Behaviorism is the study of human behavior (Psychology History, 1999). This psychological perspective suggests that the focus of study and research should be the observable and measurable behavior. The issues in this form of psychology are the environment, the conscious, observable behavior, determinism (behavior is produced by factors outside of one’s control), and individual differences/universal principles (McGraw - Hill, 2011). Edward Tolman, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner were three of the earliest to study behaviorism. While Watson and Skinner focused broadly on behaviorism, Tolman studied cognitive behaviorism. This paper will explain the perspectives of each psychologist as well as how they are similar and different.
Perspective of Edward Tolman
Edward Tolman identified himself as a behaviorist; today he is considered a cognitive behaviorist (Psychology History, 1998). He played a major role in cognitive psychology during a time that behaviorism was dominant. His earlier influences were James, Watson, Freud, Holt and the Gestalt theorists; although he later rejected Watsonian behaviorism. Tolman developed purposive behaviorism. Through his system of psychology, he attempted to study the entire action of the entire organism (Britannica Encyclopedias, 2012). Tolman was original in his methods. This was proven in the way he designed his experiments (Wendt, 1960). Tolman is credited with the Cognitive Theory of Learning. He believed learning was developed from knowledge and cognitions about the environment and how the subject reacted to it. He also believed that learning was not conditioned. Tolman also developed theories concerning behavior and motivation. He believed that a motive was the driving force behind behavior and the behavior continued until the internal motive was satisfied (Psychology History, 1998).
Perspective of John B. Watson
John B. Watson was the first American psychologist to publicize the behavioral approach in psychology. He believed that first one must observe behavior, make predictions and finally determine casual relationships. He viewed psychology as objective and experimental. In Watson’s behaviorism, behavior was the relationship between the stimuli and the subject’s response to it. Watson believed that psychology was not a true natural science (Watson, 1994). The main focus of Watsonian behaviorism, which was dominant in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was the study and modification of the subject’s environment. He believed it was possible to obtain any desired behavior by controlling one’s environment. Watson was a leading researcher in classical conditioning, the type of learning where a neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response after being paired with a stimulus that naturally brought that response (McGraw - Hill, 2011). One of his popular experiments was “Little Albert” where he paired a white rat (neutral stimulus) with a loud noise (unconditioned stimulus) to elicit a frightened response (unconditioned and conditioned response).
Perspective of B.F. Skinner
B.F. Skinner was a behaviorist, although his early interest was philosophy. He was interested in defining how behavior varied when the environment was altered. He used operant conditioning, using punishments and reinforcements, to conduct his research. Skinner also believed that one’s personality was a collection of learned behaviors (McGraw - Hill, 2011). He was not interested in psychological theories, rational equations, or other verbal systems that are required to be proven (Psychology History, 1999). Although many behaviorists do not see themselves the same as their subjects, this was not the case for Skinner.
Comparison and Contrast
While Tolman, Watson and Skinner had different ideology, their theories were similar in some ways. All three were considered behaviorists although Tolman later became known as a cognitive behaviorist. All three’s research focused on the environment’s influence on behavior. However, the similarities on behaviorism ended there. Tolman believed that behavior could not be conditioned whereas Watson and Skinner believed it could. Their belief was shown by their work with classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Tolman’s main belief was that a person’s motivation was the reason for his or her behavior. Both Tolman and Watson had the outlook that psychology was not an exact science. Tolman believed that psychology was ever - changing (Psychology History, 1998). Watson believed that psychology was not an undisputed natural science and was experimental (Watson, 1994). These three psychologists are evidence that while one may subscribe to the same psychological perspective; his or her individual perspective may differ.
Tolman, Watson and Skinner were three leading psychologists in behaviorism. Though each was considered a behaviorist, their views on behavior differed. All three focused on how the environment influenced behavior; however they each arrived at their theory differently. While two believed behavior could be conditioned, one did not. Tolman, Watson, and Skinner each pioneered in behaviorism, creating theories that could be used and tested in modern psychology.
Britannica Encyclopedias. (2012). Tolman, Edward C.. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/598668/Edward-C-Tolman
Psychology History. (1998). Edward C. Tolman. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psychweb/history/tolman.htm
Psychology History. (1999). Burrhus Frederick Skinner. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psychweb/history/skinner.htm
Psychology History. (1999). John B. Watson. Retrieved from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psychweb/history/watson.htm
Watson, J. B. (1994). Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. Psychological Review, 101(2), 248-253. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.101.2.248
Wendt, R. A. (1960). Edward Chace Tolman: 1886 - 1959. The Canadian Psychologist, 1(1), 21. doi:10.1037/h0083317Using someone else's work without giving proper credit, is plagiarism. If you use my work, please reference it.