Overview of Behavioral Analysis

Dining the early years of the 20th century while Freud, Jung, and Adler were relying on clinical practice and before Eysenck and Costa and McCrae were using psycho-metrics to build theories of human personality, an approach called behaviorism emerged from laboratory studies of animals and humans. Two of the early pioneers of behaviorism were E. L. Thorndike and John Watson, but the person most often associated with the behaviorist position is B. F. Skinner, whose behavioral analysis is a clear departure from the highly speculative psychodynamic theories discussed hi Chapters 2 through 9. Skinner minimized speculation and focused ahnost entirely on observable behavior. However, he did not claim that observable behavior is lhnited to external events. Such private behaviors as thinking, remembering, and anticipating are all observable—by the person experiencing them. Skinner's strict adherence to observable behavior earned his approach the label radical behaviorism, a doctrine that avoids all hypothetical constructs, such as ego, traits, drives, needs, hunger, and so forth.

In addition to being a radical behaviorist, Skinner can rightfully be regarded as a determinist and an environmentalist. As a determinist, he rejected the notion of volition or free will. Human behavior does not stem from an act of the will, but like any observable phenomenon, it is lawfully determined and can be studied scientifically.

As an environmentalist, Skinner held that psychology must not explain behavior on the basis of the physiological or constitutional components of the organism but rather on the basis of environmental stimuli. He recognized that genetic factors are important, but he insisted that, because they are fixed at conception, they are of no help hi the control of behavior. The history of the individual, rather than anatomy, provides the most useful data for predicting and controlling behavior.

Watson took radical behaviorism, determinism, and environmental forces beyond Skinner's conception by ignoring genetic factors completely and promising to shape personality by controlling the environment, hi a famous lecture, Watson (1926) made this extraordinary promise:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—a doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even into beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors, (p. 10)

Although few radical behaviorists currently accept this extreme position, Watson's promise has led to much discussion and debate.

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