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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 ?
For instance, as discussed previously certain ideas from classical behaviourist theories have been applied to the treatment of neurosis and phobias (Schwartz & Levy, 1982).
African grey parrots will peck themselves bald when depressed JANE WILLIAMS ANIMAL BEHAVIOURIST
For introductory learning where students have very little directly transferable prior knowledge about a skill or content area, the behaviourist approach is the best learning theory to be used because it is predetermined, constrained, sequential and criterion-based.
While much of behaviourist theory was derived from laboratory research withcanimals (rats and pigeons) as surrogates for human beings, in its paradigmatic concern with the controlling environmental influences on learning it remained, remarkably, rather distant from evolutionary thought.
The book concludes with two shorter chapters giving behaviourist readings of Rosalind and Perdita, and an appendix on 'The Pyschology of Habits'.
One can also identify some other prominent proponents of the behaviourist model including Clark L.
Your behaviourist may suggest getting one or both of the girls spayed as part of a more in-depth behaviour modification programme.
Heston, a young Pug-Shih Tzu, has had a tough life and needs an experienced foster home which is willing to work with a behaviourist to overcome his demons.
Anyone is welcome, there will be a veterinary surgeon, a pet behaviourist and a pet dog trainer there to give advice.
Many believe their stress is behind things like stomach upsets, weightappetite and fur loss and lethargy Pet behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford said: " Dogs are social creatures who need the contact of humans or other animals.
DOG behaviourist Bob Haynes is a familiar figure to many people, working with the RSPCA and the NCDL in advising prospective owners how to handle a new dog.