The behavioral perspective centers on the idea that psychology should concern itself with measurable physical responses to environmental stimuli. This perspective was introduced by one John Broadus Watson (1878-1958), who was a student at the University of Chicago working towards his doctorate at the time. He believed that psychology should be a "hard science" like the rest of the sciences and thus should seek out observable behavior. Mr. Watson felt that psychology should not concern itself with mental events as they are unmeasurable except to the organism experiencing them.
A Harvard University psychologist by the name of B. F. Skinner introduced another aspect of this perspective. He maintained that organisms, when a behavior was reinforced often enough, would learn that behavior. Skinner demonstrated this in a number of experiments, of which the behaviors ranged from simple to complex. While these behaviors hardly reached the level of a human's, they were nevertheless quite conclusive. Some psychologists adopted the view that the complexity of human behavior can be explained as the complex summation of so many instances of learning through reinforcement.
The behavioral perspective is applied in therapy through an approach aptly called "behavior therapy." Nonreinforcement of negative learned responses results in extinction of that behavior. Also, non-negative responses can be reinforced, therefore replacing a bad behavior with reward for the opposite behavior. This therapy method inherently has no interest in the cause for the negative behavior, just in the treatment.
Many psychologists who believe in the behavioral perspective are not quite as vehement as John B. Watson. They often prefer a mixture of the behavioral with another perspective. The future of psychology is often seen as a mixture between cognitive and behavioral therapies.
Article © 1999 Orlando Rojas
HTML © 1999 Katrina Spoor