The History of Psychology: Behaviorism, After the Founding

The post-Watsonian psychology finally led to neobehaviorism. The neobehaviorists set up the main points of the new type of behaviorism: (1) learning is the main field of investigation, (2) most behavior can be accounted for by the laws of conditioning, and (3) psychology must adopt the principle of operationism. The doctrine of Operationism holds that the validity of a finding depends on the validity of the operations used to arrive at that finding.

Edward Tolman (1886-1959) enhanced Watson’s behaviorism and introduced the idea of purpose of behavior. His Purposive Behaviorism system extends conditioning with the purpose of the learned behavior. In his view, behavior is oriented in achieving a goal. He also suggested that behavior depends on five variables: environmental stimuli, drives, heredity, training, and age. However, there is a set of unobserved factors, called intervening variables. Tolman argued that these are unobserved and inferred factors that determine behavior. He extended the typical S-R model to S-O-R. The “O” implies that the organism is an intervening variable and that its activity cannot be observed. Tolman set up his own learning theory, disagreeing with Thorndikes Law of Effect. In his learning theory, Tolman added the need and effect of expectations within the learning process. He also introduced the term latent learning. His concept was that even without reinforcement a subject creates, for example, cognitive maps; a learning process that cannot be observed. Consequently, it was an important counter for the traditional behaviorist view on learning through reinforcement.

Edwin Guthrie (1886-1959) also rejected Thorndikes Law of Effect and Pavlov’s reinforcement concept. For Guthrie, learning depends on the contiguity of stimulus and response. Therefore, there is only one-trial learning. He argued that Thorndike and others were examining skills as results of learning processes. However, these several consecutive steps are learned separately.

Clark Hull (1884-1952) supported a very mechanistic and objective view of behavior. He warned against anthropomorphizing and advocated the use of strong and unambiguous mathematical definitions of psychological phenomena. He argued that psychology can only succeed as an objective science when using the hypothetico-deductive method. Psychological experiments should be based on assumptions that have been previously proved through other experiments. He also introduced two types of drives: primary drives that signalize biological needs and secondary drives, which are learned and motivate behavior. Later, he revised Thorndikes Law of Effect to fit with his system of drives. His Law of Primary Reinforcement stated that the probability of a S-R set to reoccur is increased by reducing a primary drive immediately after its occurrence. He called the strength of such a S-R connection a Habit Strength.

B.F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) concern was rather in describing behavior than explaining it. His concept of operant conditioning suggested that subjects emit actions without presenting a stimulus. He highly focused on the use of reinforcement with reinforcement schedules. Those involve giving reinforcement on fixed-ratio, fixed-interval, etc. His Law of Acquisition is similar to Thorndikes Law of Effect. The Law of Acq. states that the probability of an operand behavior is increased if it is followed by a reinforcing stimulus. He concluded from his strategies that any kind of behavior could be modified by giving positive reinforcement for the desired actions. Thus, behavior of individuals as well as behavior of groups could be controlled and modified.

Albert Bandura (1925-) was concerned with social learning. He introduced vicarious reinforcement and noted that learning can occur by observing other’s behavior and the consequences observed could reinforce imitating. His model of self-efficacy brings in the factor of self-worth or self-confidence as a motivator.

Julian Rotter (1916-) was the first who used the term “social learning theory”. He added that cognitive processes are involved in social learning, especially in the acceptance of reinforcers. Similarly, he emphasized the need for expecting reinforcement. Another cognitive process is estimating the likelihood of receiving reinforcement. Rotter has also demonstrated that for each individual certain reinforcements work better than for others and the acceptance of certain ones can also alter through life. Some people believe that reinforcement depends on their own behavior. Rotter called this belief “internal locus of control”. The opposite way to think was labeled with “external locus of control”.

The development of behaviorism lead to a recurrence of the need for cognitive processes and consciousness. The social learning theories have proved that behavior cannot be fully explained in terms of S-R connections.