Some of the most important things for human beings is what makes them who they are and the characteristics of human beings that distinguish them with other animal species. Behaviorism is the theory that tries to understand the characteristics of human beings based on inherent laws of the natural environment. Behaviorism is one of the oldest personality theories and dates back to Descartes who introduced the stimulus idea and named a person a machine that was dependent on events in the external environment. Behaviorism does not acknowledge the internal workings of an individual that humans have a free will and are moral entities. This paper discusses Skinners behavioral theory and its evolution. It also relates Skinners theory with other theories that were earlier advanced and gives an account of Skinners behavioral theory to psychology.
During the 1920s and 1930s, when Adler, Jung and Freud were depending on medical practice and before McCrae, Costa and Eysenck, who were employing psychometric procedures to build personality theories, many behaviorists were developing models based on laboratory studies of nonhuman and human beings. Though there were many early behaviourists, Skinner proved to be the most prominent of his time. Personality behavior models avoided speculations about hypothetical constructs and majored on observable behavior. Skinner did not agree with the idea of free will and emphasized on the influence of environment on behavior.
Modern learning theories date back to the experiments done on animals by Thorndike. Thorndike had a law of effect that emphasized the point that responses that followed a satisfier tended to be learned. Skinner used this concept of positive reinforcement to shape behavior. B.F. Skinner got more influence from Watson who advanced the theory that psychology must deal with the prediction and control of behavior. Skinner had a belief that human behavior was governed by scientific laws and in this way did not differ from other phenomena. He also believed that inner innovations should not be attributed to human behavior by psychologists.
Skinner rejected internal states of emotions, thoughts and desires, on the basis that they were outside the scientific realm; he nonetheless did not deny their existence. He insisted that the internal states should not be used to explain behavior. He was not concerned with individuals mental processes because they were not observable. He was rather concerned with the ways individuals act and the reasons why individuals act in that way. The processes can only be ascertained by asking the individual; asking would be subjective and therefore would not be suitable for a scientific study. On the other hand, individual behavior is observable for study, and therefore Skinner believed that behavior should be the focus of the study (Schultz, 2007)
Behaviorism theories started with the works of Watson. Watson asserted the lack of relationship between the human mind and psychology. Rather he viewed psychology as concerned with the study of behavior only. Based on these views, the study of human beings could be carried out objectively in the same way apes and rats were studied. Watsons works were based on studies conducted by Ivan Pavlov. In the experiments he carried out, Pavlov rang a bell while feeding dogs on several occasions. The dogs were aware of coming of a meal on every occasion that a bell was rang and the dogs would then start salivating. Pavlov repeated the experiment but this time he did not bring food. The dogs exhibited the same reactions
. The dogs trained to salivate when they heard the bell. Thus he concluded that the reaction of human beings to environmental stimuli was more or less the same as that exhibited by the dogs. Watson also had the same belief.
Skinner went ahead and tested these theories in the laboratory. The experiments on Watsons work led him to conclude that Watson was wrong on the emphasis on reflexes and conditioning. Skinner was of the view that though humans responded to the environment they had to operate on it to get particular results. B.F. Skinner later came up with the operant conditioning theory based on the idea of people choosing to behave in a particular manner due to the repercussions of a kind of behavior on an individuals past.
Similar to Watson, Skinner did not believe that emotions or mind play a role in determining behavior. He rather believed that reinforcement experiences influence behavior. Skinners contribution to applied human behavior can be summarized in a broad way. The applied contributions can be categorized into: content and style of his science, interpretation of Skinners atypical and typical behavior, implication Skinner drew from the science for the application, Skinners description of possible applications, and Skinners own application to nonhuman and human behavior (Lowry, 1982). There is a close relationship between operant conditioning according to Skinner and classical conditioning according to Pavlov. The difference is noted in their disciplines of study. While Skinner focused on operant conditioning psychologically, Pavlov was more focused on classical conditioning physiologically.
Even though behaviorism has its origins in psychology it also influences other disciplines. Methods and concepts of behaviorism are used in education. Behaviorism is also applied in various disciplines such as sociobiology. Behaviorism concepts are used in different ways, a clear understanding of the presuppositions of behaviorism is important in understanding how the concepts are applied. One presupposition is that behaviorism is that it is naturalistic. Basically, it defines the material world as being the ultimate reality from which the natural laws could be used to form explanations of everything. The human being bears no mind or soul; he possesses a brain which communicates and responds to stimuli. According to behaviorism human beings can be compared to machines when looking at their response to conditioning. Individual behavior is the due result. Human beings are considered to be machines and are governed by their reactions to external stimuli over their conscious acting (Sapp, 2010).
The Biblical side and the behavioral side thus show contradictions to the above explained theories. The Biblical side is that man was made in the image of God, who is described as thoughtful and planning. According to Skinner, the processes involved in the mind and the mind itself are fictions and metaphors. He further views behavior as being part and parcel of individuals. Skinner therefore insists that humans do not exist as spiritual beings.
Behaviorism consistently explains that humans are not to blame for their acts. As humans are considered to be lacking souls or minds and only responding to external stimuli in order to succeed or reach set goals, then the actions done by humans and their repercussions are inevitable. Sociobiology which is also a form of behaviorism draws comparisons between human beings and computers: that which goes in yields the end result. It is therefore seen to conflict Christian views. It is noted that particular aspects of human beings such as their environment affect human actions but they are not the only factors accounting for everything humans do. Human closest environment is God and humans respond fundamentally to God. Humans therefore either obey or rebel in response to the word of God.
Behaviorism aims for understanding, controlling and predicting human behavior. Skinner was able to formulate ideas on how to shape behavior. By manipulating punishment and rewards, an individual can control and shape the behavior of another individual (Schultz, 2007)
One of Skinners main objectives as a psychiatrist is mold the patients behavior so as achieve a socially acceptable behavior for the patient. His theories are thus important guidelines in behaviour control. Development of capable technologies can be attributed to the successive analysis of behaviour experimentally. This technology is thus applicable and very important to psychotherapy. There are great ethical repercussions of behaviorism. Man is denied his freedom by being viewed as a biological being that is influenced by the people capable of effectively using behaviorism tools.
Currently, analysis of behaviour is a thriving field. It has grown over the years with intensive research being carries out in the field. Additionally fields related to Skinner such as the post Skinnerian account of cognition and learning. Relational frame theory forms the basis of commitment therapy. Decline of behaviorism signifies an intellectual revolution; with behaviorism being in the ascendancy in psychology, especially American psychology, it was time for a new intellectual revolution.
Another reason why behavioral theories are less useful in the 21st century is that in the 70s, behavioristic analyses were becoming microscopic. Like most fields while they develop, researching were studying more and more about less of less. Rather than focusing on the critical problems, researchers look at ever more refined problems, experimental analyses increasing in complexity out of proportion to the gains made (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2007)
In conclusion, behaviorism changed psychology definition to the science of behavior. Behaviorists theory developed as another orientation of studying and explaining an individuals experience and conscious and rejected the original principles and methods of mentalism. Contemporary physiology and psychology have the belief that explanation of behavior cannot be complete without invoking the representation of an individual to the environment. Behavior is blind without cognition. For behaviorism to recover some of its prominence, the recovery must involve redefining some of the principles that are important in development. Such of these are neuroeconomics in neuroscience and also in novel therapeutic orientations (Schultz, 2007).