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Behaviorism has its roots in animal studies. Beginning with Ivan Pavlov's experiment in animal conditioning, it was not long before the concepts would be applied to
human's as well.
One of Pavlov's dogs with surgically implant saliva catcher
The first man to introduce Behaviorism to the public and specifically in respect to child rearing and teaching was John B. Watson. Watson was a graduate of the University of Chicago where he took place in Animal Behavior research, eventually performing a controversial experiment called “The Little Albert” experiment. In this experiment he conditioned a child to fear a
white rat by
associating the rat with a large boom, causing the infant to believe the rat was responsible for it. Later Watson would write numerous books on human psychology all which posit in his own words “ Why don’t we make what we can observe the real field of psychology? Let us limit ourselves to things that can be observed, and formulate laws concerning only those things. Now what can we observe? We can observe behavior-what the organism does or says.” To say Watson is a controversial figure would be an understatement. He advocated for adults to be non-emotional towards their kids because if there is too great of an emotional attachment then children would become overly dependent adults. He advocated against clubs like the boy scouts and girl scouts because he believed that these groups conditioned kids to become homosexual.
The next great thinker and most prominent in today's education system is B.F. Skinner. Skinner was the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. There he created his own form of behaviorism called Radical Behaviorism. Radical Behaviorism posits that through the controlled conditioning of the subject behavior can be controlled or better yet improved. This Operant conditioning is where all environmental stimuli are taken into account and the behavior of the subject can be predicted.
To get down to the basic's Skinner believes that behavior in children can not only be controlled but predicted. The way to do this is through external motivation and stimuli. The use of positive reinforcement, particularly with regards to teachers and how they teach was of primary concern for Skinner. Skinner created different machines to help in this process. The belief was that if a child got feedback on their grade immediately, instead a couple of days later after the teacher had graded them, then it would promote good behavior because they knew what they were doing wrong immediately and thus could correct it immediately. Skinner would work his entire life promoting these beliefs and encouraging people to see that behavior is not an intrinsic issue, but an extrinsic occurrence that is predictable through correct stimuli.
During the 1950's there was an upheaval of sorts with regard to behaviorism. Noam Chomsky's criticism of B.F. Skinner and the cognitive revolution displaced behaviorism as the primary psychology. Chomsky chief criticism was in Skinner lack of theory with regard to language acquisition. Behaviorism believes in environment with creates behavior, but it does not go deeper into why people can so quickly acquire a language after birth. Chomsky believes that there is internal wiring that allows people to acquire a language at such quick rates. This tries to negates behaviorism theories because of the intrinsic nature of learning, especially with regards to language.
Behaviorism is still prevalent in many fields such as group therapy. Today Behaviorism is making some resurgence. New Behaviorism hold new theories with regards to behavior and people. It tries to understand not only the environmental factors but also the internal ones, even going so far as to try and create data based on people's thoughts and motivation.
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