Watson, John B.

Watson, John B. (Broadus)

(1878–1958) psychologist, advertising executive; born in Greenville, S.C. Educated at the University of Chicago (Ph.D. 1903), he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1908–20) where he made a radical departure from the psychology of mental processes to found the movement called "behaviorism." (He first used the term in a 1913 article.) His studies in medicine, biology, and animal behavior led him to postulate that man and other animals functioned purely from physiological and physical bases; behaviorism stresses "stimulus–response" as its basic tenet. Rejecting such notions as motivation or innate abilities, he claimed that given the proper environment, a normal child could acquire any skill. His book Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist (1919) ushered in a period of major growth and controversy in the field of psychology. Forced to resign from Johns Hopkins in 1920 after he divorced his wife to marry a former student, he went to New York City and entered the field of commercial advertising, but he continued to write about and promote his behaviorist school.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.