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Skinner, Watson and Tolman

Compare and contrast the perspectives of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner with that of Edward C. Tolman. Explain how each perspective relates to the field of modern-day psychology.

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In 1913 at Columbia University, Watson delivered a lecture entitled "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It." Before this speech the field of psychology was in disagreement over the ideas of the nature of consciousness and the methods of studying it. Many questions were raised and few answers had been given until Watson spoke. He claimed that the problem was the use of archaic methods and inappropriate subject matter. He cut consciousness and introspection out of the picture. Instead, he proposed the idea of an objective psychology of behavior called "behaviorism." He saw psychology as the study of people's actions with the ability to predict and control those actions. This new idea became known as the behaviorists theory. During the next few years, different ideas about behaviorism studied, one of which was Watson's. His view of behaviorism was considered radical and was known for its extreme anti-mentalism, it s radical reduction of thinking to implicit response, and its heavy and somewhat simplistic reliance on conditioned reactions. Even with all the different variations, they all had one common idea- that psychology was defined as the natural science of behavior, objective in its study, and was a pattern of adjustment functionally dependent upon stimulus conditions in the environment, and was emphasized in theory and research (Wozniak). In his earlier years Watson used animal subjects to study behavior. Later he turned to the study of human behaviors and emotions. Until World War I he collaborated his studies with Adolph Meyer. After the war he resumed his work at Johns Hopkins University. He wanted to develop techniques to allow him to " condition and control them emotions of human subjects.' " His famous study for this was called the Little Albert Experiment in which he theorized that children have three basic emotional reactions: fear, rage, and love. He wanted to prove that these three reactions could be artificially conditioned in children. Watson used a little boy named Albert to test his theory. He repeatedly presented Albert a rat in conjunction with a sudden, loud noise to classically condition fear of the rat.

Conditioning is the process of learning to react to the environment. Many behaviors have been previously conditioned in the human species by the environment. To gain control of a subject of study the behaviorist must know difference between what behaviors have been preconditioned and what was inherited from past generations. Gardner Murphy wrote in his book, An Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology, that some "believe that all learning is simply conditioning, and that the conditioned response is the true unit of learned behavior."
1. Human psychology has failed to make good its claim as a natural science. Due to a mistaken notion that its fields of facts are conscious phenomena and that introspection is the only direct method of ascertaining these facts, it has enmeshed itself in a series of speculative questions which, while fundamental to its present tenets, are not open to experimental treatment. In the pursuit of answers to these questions, it has become further and further divorced from contact with problems which vitally concern human interest.
2. Psychology, as the behaviorist views it, is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science which needs introspection as little as do the sciences of chemistry and physics. It is granted that the behavior of animals can be investigated without appeal to consciousness. Heretofore the viewpoint has been that such data have value only in so far as they can be interpreted by analogy in terms of consciousness. The position is taken here that the behavior of man and the behavior of animals must be considered on the same plane; as being equally essential to a general understanding of behavior. It can dispense with consciousness in a psychological sense. The separate observation of 'states of consciousness', is, on this assumption, no more a part of the task of the psychologist than of the physicist. We might call this the return to a non-reflective and have use of consciousness. In this sense consciousness may be said to be the instrument or tool with which all scientists work. Whether or not the tool is properly used at present by scientists is a concern for philosophy and not for psychology.
3. The study of the behavior of amoebae have value in and for themselves without reference to the behavior of man. Biological studies of race differentiation and inheritance form a separate division of study which must be evaluated in terms of the laws found there. The conclusions so reached may not hold in any other form. Regardless of the possible lack of generality, such studies must be made if evolution as a whole is ever to be understood. Similarly the laws of behavior of a particular species, the range of responses, and the determination of effective stimuli, of habit formation, persistency of habits, interference and reinforcement of habits, must be determined and ...

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Web-based references for background information and quote sources on three founding fathers of psychology: Watson, Skinner and Tolman. Comparisons between theories in a model sample response (beginning only) APA formatted.