The study of humans and animals in the laboratory gave birth to a new discipline known as behaviorism. Some of the early researchers in this field included John Watson and E.L. Thorndike.
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However, the individual mostly accredited for the complete development of the behavioral analysis discipline was a behaviorist known as B.F. Skinner. One of the critical aspects of his theory is the fact that it deviates from the more speculative psychodynamic theory to a more evidential assessment. In his analysis, he mitigated speculation and instead focused primarily on the observable behavior. His primary hypothesis was that private behaviors such as anticipating, remembering, and thinking are all observable by the individual experiencing them. It is in this regard that Skinner developed a new concept known as the Radical Behaviorism. According to the theory, the focus of psychology should be based on behavior instead of mental states or what he terms as the hypothetical constructs.
Other than his exploits in the area of radical behaviorism, Skinner has also gained a reputation as an environmentalist and a determinist. In his endeavors as a determinist, he rejected the principle of free will or volition. He went ahead and noted that the act of will does not give birth to human behavior. As an observable phenomenon, human behavior is subject to lawful determination and scientific analysis. As such, this prompted Skinner to delve more into the study of scientific behaviorism. In supporting the sentiments of Watson and Thorndike who came before him, Skinner maintained that human behavior was subject to scientific studies. He opined that scientific behaviorism is a situation where behavior can be studied without necessarily focusing on motives, instincts, and needs. Therefore, understanding human behavior as postulated by Skinner requires individuals to remove purpose or motivation from the picture. In exemplifying his hypothesis, Skinner says that it would be wrong to say that the wind blows to turn the windmills or birds migrate from one place to the other because they want to enjoy a better climate elsewhere. As such, the behavior of the wind and the birds should not be viewed through the lenses of their internal motive.
However, it remains fundamental to acknowledge the position of many personality theorists who believe that several internal drives motivate the behavior of individuals. Furthermore, the understanding of the said drives is critical in understanding human behavior. However, Skinner vehemently disagrees with such a position. He finds it unnecessary to consider the role played by an internal mental function in the discussion of behavior. Skinner builds on a theoretical concept known as the law of effect postulated by Thorndike. The law had two parts, with the first one assessing the relationship between stimuli and acceptable responses known as “satisfiers.” The other part also analyzes the relationship between the stimuli and an unacceptable response known as an “annoyer” which tends to be removed. The satisfiers are rewarding in nature and attempt to strengthen the bond between a stimulus and the resultant response. The annoyers or the punishment acts by inhibiting a particular behavioral trait. Skinner agreed with these assertions citing that the law of effect played a significant role in the control of behavior. In further acknowledging Thorndike, he claimed that the rewards have effects that easily predictable than those of punishment while shaping behavior.
Skinner also delved into a behavioral concept known as conditioning which he discussed two types including classical and operant. Skinner was guided by the principle that reinforced behaviors will continue while the punishable ones will die. In an operant conditioning, the main characteristic is the immediate reinforcement of a response. It begins with the organism engaging in a response, which is eventually reinforced by the environment. As a result of the reinforcement, the chances are high that the behavior will reoccur. It is therefore referred to as the operant condition because the organism in question depends on the environment to produce the desired effect. Also, it remains fundamentally critical to appreciate the vital role that the environment plays in shaping behavior. The environment first begins by providing gross approximations of the intended behavior. Through the process of shaping and successive approximations, the environment cut-sizes the final set of complex behaviors that an organism takes.
Another significant way in which behavior is reinforced is through the classical condition process. Here, stimuli will automatically lead to an involuntary response. It occurs on the human body in several fashions such as the contraction of the pupil upon shining light and the sneezing reflex that occurs once an individual puts pepper on the nostrils. The salivation that occurs when food is placed on the mouth is also an excellent example of the classical conditioning in action. Most fundamentally, it is essential to appreciate the role that the classic condition plays in more complex human learning such as fears, phobias, and anxieties. Therefore, in acknowledging the Radical Behaviorism or scientific behaviorism recognizes the importance of reinforcement and the relationship seen between observable stimuli and their respective responses.
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