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(US), behaviorism
1. a school of psychology that regards the objective observation of the behaviour of organisms (usually by means of automatic recording devices) as the only proper subject for study and that often refuses to postulate any intervening mechanisms between the stimulus and the response
2. Philosophy the doctrine that the mind has no separate existence but that statements about the mind and mental states can be analysed into statements about actual and potential behaviour


  1. the school of psychology whose central precept is that the subject matter of psychology is observable behaviour only
  2. the study, generally through animal experiments, of the principles of learning (also called CONDITIONING), and the application of these principles to understanding and manipulating human behaviour.
  3. (PHILOSOPHY, e.g. Ryle's The Concept of Mind, 1949) the notion that ‘mental concepts may be analysed in terms of overt acts and utterances’ (Flew, 1979). For Ryle, sense 1 mistakenly assumes exclusivity of the mental and physical, a DUALISM of MIND and BODY.
Behaviourism as a school of psychology was founded in the US by E. L. Thorndike (1911) who proposed the Law of Effect. This states that behaviour which is rewarded tends to be repeated, while behaviour which is not rewarded tends to decrease. At much the same time, in Russia, I. Pavlov (1846-1936) was investigating the conditioned reflex. His experiments led to the formulation of the theory of classical conditioning (Pavlov, 1911).

The most influential and prolific behaviourist, however, is B.F. Skinner (1904-90), whose name has become almost synonymous with behaviourism and who invented the Skinner Box. This instrument provides a controlled environment within which to study animal learning (operant conditioning).

The main tenet of behaviourism as a school of psychology is that only observable behaviour can be scientifically studied. However, this includes verbal behaviour, which may express thoughts. Primarily, though, behaviourists prefer to disregard mental functions, or the effect of the organism, which is interposed between the observable stimulus (S) and the observable response (R). Only the S and R can be controlled and measured, therefore only they can be studied.

In order to study the principles of learning rigorously the behaviours need to be simple and the procedures ethically acceptable. This has meant a concentration on animal experiments, often in the controlled environment of a Skinner Box where, typically, rats or pigeons can be studied learning to associate S (such as a lever or disk) and R (such as pressing or pecking) under various schedules of reinforcement (using food pellets as reinforcement). Such investigations have led to the development of a fund of knowledge about the circumstances under which conditioning takes place, and about what variables affect its strength and application.

These ideas were particularly influential in the 1930s and 40s, dominating academic psychology and pervading general culture, and particularly affecting child-rearing practices. Subsequently, their general influence within psychology has receded, but within the mental-health field the principles are still widely used. See BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION.

Skinner has also been influential in the field of language learning (Verbal Behaviour, 1957). He proposed that a child learns language through a process of conditioning – his/her verbal behaviour is shaped by reinforcement towards the sounds of his/her native language. This contrasts with CHOMSKYs theory (see LANGUAGE ACQUISITION DEVICE).

References in periodicals archive ?
In keeping with Skinner's teachings, most behaviorists also do not want to view behavior as being internally "motivated" or "caused" by internal thoughts or feelings.
Where behaviorists diverge from many theoreticians is in trying to
Watson and the behaviorists attacked these findings, claiming that there were no natural fears of the dark, only anxieties that bumbling parents created.
The baby's earliest demands originate within; they are not a response to a "contingency" of the environment, as the modern behaviorist would insist.
The path toward this new frontier has been charted by artists such as Matthew Barney, whose work engages us by exploiting our fascination with uncanny creatures and their uncontrollable libidos, and Andrea Zittel, who encourages us to project ourselves into unsettlingly regimented domestic environments reminiscent of '50s behaviorist experiments.
So for $25,000 it hired Tim Desmond, an animal behaviorist who trained the whale in Free Willy, to spend a year analyzing him.
Flawlessly narrated by Ellen Archer, this 9 disc CD audiobook edition from Tantor Media of "For The Love of A Dog: Understanding Emotion In You And Your Best Friend" by certified animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell (Adjunct Associate professor of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is complete and unabridged.
and Burch, a behavior analyst and animal behaviorist, provide answers to fifty questions in this introduction to behavior analysis.
Putting politics and the relationships between courts and other branches of government at the center of the study of law in political science, scholars of law and politics reflect the confluence of two trends in the discipline: new institutionalism as a challenge to the dominant behaviorist approaches to courts; and the dawning recognition that there are national courts beyond the borders of the US.
When Austrian animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz turned to reef colors during the middle of the past century, he proposed that the fish colors act as bold color-coding that lets the abundant fish species sharing a reef keep track of who's who.
Lots of people want to save a life, but they also like to go to a boutique,'' said Matthew Margolis, a dog behaviorist who hosts ``Woof
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by international dog trainer and behaviorist Turid Rugaas is a truly "user-friendly" guide to understanding and communicating with your dog.