Explain how animal psychology influenced behaviorism. 

Snapshot: In this chapter, the theories and the events leading up to the founding of the school of thought called behaviorism will be discussed. Behaviorism developed into one of the strongest schools of thought to be developed in psychology and its impact is still very much felt today. It is the influence of Thorndike and his animal behavior work and the Russians Pavlov and Bekhterev that help develop the various tenets of behaviorism. Animal research is a direct result of the Darwinian influence and becomes quite prevalent. Any time you have animal research, you will have dissenters to this work in the form of the animal rights movement. We will see that it is the observable behavior and not the mind that comes to the forefront of research consideration.>

Learning Objectives and Outcomes: (After you have read this chapter and the online lectures you should be able to:)

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  1. Understand how the focus of psychology changed from the late 1800s and early 1900s to that of the 1920s.
  2. Understand the advancements to the objective research of animal behavior due to Loeb, Turner, Small, and Yerkes.
  3. Understand Thorndike’s Law of Effect, Law of Use and Disuse, and Law of Exercise and how they described the reasons for behavior.
  4. Understand “connectiveism”. Is it the same as the British “associationism”?
  5. Compare the work of Pavlov’s conditioned reflex to that of Bekhterev’s associated reflex.
  6. Understand how Pavlov’s work influenced Watsonian behaviorism.

Behaviorism Coming from a Functionalist Tradition?

It may seem strange to think that a very reductionistic and deterministic school of thought can evolve from a very phenomenological school of thought like Functionalism, but Behaviorism did just that from some of the traditions started by Darwin and the Functionalist Movement. As you read in your book, you will see all of the research on animals that began shortly after the acceptance of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Comparative psychology, in the tradition of Morgan, utilized objective methodology that would be adopted by the Behaviorist school of thought.

There were several other influences besides the abundance of animal research. Russia was, at this time, known for its very objective physiological research as we shall see with Pavlov and Bekhterev.

The Functionalists such as Cattell used a great deal of non-introspective data because they used subjects that could not introspect – animals, children, and the mentally abnormal. Thorndike, although technically a Functionalist, denied the use of introspection and used objective methods to examine learning in animals. The story of Clever Hans was an interesting occurrence because it showed how the environment, small stimuli that might go unnoticed, can actually influence how we behave.

The Influence of the Russians

By the end of the 1800s, the Russian scientific community had rejected the mentalism that we have seen in the phenomenological movement in favor of objectivism. They felt that all behavior was triggered by external stimuli – a deterministic view. Pavlov was a physiologist working on digestive research in dogs for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1904. While doing this research, he came upon an interesting observation. In examining salivary responses in the dog, he began to notice that the dog would begin to salivate before the food was offered. This had not been the case at the beginning of the experiment.

In searching for an explanation for this observation, he developed the idea of classical conditioning. Read carefully this area of your book. Classical conditioning is something that happens to each of us on a daily basis and is involuntary learning that we usually do not realize has occurred.

This learning or “conditioning” occurs when a neutral stimulus in the environment becomes associated with another stimulus that naturally causes a certain response in us. For example, we naturally salivate when food that we find tasty is presented to us and we are hungry. However, under the right circumstances, we can associate a new and neutral stimulus that does not cause us to salivate with the stimulus that naturally does. After this association becomes a strong one due to repeated pairings of the two stimuli, we may salivate to the neutral stimulus even when the natural salivation stimulus is not present. In effect, the neutral stimulus begins to inform us that the food is coming.

Let’s say that you are hungry and are going to Rosa’s restaurant for lunch. If we were to measure the amount of saliva that you are giving out (you probably would not really like us doing so), we would probably see that you begin salivating when you see Rosa’s sign or the brick building housing Rosa’s. You did not do this at first but paired with the actual presentation of food in the past, the sign or building has been conditioned to cause the salivary response. The thing to remember is that classical conditioning is always a response from the “gut” and is involuntary. Heart rate, sweating, digestion, pupil dilation are some examples of these involuntary behaviors that we do not control and that can become conditioned.

Did you ever wonder why you start to sweat and your heart rate goes up when you get stopped for speeding? Classical conditioning!! This is the important discovery that Pavlov and Sechenov and Bekhterev found and that John B. Watson, founder of Behaviorism, researched. The Little Albert experiment is classical conditioning of an emotional response.

