John Broadus Watson: Theory of Behaviorism

Behaviorism is the theoretical concept which deals with an explicit behavioral science. It describes the viewpoint of science, a mind philosophy, a pragmatic theory, and principles. These thoughts and theories devised by studying behavior of living creatures (Zuriff, 1985). The vital principles of behaviorism are that scientific psychology must center on the correlation between environmental contingencies and behavior rather than on the supposed contents of consciousness and secondly the principles which govern behavior of humans and other animals are basically indistinguishable (O’Donnell, 1985).

This paper explains the theory of behaviorism developed by John Broadus Watson and contribution of other behaviorists in hardening the concept of behaviorism. John Broadus Watson, influential figure in the field of psychology, formed the psychological school of behaviorism through extensive research on animal behavior. He is popular among psychology students for by using effective behavioral practices. Behaviorism in psychology is an entirely objective experimental field of natural science.

The main theoretical aspect of behaviorism is to foresee and direct of behavior.

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Mainly Watson pioneered the phrase Behaviorism to study human psychology as a base of his experimentation. The behaviorism theory focuses on the studying overt behaviors which can be easily observed and measured (Hothersal, 2004). In theoretical framework, stimulus response can be observed and measured quantitatively. Behaviorist theory was developed by numerous psychologists such as Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike, Kline, Angell, Mary Calkins,Yerkes and Skinner.

The behaviorist attempted to devise common method of animal response. They did not differentiate between man and animal. The complex human behavior and its refinement is only a part of the behaviorist’s scheme of research.

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To study behavior in depth, sometimes behaviorists turned to scientists whose prime focus is their experimental research and hypothesizing (Zuriff, 1985). The expansion of behaviorist approach is often depicted as an uprising process.

In 1913, when John Broadus Watson showed his famous “behaviorist manifesto,” psychology was the science of mind, the central observable fact of mind were consciousness and the method of preference for the scrutiny of consciousness was introspection by a qualified viewer under controlled conditions (Watson, 1913). The study of human and animal behavior through entirely objective methods under conditions of experimental operation and control of stimulus conditions were traditional.

Watson professed between the objective nature of available behavioral methods and the then widespread beliefs of a thoughtful psychology defined as the science of consciousness. Another psychologist, Angell researched behaviorism and his comprehensive writing on behaviorism emerged in 1913 in an article named “Behavior as a Category of Psychology”. He always preferred objective experimental work instead of the introspective method or to deal with problems of consciousness, but he recommended sturdily against neglecting consciousness completely from the science.

According to him, person must be watchful in order to look for superior ways of understanding human nature. He stressed that theory and practice of mental life might be explained in terms of objective behavior. Angell changed his views in later years. In 1936, after twenty years of behaviorist work in psychology, he wrote exclusive methods, like Watsonian behaviorism, simply supplicate the question and tacitly guess data which without introspective processes performed by their precursors would be paralyzed and completely sterile.

Angell gave importance to methodological process and to realistic knowledge of both human and animal life. During 1938, conventional psychology was the science which concentrated not of mind but of behavior, the central fact of behavior were those of learning and memory and the methods of choice for the study of leaning and memory involved purely objective observations of behavioral data changeable as a function of the experimental manipulation of stimulus conditions (Woodworth, 1938).

Critically opposing the Structuralism philosophical foundation of introspection, behaviorism grew out of a competing Functionalist viewpoint of psychology. Dewey and William James were the leading promoters. Against structuralism reification of the content of knowledge, Dewey advised that sensations be given a functional characterization, and proposed to treat them as functionally defined inhabitants of roles in the reflex arc which since it symbolized both the unit of nerve structure and the type of nerve function should supply the combined principle and controlling working hypothesis in psychology (Dewey 1896, Pg: 357).

Though the arc, Dewey claimed, is misinterpreted if not viewed in broader organic-adaptive framework. On another hand against structuralism reification of the subject of experience, William James maintained that consciousness when once it has disappeared to this estate of pure diaphaneity is on the point of failing overall. The James-Lange theory of emotions explained that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion (James 1884, Pg: 189-190).

Bertrand Russell, the first philosophers who identified the theoretical connotation of the behaviorist development which Watson proposed. Russell declared that behaviorism contains much more truth than people supposed and observed it as desirable to develop the behaviorist method to the full potential level (Russell 1927, pg: 73). He proposed a relation between behaviorism and scientific methodical philosophy of mind. Many psychologists did not accept introspection and interpretation in terms of consciousness.

Watson had called for just such a transformation. Watson was not the only significant contributor to this revolution of behaviorism. Kline, famous psychologist decided to deal with the problem of animal behavior method. Kline built numerous laboratory apparatus for the study of the behavior of vorticella, wasps, chicks, and white rats under the supreme guidance of Sanford. Certainly, one of these apparatus, designed with the support of Small, approximated a simple Y-maze.

Kline disapproved Thorndike’s over dependence on a solely experimental method, squabbled for a amalgamation of the naturalistic and experimental methods and explained the results of his own laboratory research, concluding that “the methods presented here enable us in a comparatively short time to point out more distinctly the dividing lines between instinct, intelligence, and habit. ” (Kline, 1899, Pg: 279) While describing theory of behaviorism, Yerkes’ attitude of behaviorist approach has great significance. After Watson, Robert Mearns Yerkes was perhaps the most prominent supporter of an objective approach to the study of animal behavior.

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John Broadus Watson: Theory of Behaviorism. (2017, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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