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The Rise of Behaviorism

The Psychology of Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner

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Ivan Pavlov was responsible for discovering classical conditioning.

Physiologist Ivan Pavlov is credited with discovering the conditioning reflex.

Psychology changed dramatically during the early 20th-century as another school of thought known as behaviorism rose to dominance. Behaviorism was a major change from previous theoretical perspectives, rejecting the emphasis on both the conscious and unconscious mind. Instead, behaviorism strove to make psychology a more scientific discipline by focusing purely on observable behavior.

Behaviorism had it's earliest start with the work of a Russian physiologist named Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov's research on the digestive systems of dogs led to his discovery of the classical conditioning process, which demonstrated that behaviors could be learned via conditioned associations. Pavlov demonstrated that this learning process could be used to make an association between and environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.

An American psychologist named John B. Watson soon became one of the strongest advocates of behaviorism. Initially outlining the basics principles of this new school of thought in his 1913 paper Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It, Watson later went on to offer a definition in his classic book Behaviorism (1924), writing:

"Behaviorism...holds that the subject matter of human psychology is the behavior of the human being. Behaviorism claims that consciousness is neither a definite nor a usable concept. The behaviorist, who has been trained always as an experimentalist, holds, further, that belief in the existence of consciousness goes back to the ancient days of superstition and magic."

The impact of behaviorism was enormous, and this school of thought continued to dominate for the next 50 years. Psychologist B.F. Skinner furthered the behaviorist perspective with his concept of operant conditioning, which demonstrated the effect of punishment and reinforcement on behavior.

While behaviorism eventually lost its hold on psychology, the basic principles of behavioral psychology are still widely in use today. Therapeutic techniques such as behavior analysis, behavioral modification and token economies are often utilized to help children learn new skills and overcome maladaptive behaviors, while conditioning is used in many situations ranging from parenting to education.

Humanistic Psychology - The Third Force

Further Reading:
What is Behaviorism?
Introduction to Classical Conditioning
Introduction to Operant Conditioning

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