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Behaviorism (1910–1930), Neobehaviorism (1930–1955), Bibliography

Behaviorism is a theoretical approach in psychology that emphasizes the study of behavior—that is, the outwardly observable reactions to a stimulus of an organism, whether animal or human—rather than the content of the mind or the physiological correlates of behavior. Largely centered in the United States, behaviorism had an early stage (1910–1930) that was dominated by the work of the comparative psychologist John B. Watson, and a later stage, neo-behaviorism (1930–1955), defined by the psychologists Edward C. Tolman, Clark Hull, and B. F. Skinner.

Behaviorism has its roots in the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), a Russian physiologist who studied medicine in St. Petersburg and physiology at the University of Breslau in Germany. Pavlov designed a series of experiments to understand learning, a psychological process, in terms of the physiological process of conditioning, or training, reflex responses. His experimental animal of choice was the dog, though he expected that his results could apply to humans as well. Dogs normally display a salivation reflex at the sight of food. Pavlov's experiment involved ringing a bell at the same moment that the dog was presented with food. After presenting both stimuli in this joint manner, Pavlov simply rang the bell without also presenting the food—and found that the dog salivated. The normal reflex had been conditioned to appear in response to an unconventional stimulus. An organism's innate responses could thus be trained by this conditioning method to be elicited by a range of stimuli that did not normally produce them, and Pavlov used the method to examine the ways in which responses could be excited and inhibited. The method of conditioning reflexes could, according to Pavlov, replace a mentalistic language about what animals see or hear or feel with a physicalistic, materialist language about responses to stimuli. The conditioning method focused on outward, objective observation of animal behavior, rather than on guessing about the content of an animal's mind. In Pavlov's interpretation, seemingly purposeful behavior on the part of the animal could be reduced to the training of reflexes, or the formation and breaking of habits. Such a view bears a strong similarity to that of the behaviorists who followed, but in an important respect Pavlov differed from them. He never abandoned the idea that he was basically a physiologist and that there could be no science of psychology independent of physiology. Pavlov intended that the acts comprising an animal's behavior should eventually be explained in terms of the workings of its brain. He had no patience with the American behaviorists' belief that behavior formed its own autonomous branch of scientific study.

An airbrushed photograph of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and his staff, c. 1925–1936. Pavlov, whose views formed the foundation of Behaviorism, believed that learning consisted of a series of conditioned responses. His experimental animal of choice was the dog, though he expected that his results could apply to humans as well. © BETTMANN/CORBIS

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