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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 ?
This article explores the impact of the behaviorist theory of mind on French literature and culture, and in doing so uncovers a significant mismatch between the "behaviorist novel" as it has been narrowly conceived and the broader theories of behaviorism as a movement within psychology.
This discussion is not about whether or not rationalists or behaviorists are correct in their opinions.
Veterinary behaviorists must first have a veterinary degree and a license to practice veterinary medicine.
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.
Behaviorists believe very strongly on testing pupils to ascertain achievement with learning activities aligned precisely with the stated objectives.
But if, as Mills notes with some irony, "Watson's animal work shows no trace of a behaviorist position" (p.
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Veterinary Behaviorists, ACAABs, and CAABs are granted membership with the submission of three applicable case studies and the application fee.
Research mightprovide the answer if veterinary behaviorists could study dogs using different substrates--pillows, straw, shavings and bare earth--to see if the circling differs when they have different sites, Dr.
This kind of behavior can result from several things," says Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, a board-certified member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a specialist at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.
Traffic scientists, specialists in nonlinear systems, and animal behaviorists have cooperated in a study of one of the natural geniuses of transportation engineering: the black garden ant of Europe.