  • Picture Link: Fountain on Pavlov Street in St. Petersburg
    Description: This is the Fountain Pavlov had erected in honor of the dog. He was a great lover of his dogs and they were always treated well. The inscription translates “Let the dog, which has been a helper and a friend of humans since that prehistoric era, be sacrificed to science, but our dignity always obliges us to accomplish this process without any unnecessary suffering”.
  • Picture Link: Pavlov and his digestive apparatus.
    Description: Pavlov is pictured with the dog apparatus that was used in his classical conditioning research.
  • Picture Link: Pavlov’s Digestion Experiments
    Description: This picture shows Pavlov and assistant researching issues in digestion and also in the psychology of learning. Pavlov did not like psychology or psychologists so it is interesting that he contributed so much to the psychological field of learning with his classical conditioning ideas.
  • Picture Link: Close–up of Relief on Dog Fountain

Description: You will appreciate the relief on one of the panels of Pavlov’s dog fountain – looks like the pictures we have of Pavlov in his lab. The fountain has 8 dog heads that spew water.

Jacques Loeb and Tropism

As children, perhaps many of us had a small plant in a paper cup that we started from seed – probably a bean of some kind. We all may have noticed that as it grew, it grew toward the light source. This is really what Loeb is saying – about plants and animals and really about all of us. If you want to know more of his theory, I have his book in my office and would be glad to lend it. Also, you might go to this Jaques Loeb site (http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/loeb.htm) (Links to an external site.) and read just a bit more.

Thorndike’s Law of Effect

This Law of Effect is really important as it is the basis for Skinner’s ideas of reinforcement and punishment affecting the rate of behavior. When you get to Skinner’s work in Chapter 11, think back on this law and see how you think the two men’s ideas are quite alike.

  • Picture Link: The Original Cat–Boxes
    Description: These 4 puzzle boxes are ones used by Thorndike for his remarkable studies into trial–and–error learning. Thorndike must be admired for his animal studies that really set the standard for others to follow.

Snapshot: In this chapter, John B. Watson will found the school of behaviorism and develop the idea of classical conditioning. The emphasis will be on the observable stimulus-response and consciousness will not be regarded as important or experimentally researchable. We will see the acceptance of behaviorism every day like in America. But we will also see the criticisms of the school and the great debate of Watson and McDougall. Carl Lashley will extend the idea of learning over his 68 years of research. His slight tongue–in–cheek quote at the end of such an illustrious career is that “Learning is not possible.”

Learning Objectives and Outcomes: (After you have read this chapter and the online lectures you should be able to:)

  1. Realize what the methods and goals of psychology were to be under Watson’s Behaviorism.
  2. Understand the criticisms Watson had for structuralism and functionalism.
  3. Understand the work of Watson with Little Albert and how he established a conditioned response. Be sure you understand what a conditioned response is – ask me if you are confused.
  4. Understand Watson’s behavioral explanation of thinking and instincts if he felt there should be no mentalistic references.
  5. Understand why it might be appropriate to say that McDougall’s views were the antithesis of those held by Watson.
  6. Understand on what grounds Lashley, Holt, and McDougall criticized Watson’s behavioral stance.
  7. Understand why behaviorism might have had such popular appeal to American Society.

John B. Watson, Father of Behaviorism

Your book has a nice section on Watson so I will just do a few remarks. Be sure to study each of the sections on Watson’s behaviorism so that you understand the subject matter of behaviorism (implicit and explicit learned and unlearned) and the goals of behaviorism which were prediction and control of behavior. This control of behavior was a benign control. It is true that it could be misused but both Watson and Skinner talk about this caution.

The debate between Watson and McDougall was a very interesting one that got enormous press. This great interest shows how important psychology had become even to the average citizen. As you read in your book you will notice how behaviorism permeated all facets of life. The revelation of Watson’s wife Rosie about her disagreement with the behaviorist way of raising children is quite interesting. The three web addresses below concern Watson’s debate:

BEHAVIORISM — THE MODERN NOTE IN PSYCHOLOGY (Links to an external site.) (Watson’s)
FUNDAMENTALS OF PSYCHOLOGY — BEHAVIORISM EXAMINED (Links to an external site.) (McDougall’s mentalist position)
POSTSCRIPT (Links to an external site.) (a postscript to the debate written by McDougall a number of years later. He had predicted that Watson’s position would only last a short time, but in this postscript he admits that the American people were not as wise as he thought.)

Snapshot: In this chapter, we will see the influence of B. F. Skinner and his behaviorist reinforcement theory of operant conditioning. His theories on how schedules of reinforcement determine the vigor of behavior become an influential tool in education, child-rearing, and behavior modification. Hull’s mathematical application of reinforcement theory will be examined and the idea of intervening variables discussed both with Hull’s work and that of Tolman. We will see that despite the avoidance of any conscious cognitions on the part of the behaviorists, cognitions will creep in with the work of Tolman. Tolman will be a “methodological behaviorist” even while espousing the idea of animals and humans forming cognitive maps. Social behaviorism will gain strength with the research of Bandura and Rotter.

