Behaviorism – The Second Force of Psychology

Behaviorism is one of the foundational pillars of the art and science of psychology. The contribution researchers in the school of behaviorism have made to psychology can hardly be overstated. For decades, behavioral principles governed the evolution and informed the direction of psychology. However, a moment occurred when its shortcomings could no longer be ignored. As a result, behaviorism quickly came out of vogue, giving place to humanistic psychology. The beginning of behaviorism as a scientific philosophy is invariably associated with the name of William James, who is believed to be one of the forefathers of modern psychology. Behaviorism owes its lasting popularity to a team of researchers, including Skinner, Bandura, Pavlov, and Rotter. It is rightly considered as the second force of psychology after psychoanalysis. Among others, James and Skinner should be praised for their efforts to bring behaviorism to the point of scientific triumph. Although behaviorism no longer determines the direction of psychology thought, its legacy will keep influencing the course of scientific, empirical, and philosophic inquiry in a foreseeable future.

Behaviorism is one of the most popular, advanced, and objectively-empirical philosophies that has had lasting impacts on the field of psychology. Its origins can be traced to 1913, when John B. Watson published his revolutionary article. Watson's revelations and his presentation of what appeared a behavior-related discipline set the stage for the subsequent transformation of psychology into a natural science of behavior. However, at that time, one could hardly imagine that behaviorism would predetermine the agenda for scientific and empirical developments in the field of psychology for most of the 20th century.

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It should be noted that the origins of behaviorism, pragmatism, empiricism, positivism, and functionalism are profoundly intertwined. "American pragmatism influenced the development of functionalism in modern psychology which also later on developed into the earlier strands of behaviorism". In its turn, functionalism grew out of the strong commitment to Darwin's theory of evolution, the latter presenting a serious and tangible threat to the sustained popularity of Wundt's psychological analysis. Of course, behaviorism was not the only product of functionalism in American psychology, but it was probably, as Sikorski would say, the most monumental result of its influences on the field at the end of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th centuries. Functionalism predetermined greater reliance on objective, empirical, and scientifically sound methodologies of research and psychological analysis. It uncovered the historical dissatisfaction with psychoanalysis as the primary philosophy of science and turned professional and public attention to the issues of measurability and introspection, which had haunted the field of psychology and slowed down its progress. It is with the emerging realization that functionalism no longer satisfied the ambitious of 20th century psychologists that behaviorism as a promising approach to the science of psychology came into play.

At its inception, behaviorism exemplified a radical retreat from everything that had been praised and cemented in psychoanalysis, pragmatism, and functionalism at the turn of the 20th century. Watson presented an entirely new vision of psychology as a philosophy, which discards "conscious mental functioning as a subject matter and introspection as a method". In other words, psychologists would no longer care about the things they could not observe and measure. Mental life and introspection would be thrown into oblivion, turning experimental observation of human behaviors into the chief principle underpinning psychology. Behaviorism as a philosophy of science was rooted in the act of rebellion against the presumptuous subjectivity of psychoanalysis. Behavioral researchers of the 20th century sought more objectivity, observability, and analytical thinking. Watson's claims that functionalism did not respond to the needs and objective realities of the psychological science marked the beginning of the behavioral revolution. More had yet to come. 

Undoubtedly, behaviorism was a complex product of multiple influences, Watson's study being just one of them. The behavioral movement that emerged at that time drew its inspiration from a diversity of scientific and philosophic traditions. It was not a product of solely American thought. Russian scientists also sped up the creation of a new body of knowledge. Pavlov's work on classical conditioning was the hallmark in the development of behaviorism and its gradual transformation into a separate field of study. No one says that Pavlovian classical conditioning was free of shortcomings. According to Clark, Pavlov's theory used to be a subject of severe criticism. Still, behaviorism owes its birth and popularization to the raw findings of its pioneers, including Watson, Skinner, and Pavlov. They made an enormous contribution to science, turning behaviorism into the second force of psychology.

The three forces of psychology have been extensively described and analyzed. These include psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. An interesting note is that not all researchers readily agree that behaviorism is the second force of psychology. For example, Cassel calls behaviorism the first force of psychology, which is based on the hypothetico-deductive methods intended to guarantee its robustness and effectiveness. Despite these controversies, in most cases, behaviorism is depicted as the second force of psychology after psychoanalysis. The latter originated in the 1880s in the works of Sigmund Freud. In essence, psychoanalysis rests on the assumption that the unconscious is at the heart of psychology. Its purpose then is to empower individuals to locate the unconscious and reconcile it with logic and reason to achieve the full capacity. Behaviorism as the second force of psychology is a response to the inconsistencies inherent in psychoanalysis. It derives its meaning from the knowledge and understanding of observable behaviors which, in turn, enable psychologists to foster positive behavioral change. However, this difference in focus between psychoanalysis and behaviorism can never suffice to justify their relative importance in the field of psychology.

What matters is the observability of behaviorism and its reliance on empirical methods of inquiry. Watson says that psychology as viewed from the behaviorist perspective is experimental and purely scientific. Its intent is to leave conceptual ambiguity beyond the realm of scientific analysis. The goal of behaviorism is to predict and control behavior. Unlike and better than psychoanalysis, behaviorism maintains a pro-scientific stance. It is more empirical, measurable, controllable, and replicable than the most advanced and sophisticated psychoanalysis. 

