Each psychological perspective has pioneers who have done the research to not only present the perspective, but to also prove how beneficial it is. John B. Watson is one of the great pioneers who created and popularized the behavioral perspective. He had many followers who believed in what he said, including B.F. Skinner. Although Skinner was truly influenced by Watson, he had his own ideas and theories that he later proved to be extremely persuasive. With the domination of the behavioral perspective, there also came skepticism, including one skeptic by the name of Edward C. Tolman. Tolman later introduced cognitive psychology, which is still a staple in modern day psychology. John B. Watson did not have the most ideal childhood. Perhaps this is why he later went on to become the mouthpiece for the movement that came to be called behaviorism (Goodwin, 2008, p. #338). He was born in 1878, just outside of Greenville, South Carolina. His father was a farmer with severe issues, such as alcoholism, adultery, and anger. His mother was an extremely religious woman who pushed a future in the faith onto Watson. Although Watson was a bright young man, entering Furman University at the age of 16, he was well known as a troublemaker. Watson went on to earn his master’s degree in 1900 before entering the University of Chicago. His intention was to study philosophy and psychology but later decided to focus on functionalist psychology. Watson had a profound interest in animals and found himself extremely comfortable in studying their behaviors, rather than those of human subjects. Watson’s doctoral dissertation, codirected by Henry Donaldson and James Angell, was a study of the relationship between cortical development and learning in young white rats (Goodwin, 2008, p. #338). White rats were thought to be incapable of “associative learning” because their brains contained very few myelinated axons.
Watson’s studies later proved this to be wrong, in fact, proving that a white rat’s ability to form associations improved in their fourth week of life, as opposed to the first few weeks. Watson later published his results as Animal Education: An Experimental Study of the Psychical Development of the White Rat, Correlated with the Growth of Its Nervous System. This publication earned him his doctorate and the opportunity to remain at the University of Chicago as an instructor. Burrhus Frederick Skinner’s upbringing was a little different than that of John B. Watson. Skinner was born in 1904 in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. His father was a successful lawyer and his mother was a homemaker, together they were a very image conscious married couple who often worried about what others thought. Skinner was a very intelligent individual and an independent thinker. He questioned anything that was not supported with sound evidence. His high school principle strongly recommended him to New York’s Hamilton College, stating that Skinner was “passionately fond of arguing with his teachers. He is quite a reader and although I do not think he actually supposes himself wiser than his teachers, I have found him [to give] that impression…” (as cited in Goodwin, 2008, p. #383). After his initial unhappiness with Hamilton’s atmosphere, Skinner realized that he had a passion for creative writing. Skinner decided to take a year off after his graduation to just write. He moved back home with his parents and later referred to this time as his “dark year”. Skinner’s parents were concerned about what people thought of their son moving back home without a job, while Skinner was concerned with the pressure of his parents expecting him to be productive in this year. In this year, Skinner read a number of articles and became intrigued with behaviorism.
This intrigue motivated him to pursue graduate studies in psychology at Harvard. As Skinner moved up the ladder, from a graduate student to a university fellow, his attitude toward authority never changed. Not impressed by the work of E.G. Boring, he referred to Boring’s perception course as “simply painful” and lamented that Boring spent three entire lectures explaining a single visual illusion (Goodwin, 2008, p. #384). Skinner published his first book in 1938, The Behavior of Organisms, which summarized his years of research at Harvard. He later returned to Harvard, in 1948, and remained active until his death in 1990. Edward C. Tolman was born in 1886 in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. Tolman came from a very stable and healthy family. His father was a successful business executive, while his mother provided a solid moral foundation for the
family. Tolman was extremely intelligent and talented, graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1911 with a degree in electrochemistry. There were two reasons why Tolman decided to stray from a career in the field of electrochemistry. The first reason was the competition that would ensue with his brother, Richard Tolman, who later contributed to the development of the atomic bomb during World War II (Goodwin, 2008, p. #364). The second reason lies in Tolman’s discovery of William James, often referred to as the father of American psychology. Following his graduation from MIT, Tolman enrolled in two summer courses at Harvard. The first was a philosophy course and the second was an introductory course in psychology. Robert Yerkes was the professor for this psychology course. Not only the professor, but also the reason Tolman was sold on psychology and decided to enter graduate school at Harvard. Tolman went on to earn his doctorate degree in 1915 from Harvard. Watson’s publication, Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology, made Tolman see behaviorism as an attractive alternative to the traditional introspective psychology he was encountering in Hugo Munsterberg’s laboratory (Goodwin, 2008, p. #364).
Edward Holt was a major influence on the Tolman’s beliefs. Holt believed that Watsonian behaviorism was too reductionistic and argued that behavior should be defined more broadly as actions that serve some purpose (Goodwin, 2008). Great deals of Holt’s beliefs were adopted by Tolman and later became the core of Tolman’s theory of learning. Later on, Tolman would be launched down the behavioristic slope after being given the opportunity to develop a new course and remembering Yerks’ course and Watson’s textbook. With such different backgrounds growing up, these three men definitely have similarities they share as well. Watson, Skinner, and Tolman each have their own connection to the behaviorist perspective in one way or another. Watson and Skinner each believe that an individual’s behavior can be conditioned in certain ways. For example, Watson was a firm believer in classical conditioning, while Skinner developed operant conditioning. After extensive research on animals, particularly rats, Watson performed an experiment on Little Albert to test his theory or classical conditioning. Aside from the ethical issues of experimenting on an infant, Watson was successful in proving his theory correct. Little Albert was classically conditioned to fear, not only the white furry rat, but anything else that resembled the rat in any way. This fear was elicited by the loud noise that was associated with the presence of the furry rat. Skinner’s beliefs differed in the sense that he believed an individual’s behavior is influenced primarily by the consequence following that particular behavior. For example, if it is a negative effect the behavior is less likely to occur again. If it is a positive consequence that follows that behavior, the chances of the behavior repeating are more likely. This is the premise of operant conditioning. Tolman’s trademark was little different because he introduced the cognitive theory to the world of psychology. Tolman too performed experiments on rats and their ability to run through complex mazes in order to gain a different type of understanding on how their brains register and use the knowledge they obtain.
Repetition of the same routines everyday are overlooked. It is only when something is sought after in these routines that an individual or animal is able to recognize what they have previously learned. This is what Tolman believed to be a type of cognitive learning. Although primary behaviorism therapy is not popular today, behaviorism has been incorporated with cognitive therapy to develop cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Duckworth, MD & Freedman, MD, 2012, p. #1). This is a very popular type of therapy today, especially with treating schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and also different types of anxiety disorders. One of the greatest benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy is the ability to allow the patient to work with the clinician in developing the most useful treatment plan. It is almost like an active intervention where the patient is a little more active in the planning of treatment options. This can sometimes require the patient to do different types of homework on their own. Watson, Skinner, and Tolman have definitely opened up the psychology world to so many different perspectives and theories. Although each perspective may have its different flaws or drawbacks, together they contribute what each lacks when standing alone. Without Watsons initial research, Skinner may not have been influenced to theorize such perspectives as operant conditioning. In turn, Tolman may have not had the chance to develop what we now call cognitive behavioral therapy. Each stepping stone has added a little more history to the world of
psychology to make it what it is today. These are just three of the men that can be attributed for the extensive time and research responsible for this said history.
Goodwin, C. J. (2008). A history of modern psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Duckworth, MD, K., & Freedman, MD, J.L. (2012, July). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. National Alliance on Mental Illness, N/A (N/A), 1-2. Retrieved from: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=About_Treatments_and_Supports&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=141590
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