Learning Objectives and Outcomes: (After you have read this chapter and the online lectures you should be able to:)

  1. Describe the three stages of Behaviorism.
  2. Explain what pseudo-problems are.
  3. Discuss what Tolman meant by purposive behaviorism and describe the classic experiment that supports his theory.
  4. Explain Hull’s approach to behaviorism and how it differed from the views of Watson and Tolman.
  5. Know the partial reinforcement schedules of Skinner and explain what their value is.
  6. Explain how Bandura’s views on cognitive factors differ from Skinner’s views.
  7. Discuss why people high in self-efficacy differ from those with low self-efficacy.


You studied this term at the beginning of the semester, but this is where it will be applied to all the sciences. The idea of operationalism, the definition of research terms by the way they are measured, was adopted by all the sciences at the end of the 1800s and into the early 1900s. This was an important event because it meant that the vagueness of terms could be eliminated. The validity of research results was judged according to the operation (measurement) used.

For example, a researcher is looking at the anxiety of mothers when they take their small children to sit on Santa’s lap to take the classic Christmas picture. The operational definition for the mother’s anxiety could be heart rate, but at the mall, you are not likely to have a heart monitor on mom! Therefore, a legitimate operational definition could be the number of times mom approaches Santa and the child during the picture taking. Or you might measure the number of times mom calls to the child – or maybe you would measure both. If both are measured, there are two operational definitions for Mother’s anxiety. Operational definitions were adopted in physics, biology, psychology, astronomy, and all the sciences. For our study of psychology, we will see that the Behaviorists were particularly vigilant in using operational definitions.

A Little Trivia About Skinner

One of my major professors in graduate school, Dr. Greenspoon, was a student of Skinner’s in his earlier days. One lunch we talked about Skinner and I got some interesting tidbits that I thought I would pass on to you. None of these will help you in this course, but they do show that he was human. Your book talks about the “Skinner box” and it seems that Skinner hated to have his operant chamber called the Skinner box. The word “operant” was a purposeful word that described how the subject “operated” on the learning experience according to the reinforcements present.

Dr. Greenspoon also told me how he would be made irate by all the coke bottles left on the stairs at the university. Remember it was in the days of bottles, not cans. A more serious bit of information was how Skinner was so hurt that there were people that thought he was a cold and heartless father because he had developed a large operant type chamber for his little daughter. It was like a crib and had all sorts of things that she could do by pressing a bar or other things. It really is not that different from all the toys we have today for infants and toddlers that have all sorts of “bells and whistles” that we put in the crib or on the floor.

It also bothered him a great deal that society tried to control its citizens through punishment and not reinforcement. Using reinforcement, he felt, was a powerful way to learn a behavior. Punishment, according to Skinner, had a number of problems. While reinforcement tells the person what they should do, punishment only tells them what they should NOT do, with no information about the appropriate behavior to emit. Also, he was concerned that punishment fostered learning aggression. How much should be used? It can’t be too much or it could be lethal. He realized that starting with just a little punishment and then increasing the amount until it suppressed the behavior did not work. He often talked about this problem with society using punishment so much. Think about it, why are prisons being occupied as soon as they are built?

Skinnerian Schedules of Reinforcement

B. F. Skinner was really a giant in the behavioral field after its founding. Be sure to read the quote on page 345 about why he thought schedules of reinforcement were naturally occurring things. These schedules can reinforce the individual every time, which is called “continuous reinforcement”. Other schedules may only reinforce us intermittently, in which the schedules are called “partial reinforcement schedules.”

There are four main partial schedules:

  1. Fixed Ratio: the individual is reinforced after a set number of responses (the time it takes to make those responses is not important). This set number of responses is always the same.
  2. Fixed Interval: the individual is reinforced after a set interval of time (the number of times the behavior is done during that time interval is not important). The time interval does not vary and is set.
  3. Variable Ratio: the individual is reinforced after a certain number of responses but that number may vary. However, it will average out to be a certain number. If you get a goodie for making your bed on the average 4 days in a row, you may actually get the goodie after 2 days, then after 6 days, and then after 4 days. That is then an average of 4 days.
  4. Variable Interval: the individual is reinforced after a certain time interval, however, that time interval may vary and is not predictable. You might get the goodie for a response after 2 minutes, one after 6 minutes, or one after 4 minutes. However, they will average out to a certain time – in our example, it is every 4 minutes.

According to Skinner, these different schedules will affect the rate at which we respond. The variable-ratio makes us respond the most and there is no surprise that that is what Las Vegas casinos use so that we will put those dollars and quarters in the machines as quickly as possible. The variable time schedule will make us slow and steady in our responses. Think about what schedules you may be on in your life – work, school, and personal life.

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