Much more important is the fact that behaviorism deviates from psychoanalysis in its reliance on environmental variables. What happens with the second force of psychology is that it brings environment as a crucial variable, which mediates the relationship between hereditary and habit instruments and observable behaviors. It reinforces the value of social setting as the driving force behind human behaviors. Behaviorism is a "better" alternative to psychoanalysis, because it creates a more realistic albeit complicated view of psychology as a network of internal and internal stimuli, which eventually elicit the desired or undesired behavioral response. Even though behaviorism looks increasingly mechanistic and even static, it provides a better view on a behavioral situation and allows for a more structured analysis of the relationship between past habits and present behaviors. It is possible to say that behaviorism as the second force of psychology is an improved and refined standard of empirical analysis, as compared with psychoanalysis, even though it took a considerable amount of time for scholars to embrace greater flexibility and even acknowledge the importance of introspection as part of scientific empiricism in psychology. Today, behaviorism is no longer valued, but its contribution to the field of psychology is duly recognized. 

As mentioned previously, behaviorism was a product of collective work that occurred simultaneously in different parts of the globe. Watson, Pavlov, Rotter, Skinner, and Bandura are just some of the many talented scientists who greatly contributed to the rapid advancement of behaviorism as a science and discipline. Watson and Skinner deserve particular attention, but the contribution made by Rotter and Bandura to behaviorism should not be disregarded. Rotter is well-known for developing a theory of personality. Rotter's theory incorporated four essential dimensions: behavior potential, reinforcement, expectancy, and psychological context. It was a huge leap forward in the evolution of behaviorism, since it implied that personal beliefs rather than prior reinforcement stood behind individual decisions and actions. Rotter's theory bridged the radical behaviorism of Skinner and the social cognitive theory of Bandura, making a logical transition from the study of reinforcement to the analysis of observational learning. 

Still, it is under the professional influence of Watson and Skinner that behaviorism acquired its unique coloring among other aspects of psychological research. Watson is best known for creating a philosophy of methodological behaviorism. Watson was the first to suggest that consciousness had to be ruled out of the philosophy of science, as long as it could not be measured or observed. "The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness; when it need no longer delude itself into thinking that it is making mental states the object of observation". Watson was certain that any questions related to the study of consciousness were inherently speculative and had to be discarded. Instead, the study of the causal stimulus-response relationship had to replace the former reliance on consciousness. Despite being mechanistic, the proposed view attracted major attention as an attempt to move the study of psychology close to the ideals of objectivity and scientific, empirical truth. Beyond these, Watson emphasized the importance of studying observable behaviors. He organized numerous experiments to support his empirical stance. The concepts he developed on the basis of his scientific findings have retained their popularity and relevance until present. 

Skinner continued and refined the methodological traditions originating in Watson's behaviorism. His philosophy of science was a more complicated, sophisticated, and radical version of Watson's approaches to the study of human behavior. Skinner placed his subjects in a context and emphasized the centrality of contextual information in analyzing and interpreting human acts. His behaviorist philosophy was different from that of Watson in that he explored environmental selection, accepted the development of new behavioral forms, and considered behaviors to be transformative by nature. According to Clark, Skinner relied on a belief that all human behaviors were the result of conditioning. The results of his study shaped the evolution of the behavioral school. They were valuable to the extent that facilitated the introduction of novel skills such as operant conditioning. The relationship between behavior reinforcement and punishment has been deeply engrained into the art and science of behavioral psychology. His radical behaviorism has left a deep mark in the history of psychology as a field of science.

One of the distinctive features of Skinner's contribution to psychology is in his reconceptualization of private events. Skinner was determined to rule out the very possibility of the private-public dualism, as well as the subjective-objective dichotomy. He recognized the value of private events for the study of human behaviors, but he faced a challenging task to determine how he would access the information about those events and how he would translate it into scientific knowledge. The verbal community came to represent an essential instrumentation for the study of private events. In fact, Skinner treated subjectivity and privacy as the predominant issues facing the scientific community in behavioral sciences. Behaviorism was developed in response to the historical criticism of subjectivity and bias, but it fell short of its own capacity to eliminate the risks of subjective judgments and pave the way to ultimate truth. The scientist made a salient attempt to resolve the existing dilemmas. Radical behaviorism with its strengths and weaknesses reflected the hopes of the scientific community to refine the methods of studying behavior and apply them in the context of essential problems of psychology. Skinner easily proved that psychology could be measurable and scientific. Although radical behaviorism gradually lost its popularity, it gave an impetus for transforming psychology into a field of scientific knowledge. 

To conclude, behaviorism represented a complex product of diverse influences. It came as a logical, even evolutionary, response to the profound inconsistencies that had characterized psychoanalysis, pragmatism, and functionalism. One of the foundational premises underlying behaviorism was the zero importance of consciousness as a phenomenon that could not be measured and, for that reason, had to be discarded. Researchers belonging to the behavioral school of knowledge also argued that psychology had to become a natural science, with strong reliance on hypothetico-deductive methods of inquiry. As a "better" alternative of psychoanalysis, behaviorism became the second force of psychology. However, it has never managed to resolve the dilemmas it was intended to overcome. Behaviorism left a deep but ambiguous trace in the history of psychology. It suggested that an empirical study of human behaviors was possible but uncertain. Simultaneously, behaviorism laid the groundwork for reconceptualizing the centrality of consciousness, while allowing researchers to focus on observable and measurable behaviors. Today, behaviorism sounds as a song that has lost its popularity but will not be forgotten for its scientific uniqueness and empirical beauty.

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