Emergence of Behaviorism in America
a result of the conjunction of a number of events in the early 20th century,
behaviorism gradually emerged as the dominant school in American psychology.
First among these was the increasing skepticism with which many viewed the
concept of consciousness: although still considered to be the essential element
separating psychology from physiology, its subjective nature and the unreliable
introspective method it seemed to require, troubled many. William James' 1904 Journal
of Philosophy... article "Does Consciousness Exist?", laid out
the worries explicitly.
was the gradual rise of a rigorous animal psychology. In addition to Edward Lee
Thorndike's work with cats in puzzle boxes in 1898, the start of research in
which rats learn to navigate mazes was begun by Willard Small (1900, 1901 in American
Journal of Psychology). Robert M. Yerkes's 1905 Journal of Philosophy...
article "Animal Psychology and the Criteria of the Psychic" raised
the general question of when one is entitled to attribute consciousness to an
organism. The following few years saw the emergence of John Broadus Watson
(1878–1959) as a major player, publishing his dissertation on the relation
between neurological development and learning in the white rat (1907, Psychological
Review Monograph Supplement; Carr & Watson, 1908, J. Comparative
Neurology & Psychology). Another important rat study was published by
Henry H. Donaldson (1908, J. Comparative Neurology & Psychology).
The year 1909 saw the first English-language account of Ivan Pavlov's studies
of conditioning in dogs (Yerkes & Morgulis, 1909, Psychological Bulletin).
third factor was the rise of Watson to a position of significant power within
the psychological community. In 1908, Watson was offered a junior position at
Johns Hopkins by James Mark Baldwin. In addition to heading the Johns Hopkins
department, Baldwin was the editor of the influential journals, Psychological
Review and Psychological Bulletin. Only months after Watson's
arrival, Baldwin was forced to resign his professorship due to scandal. Watson
was suddenly made head of the department and editor of Baldwin's journals. He
resolved to use these powerful tools to revolutionize psychology in the image
of his own research. In 1913 he published in Psychological Review the
article that is often called the "manifesto" of the behaviorist
movement, "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It." There he argued
that psychology "is a purely objective experimental branch of natural
science", "introspection forms no essential part of its
methods..." and "The behaviorist... recognizes no dividing line
between man and brute". The following year, 1914, his first textbook, Behavior
went to press. Although behaviorism took some time to be accepted as a
comprehensive approach (see Samelson, 1981), (in no small part because of the
intervention of World War I), by the 1920s Watson's revolution was well
underway. The central tenet of early behaviorism was that psychology should be
a science of behavior, not of the mind, and rejected internal mental states
such as beliefs, desires, or goals. Watson himself, however, was forced out of
Johns Hopkins by scandal in 1920. Although he continued to publish during the
1920s, he eventually moved on to a career in advertising (see Coon, 1994).
the behaviorists who continued on, there were a number of disagreements about
the best way to proceed. Neo-behaviorists such as Edward C. Tolman, Edwin
Guthrie, Clark L. Hull, and B. F. Skinner debated issues such as (1) whether to
reformulate the traditional psychological vocabulary in behavioral terms or
discard it in favor of a wholly new scheme, (2) whether learning takes place
all at once or gradually, (3) whether biological drives should be included in
the new science in order to provide a "motivation" for behavior, and
(4) to what degree any theoretical framework is required over and above
the measured effects of reinforcement and punishment on learning. By the late
1950s, Skinner's formulation had become dominant, and it remains a part of the modern
discipline under the rubric of Behavior Analysis.
Behaviorism was the ascendant experimental model
for research in psychology for much of the 20th century, largely due to the
creation and successful application (not least of which in advertising) of
conditioning theories as scientific models of human behaviour.