Monday, February 11, 2013


     Behaviorism is the study of behavior founded by John B. Watson. The main concern of behaviorism is observable behavior, rather than internal matters, such as emotions and thinking. Observable or external behavior can be scientifically and objectively measured, while internal matters, like thinking are eliminated or explained through behavioral terms (McLeod, 2007). John B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Edward Tolman were three early psychologists studying behaviorism. The main focus of study for Watson and Skinner was behaviorism, although Tolman’s focus of study was cognitive behaviorism. Each of these three psychologists developed perspectives related to behaviorism. The perspectives of Watson, Skinner, and Tolman are similar in some aspects but different in others and all their perspectives contributed to the evolution of behaviorism, and relate to modern-day psychology. This paper will provide information to explain the perspectives of John B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Edward Tolman as well as compare and contrast their perspective similarities and differences.
Perspectives of John B. Watson
     John B. Watson, an American psychologist, who in American psychology was the founder of behaviorism as a school of thought (Goodwin, 2008). When Watson published the article “Psychology as the behaviorist views it” in 1913, the movement of behaviorism in psychology began its rise (McLeod, 2012). As for American psychologist, Watson was the first to publicize the behavioral approach. Watson viewed psychology as a science of observable behaviors. Cherry (2013), “Watson was one of the strongest advocates for behaviorism, suggesting that psychology should be objective and focus on the study of human behaviors” (para. 2). Watson believed in first observing behavior and predicting and determining the casual relationships. A proposal of Watson based on Pavlov’s observations was that the process of classical conditioning could explain any aspect of human psychology. Classical conditioning involves association, which the paring of two stimuli produce a learned response.
     McLeod (2012), “everything from speech to emotional responses were simply patterns of stimulus and response” (para. 3). McLeod (2012), “Watson believed that all individual differences in behavior were due to different experiences of learning” (para. 4). Pavlov applied classical conditioning to animals, and Watson wanted to apply it to humans. McLeod (2012), “in a famous (though ethically dubious) experiment Watson and Rayner (1920) showed that it did” (para. 12). In modern-day psychology, Watson’s perspectives are important to understanding the causes of behaviors.
Perspectives of B.F. Skinner
     B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist and behaviorist who founded radical behaviorism. The purpose of radical behaviorism was to understand behavior and define it as the outcome of environmental experiences, which reinforced consequences. Skinner developed the distinction between operant and classical conditioning (Goodwin, 2008). His main focus was on investigating operant conditioning. Skinner’s belief was that to understand behavior one has to look at the causes of an action and its consequences, which he called operant conditioning (McLeod, 2007). Based on Edward Thorndike’s law of effect, Skinner developed his theory of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning means changing behaviors by using reinforcement provided after a desired response (McLeod, 2007). Reinforced behavior normally strengthens or repeats, and unreinforced behavior normally fades out or extinguishes.
Skinner recognized three types of operants or responses from the environment that may follow behavior, such as neutral operants, reinforcers, and punishers. In modern-day psychology, Skinner’s perspectives contribute to the understanding the causes of behaviors, and the relationship between operant conditioning and behaviors.
Perspectives of Edward C. Tolman
     Edward C. Tolman, an American psychologist and cognitive behaviorist famously known for studies on behavioral psychology. Tolman recognized the work of Watson’s behaviorism, but he did not believe in reducing behavior to simple glandular and muscular stimuli and responses (White, 2010). Instead Tolman believed that cognitive purpose were just one of the key elements of behavior (White, 2010). Tolman give emphasis to studying behavior. He also believed cognition and learning involved the entire organism rather than single elements of stimuli and muscular response (White, 2010). Tolman believed that behavior is goal-directed and purposive, which was the core of the theory of learning he developed (Goodwin, 2008). Goals or motives drive behaviors, and until those goals or motives are met behaviors will continue.
White (2010), “Tolman's combination of theoretical speculation with laboratory testing proved that learning was not dependent upon reinforcement but occurred on unconscious levels in an cognitive and purpose driven manner” (para. 5). Tolman did not believe in conditioned behavior. In modern-day psychology, Tolman’s perspectives provide an understanding for the causes of behaviors and help to understand the process of learning.
Compare and Contrast
     The perspectives of Watson, Skinner, and Tolman were somewhat similar seeing that their work focused on behaviors influenced by the environment. Their work allowed behaviorism to kept making forward strides toward applicable uses in society (White, 2010). Watson and Skinner focused behaviorism, and Tolman focused on cognitive behaviorism. Their perspectives however did differ in some ways also. Watson and Skinner both believed in conditioned behavior. Watson thought so through classical conditioning, Skinner thought so through operant conditioning. However, Tolman did not believe in conditioned behavior conditioned. As for the existence of consciousness or the mind, Watson denied it. However, Skinner believed in the existence of the mind, although he thought it was more productive to study observable behavior instead of internal mental events (McLeod, 2007). Watson, Skinner, and Tolman all developed similar but differing perspectives, which enabled behaviorism to develop in different directions.  
     Psychologist such as Watson, Skinner, and Tolman led the way in the study and understanding of behaviorism. The beliefs, of these men about behavior were similar but also different. Behavior influenced by the environment was the focus of Watson, Skinner, and Tolman however they took different approaches to this conclusion. One man did not believe in conditioned behavior and the other two did. Concerning modern-day psychology, theses men developed perspectives still used today to help understand and further psychology.
McLeod, S. (2012). SimplyPsychology. Retrieved from
McLeod, S. (2007). SimplyPsychology. Retrieved from
McLeod, S. (2007). SimplyPsychology. Retrieved from
White, S. (2010). Articlesbase. Retrieved from
Cherry, K. (2013). Psychology. Retrieved from

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