Behaviorism – Concept, behaviorism of Watson and Skinner

We explain what behaviorism is, the behaviorism of Watson and Skinner. Also, how behaviorism works in education.

Behaviorism studies the behavior of living beings.

What is behaviorism?

It is understood by behaviorism or behaviorism (from the English behavioorr, “Behavior“) to a stream of psychology that fixes your interest in the behavior of living things, and that it is understood as a set of relationships between certain stimuli and responses.

In its more classical approach, it abandons any interest in the intrapsychic (such as emotions, reflections, imaginations) and focuses solely on observable behavior, that is, values ​​the objective over the subjective.

Behaviorism was a highly dominant psychological school from its emergence in the 20th century, especially in the interwar period, and is seen as a response to introspective psychology, dominant in the age of structuralism and introspection as a method of study. Its greatest exhibitors were the Americans John B. Watson (1878-1958) and BF Skinner (1904-1990), each in their own way.

There are in practice numerous aspects of behaviorism, different from the one initially proposed by Watson, such as the school of Skinner, Tolman and Hull, or the interbehavioral psychology (interbehaviorism) of JR Kantor, the teleological behaviorism of Rachlin, the empirical behaviorism of Bijou , and other authors like Staddon, Timberlake or Hayes.

Broadly speaking, however, behaviorism tends to perceive the behavior of living beings as the result of a conditioning imparted throughout their formation by external stimuli (such as punishments and rewards), rather than the result of internal mechanisms ( like instincts or thoughts). For this reason behaviorism value the environment above all elseLearning cannot be separated from the context in which it took place.

Assuming this perspective, mental pathologies are not really such, unless there is a biological or physical basis, that is, a disease. Of the rest, they must be considered within the framework of their learning context, which is why they do not approve of treatment using psychotropic drugs.

Watson’s behaviorism

J.Watson was the one who inaugurated behaviorism as a psychological current, establishing itself in objective postures around the mind. He did not deny the existence of intrapsychic phenomena, but he did deny that these could be studied, since they are not observable; what, on the other hand, can be done with behavior.

In this sense, Watson heir to Ivan Pavlov’s studies on classical conditioning. According to Watson, observation and behavior modification was the gateway into the human mind, not the other way around; furthermore, it was only by aspiring to an objective character in its approaches that psychology could make its way through the Natural Sciences, somehow adopting the steps of the Scientific Method.

Skinner behaviorism

Burrhus F. Skinner took behaviorism a step further, embracing a radical strand. Thanks to his contributions, psychology is considered today related to the field of Sciences and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy was developed, in which his studies are very influential.

Skinner’s behaviorism was based on Watson’s studies and Pavlov’s simple conditioning, but discarded the idea that only external stimuli were responsible for our behavior. For Skinner, it was the product of a learned series of adaptive experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, useful and useless, that shape learning.

This addition meant removing the focus from the study of stimulus dynamics and fixing them on the way in which they are incorporated into the psyche, that is, the adaptation process that he called operant conditioning. In this new scheme, the perception of what we do and the consequences that what is done is the foundation of the behavior.

Behaviorism in education

Behaviorism influenced the way we understand learning.

Behaviorism was so important as a psychological school, that it was also greatly influenced the way we understand learning. Hence, there are behavioral learning theories, and school approaches that seek to get the best out of what these theories propose.

In fact, the behaviorist approach to schooling is based on the use of reinforcements (positive and negative) to stimulate the desired behavior in children and young people, and to discourage or eradicate the unwanted ones. In these models, the motivation towards study is external to the student and the development of their memory is generally privileged, so other techniques are used today and theories more conducive to participatory and less punishing education.