[Criticisms of] Behaviorism

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What are the criticisms of the theory of Behaviorism?

-- madelene p. siega (madie_siega@hotmail.com), May 12, 2001


Response to Behaviorism

They are many and varied, but in essence they boil down to the general idea that behaviorism simply fails to adequately account for, or even address, many aspect of mental life that most people feel are obvious and important -- language, emotion, cognition are just a few of the areas that behaviorism was not able to explain to the satisfaction of those who rejected it in favor of other approaches.

-- Christopher Green (christo@yorku.ca), May 14, 2001.

Response to Behaviorism

Hi Madelene, so from a Rogerian position, I might say, "Did I hear you say you are critical of Behaviorism?" Well, if you are writing a paper on the subject, you might want to look at an article by John Dewey. I think its title is The Reflex Arch. Also, there was a famous debate between Carl Rogers and B.F. Skinner on the topic. I can't direct you to the article; you'll have to do a search for it, but it is a very good read for your topic with many of the specifics of the charges are spelled out by Rogers. Word of caution, you will be hard pressed to pin down "the theory of Behaviorism." Psychologists who we call behaviorists today didn't agree on any one theory as near as I can tell. I think at one time behaviorism was just a politically correct rhetorical catch phrase for credibility. At the risk clouding the issue, for your research purposes you might divide behaviorists into two groups 'radical behaviorists' and 'others'. Equate the radical behaviorists with B.F. Skinner. When you are reading criticisms directed at Skinner's group don't assume they apply to the others. Tolman and Pavlov can be considered very mentalistic. You might want to specify if you mean Skinner when you say Behaviorism. I know that a Skinnerian wouldn't want to be lumped in with Wolpe psychologist; as a matter of fact, a Skinnerian I know told me, "Scratch a behavior modification person and you'll find a Freudian." It might be profitable to think of the others as learning theorists and note there is a great deal of variablity among their ideas. A little exercise might be in order before you proceed, precisely define whatis "the theory of Behaviorism" see how easy you find that. Now, as far as critism of the Skinnerian flavor of behaviorism, you'll want to look at the ariticles of a husband and wife team, Breland and Breland. The misbehavior of organisms! They were animal trainers, and they produced an interesting critism to Skinner's theory which you will want to include in your paper. Also, you want to include some ethology, look at Lorenz, Timbergen. Lorenz will be good for criticism of behaviorism. Best, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), May 15, 2001.

The criticism of behaviorism is in my opinion a very important issue to grasp because the behaviorist way of thinking have been very dominant also outside the range of people who consider themselves behaviorists.

In my opinion behaviorism was shown false long time before its birth. If we consider Watson's 1913 programmatic article the break through of behaviorism, it was already shown false by John Dewey's famous article The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology(1896)in Psychological Review, 3, 357-370. One central claim in behaviorism is the existence of a lawful relation between stimulus and response (S-R). However, the way a person reacts to a stimuli is dependent of the subjective meaning that the person associates with the stimuli. As Dewey said: a child that has burned the finger in a flame, do not consider the flame as the same stimuli as before it burned its finger.

There is much more to be said about behaviorism. There are some real good books about it (e.g. J.A.Mills: Control: A history of Behavioral psychology). In general, however, most books and writings are very unclear, and behaviorists and psychologists are mostly lacking a deeper understanding of their own discipline. This may be due to the lack of scholarly studies because it is regarded a natural science, and thus consider experiments, not reading a prestigous activity. It may also be due to ideological forces that the employees of psychologists want a science that controls behavior, not conscious people in control of their own behavior. In my opinion 20th century psychology has not been Darvinist. It has not considered behavior an adaptation to the environment (but believed itself to be so). I consider psychology a historical science, the human psyche is something that developed in cultures. Anthropologists like Goody have demonstrated how writing have changed human psychology. I recommend very much the works of Kurt Danziger, a leading historian of psychology.

-- Birger Hjørland (bh@db.dk), March 24, 2002.

Seymour Skinner is the best character in the simpsons by far. He Apitimices Bf Skinners ideas and theories. Skinner can really be related to by many psychologists like myself. Skinner stands for the good of humankind in our defence against intergalactic invaders. He has shed light on so many dark and scary areas of socialisation i also heard that he was a rather smashing dancer. He was a pioneer in his field as well as the Late Sigmund Freud.

When i tuck myself in at night i always kiss my Hard copy of Bf Skinners life notes he is in my eyes the man.... And you can take that to the Bank......

-- Dr Lean Bean Stringbean (Phd. Dhp. Med. Bed. Harvard University) (Pukey_123@hotmail.com), July 22, 2004.

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