Precursors to Skinners Scientific Behaviorism

For centuries, observers of human behavior have known that people generally do those things that have pleasurable consequences and avoid doing those things that have punitive consequences. However, the first psychologist to systematically study the consequences of behavior was Edward L. Thomdike, who worked originally with animals (Thorndike, 1898, 1913) and then later with humans (Thorndike, 1931). Thomdike observed that learning takes place mostly because of the effects that follow a response, and he called this observation the law of effect. As originally conceived by Thomdike, the law of effect had two parts. The first stated that responses to sthnuli that are followed immediately by a satisfier tend to be "stamped in"; the second held that responses to stimuli that are followed immediately by an annoyer tend to be "stamped out." Thomdike later amended the law of effect by minimizing the importance of annoyers. Whereas rewards (satisfiers) strengthen the connection between a stimulus and a response, punishments (annoyers) do not usually weaken this connection. That is, punishing a behavior merely inhibits that behavior; it does not "stamp it out." Skinner (1954) acknowledged that the law of effect was crucial to the control of behavior and saw his job as making sure that the effects do occur and that they occur under conditions opthnal for learning. He also agreed with Thomdike that the effects of rewards are more predictable than the effects of punishments in shaping behavior.

A second and more direct influence on Skinner was the work of Joint B. Watson (J. B. Watson, 1913, 1925; J. B. Watson & Rayner, 1920). Watson had studied both animals and humans and became convinced that the concepts of consciousness and introspection must play no role in the scientific study of human behavior. In Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It, Watson (1913) argued that human behavior, like the behavior of animals and machines, can be studied objectively. He attacked not only consciousness and introspection but also the notions of instinct, sensation, perception, motivation, mental states, mind and imagery. Each of these concepts, he insisted is beyond the realm of scientific psychology. Watson further argued that the goal of psychology is the prediction and control of behavior and that goal could best be reached by limiting psychology to an objective study of habits formed through stimulus-response connections.

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