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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 ?
certificates of need) that drive up medical cost--the author's suggestions on how to counter these rising costs are grounded in sound economics and behavioristic analogies, and well-worth a read.
The data also are an objective basis for interpreting behavioristic covert processes or private events, provided that the interpretations include internal stimulus as well as response events.
Chomsky, however, faulted Skinner for extrapolating principles from the experimental laboratory with nonhumans to human language, a domain that was in his view taboo for a behavioristic analysis.
Uttal ends his informative and wonderful book with a list of characteristics that he believes should frame this renewed behavioristic outlook, including the following: it must accept a compromise between both empiricists and nativists and empiricists and rationalists.
The mechanistic flavor of this description no doubt reflects the prevalence of behavioristic views of this period, as it is not carried forward into later treatments.
Analyzing the reinforcement process at the human level: Can application and behavioristic interpretation replace laboratory research?
A behavioristic study of verbal and instrumental response hierarchies and their relationship to human problem solving.
This process is analogous to learning by experience and can be explained by traditional behavioristic principles (e.
Behavioristic modes of therapy have their greatest efficacy in the rhetoric that celebrates them but little in the clinical settings that have made use of them.
In so doing these findings make a unique contribution to the behavioristic approach to understanding complex relational responding and how the valence of emotional stimuli transform and propagate in accordance with complex relational networks.
Mind, self and society: From the standpoint of a social behavioristic.
Warschauer (2000) identified three phases of CALL as "Structural CALL" (which he had previously referred to as Behavioristic, owing to its focus on using CALL for drill and practice activities to achieve accuracy; see Warschauer & Healey, 1998), "Communicative CALL" (which matched the move to a more communicative language teaching approach and thus involved more communicative exercises, with a fluency objective), and "Integrative CALL" (the current movement, which focuses more on using computers for authentic discourse and adds learner agency into the objectives).