Scientific Behaviorism

Like Thomdike and Watson before him, Skinner insisted that human behavior should be studied scientifically. His scientific behaviorism holds that behavior can best be studied without reference to needs, instincts, or motives. Attributing motivation to human behavior would be like attributing a free will to natural phenomena. The wind does not blow because it wants to turn windmills; rocks do not roll downhill because they possess a sense of gravity; and birds do not migrate because they like the climate better hi other regions. Scientists can easily accept the idea that the behavior of the wind rocks, and even birds can be studied without reference to an internal motive, but most personality theorists assume that people are motivated by internal drives and that an understanding of the drives is essential.

Skhuier disagreed. Why postulate a hypothetical internal mental function? People do not eat because they are hungry. Hunger is an inner condition not directly observable. If psychologists wish to hicrease the probability that a person will eat, then they must first observe the variables related to eating. If deprivation of food in creases the likelihood of eating, then they can deprive a person of food in order to better predict and control subsequent eating behavior. Both deprivation and eating are physical events that are clearly observable and therefore within the province of science. Scientists who say that people eat because they are hungry are assuming an unnecessary and imobservable mental condition between the physical fact of deprivation and the physical fact of eating. This assumption clouds the issue and relegates much of psychology to that realm of philosophy known as cosmology, or the concern with causation. To be scientific, Skinner (1953, 1987a) insisted psychology must avoid internal mental factors and confine itself to observable physical events.

Although Skinner believed that internal states are outside the domain of science, he did not deny their existence. Such conditions as hunger, emotions, values, self-confidence, aggressive needs, religious beliefs, and spitefuhiess exist; but they are not explanations for behavior. To use them as explanations not only is fruitless but also limits the advancement of scientific behaviorism. Other sciences have made greater advances because they have long since abandoned the practice of attributing motives, needs, or willpower to the motion (behavior) of living organisms and inanimate objects. Skinner's scientific behaviorism follows their lead (Skinner, 1945).

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