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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
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  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).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
* can't even be counted on to obey the "law of demand" (a proposition with no necessary connection to conventional choice theory, behaviorists argue).
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.
experimental behaviorist inquiry for many decades (see Thyer, 1992).
Behaviorists believe very strongly on testing pupils to ascertain achievement with learning activities aligned precisely with the stated objectives.
Regularization was particularly visible in the 1920s and 1930s, when the behaviorist approach of psychologist John Watson heavily influenced popular advice.
There is sufficient agreement among studies, however, to discuss the ramifications of job satisfaction while recognizing that the lack of total agreement among organizational behaviorists on what most managers know intuitively about job satisfaction is a reflection of the state of research on the topic - i.e., the common problems of reliability and validity of measurement - rather than an indication that job satisfaction is not a valid concept for practical consideration by managers.
In cases that cannot be managed in collaboration with your veterinarian, it may be worthwhile to consult with a veterinary behaviorist. (You can find board-certified veterinary behaviorists at the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website at
If you want to improve his behavior, you should seek a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists lists diplomates at
I read a lot of things by veterinary behaviorists and people who were working with veterinary behaviorists.
Most trainers or behaviorists that have the training and experience to successfully address a dog's issues cost much more than the average person can afford.