 1859. From Darwin’s proposition of natural selection, manyinterests about human nature arose. Curiosities about how much humans have incommon with, as Richards (1998) puts it, ‘lower’ animals lead to interest aboutinstincts, and thus the interest in behaviour in general. Evolutionary theory introducedthe idea that humans are not as different than animals as we would like to believe.
This lead scientists to study animals to develop theories about humanbehaviour. One of the main men responsible for this initial research was ConwyLloyd Morgan and from his observation of animals he developed generalprinciples of behaviour (K. Morgan, personal communication, October 10, 2017). Anotherexample of the contribution of other sciences to psychology is Ivan Pavlov’sresearch of the digestion system of dogs. He noticed the learned response of dogs tosalivate when presented with a stimulus associated with food when food was notpresent. The term that bridged this research to psychology was ‘conditioning’as a way to control human behaviour (Harré, 2016, p. 12). From this, moreexperiments were being done with animals to explain behaviour adding to thecredibility of the movement as a science and contributing to the peak of themovement before its decline.
Secondarytwo these two main factors that influenced the growth of the movement, thescientific discoveries within the movement are what added more scientificcredibility and therefore a greater following. The peak of behaviourism was theresult of the work by Edward L. Thorndike, J.B. Watson, and B.F.
Skinner. Forexample, Thorndike was involved with the experimental study of learning whichwas central to the behaviourism research at one point (Richards, 1998). His researchinvolved animal observation during his very controlled experiments. One of hismost famous experiments was his Puzzle Box experiment. From this study he cameup with the learning curve, the more experience we have at a task, the more welearn, and our proficiency in that task increases (K.
Morgan, personalcommunication, October 24, 2017). Learning theory that arose from Behaviourismwas a plausible contribution to science. Of course, that is not the onlyexample, Skinner was responsible for many important ideas about behaviour. Hetook this idea of learning and went further with it to develop operantconditioning. Within this method is the notion that “behaviour is shaped andmaintained by its consequences” (Skinner, 2002, p.18). Also with this method he provided techniquesthat could predict and control behaviour to certain extent (Richards, 1998,p.51).
This was another contribution to the behaviourist movement along with theimpact of Watson’s Little Albert experiment. The purpose of his experiment wasto prove that classical conditioning could work on humans and it did just thatwith the example of learning fear (K. Morgan, personal communication, October24, 2017). This was the first experiment that proved humans and animals behavein similar ways. The works of Thorndike, Skinner, and Watson contributedgreatly to behaviourist movement and helped it peak before its decline.
Onereason was that behaviourism could not explain more complex behaviours such asplaying the piano or language learning (Richards, 1998, p. 52). Skinner wasamong those who believed that mental processes were not and should not beincluded in terms of behaviour.
In BeyondFreedom and Dignity (2002) he states “… we do not need to try to discoverwhat personalities, states of mind, feelings, traits of character, plans,purposes, intentions, or other perquisites of autonomous man really are inorder to get on with a scientific analysis of behaviour” (p. 15). Thisstatement proves his view on the subject, that mind is not involved indictating behaviour. With this position he tried to explain the complexbehaviour of language learning, which received a lot of criticism.
Among thosewho criticised his work was Noam Chomsky in AReview of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour (1976). In his review, Chomskymakes the point that children learn their language very rapidly which couldsuggest that there is something else affecting their learning than just thefeedback they get from their environment (part Xl).
He said, “the fact that allnormal children acquire essential comparable grammars of great complexity withremarkable rapidity suggests that human beings are somehow specially designedto do this…” (Chomsky, 1976, part. Xl, para.6). He suggests that complex behaviours cannot beexplained entirely by behaviourist methods and theories like classicalconditioning or operant conditioning. Chomsky reintroduced the idea that mentalprocesses do have some influence on behaviour.Fromthe reintroduction of the idea that there is the involvement of mind in the waywe behave, emerges another reason as to why the behaviourism movement declined.Other approaches in psychology which involved the study of mental processes inrelation to behaviour were developed.
The first step away from Behaviourism wasGestalt psychology, but perhaps, the most important approach that evolved fromthis concept was Cognitive Psychology. Gestalt psychologists didn’t ignoreconsciousness and were opposed to the reductionism that behaviourism conveyed(Richards, 1998, p.59), The central concept in this approach was field theoryin which they adopted from Einstein, this is the concept of taking in theenvironment as a whole rather than break it down into parts (Richards, 1998). Inhis experiments, Wolfgang Köhler, focused on the affect of the field structureof the situation on the learning process of different animals.
His experimentsdemonstrated how animals used cognition to problem solve (Harré, 2006, p. 138).From his chimpanzee experiment he observed a learning pattern that he termed’insight learning’, in other words no trial and error (L. Houldcroft, personalcommunication, November 7, 2017). This was completely different from thebehaviourist learning theory and soon Gestaltists began to study cognition andproblem solving. Gestalt psychology never took off, but instead influenced CognitivePsychology (Richards, 1998, p.63). With the emergence of Cognitive Psychology, Behaviourismbegan to decline.
Although Behaviourism did not take over, the movement had agreat affect on what psychology is today. Its legacy can be summarized into a few mainpoints. The first being it finally gave psychology the title of being a naturalscience (Richards, 1998, p. 55). The second, Cognitive Psychology emerged inopposition to the behaviourist movement. As described previously, CognitivePsychology was the result of progression away from reductionism associated withbehaviourism. In his article WhatHappened to Psychology (2004), Roediger, states “many problems that weresomewhat outside the purview of behaviouristic analyses – perceiving,attending, remembering, imagining, thinking – were approached in a radicallynew way.
” (para.9). Behaviourism proved that mental processes need to beconsidered in the study of behaviour by insufficiently answering questions aboutcomplex behaviours. Another main point in illustrating the legacy ofbehaviourism, is the fact that it is not completely extinct. Behaviourism isstill alive today. For instance, there are a few journals dedicated to thisapproach such as The Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behaviour and Journalof Applied Behaviour Analysis (Roediger, 2004). Another way Behaviourism liveson is through the incorporation of behaviourist methods on predicting andcontrolling behaviour in self-management programs, parenting guides, and animaltraining (Roediger, 2004).
Some aspects of behaviourism are even seen incognitive contexts. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy is used mostfrequently as psychotherapy all over the world (K. Morgan, personalcommunication, October 24, 2017). Theseexamples illustrate the legacy of Behaviourism and how profoundly it affected psychology.Behaviourismcontinues to have an everlasting effect on the science of psychology. Its rapidgrowth was due to contributions of other science fields and the desire to movepsychology into the realm of natural science. With the contribution ofevolutionary thought, psychologists began to think of human behaviour in relationto that of animals and to move psychology into the realm of science by takingan experimental approach. From experimentation, methods and theories ofpredicting and controlling behaviour were established gaining more followers.
However, since these methods and theories revolved around the central idea thatmind processes were not involved in behaviour, the movement declined especiallywith the introduction of Cognitive Psychology. Although behaviourist theoriesare not central to what psychology is today, the movement contributed in developingcontemporary psychology. In its failed attempt to describe all behaviour, it reaffirmedthat mind processes are a necessary part of psychology. To be clear,behaviourism has not been devaluated. The methods are still used today intherapy and there are still journals dedicated to behaviourism.