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Behaviourism is a learning theory
that is concerned with behaviours acquired through stimulus responses to the
environment, known as conditioning. Behaviourism focuses on the idea that we
are born with our minds as blank slates and the environment they are bought up
in shapes our behaviour. J B Watson the founder of behaviourism began the
movement in 1913 with the publication of an article called ‘Psychology as the
behaviourist views it’. This essay will focus what influenced the rise to
behaviourism, the cause of its decline and the legacy it left behind. The
growth of behaviourism in the 1900s caused the theory to become the dominant
school of thought in psychology. During this time psychologists were interested
in establishing psychology as an objective and measurable science, to create
laws that can explain all human behaviour. However, within the late 1900s and
early 2000s behaviourism popularity began to decline, which will be explored
further throughout the essay.

In the time period prior to the
rise of behaviourism there were contributors that influenced the discovery. A
contributor that was later explored further by Skinner was Thorndike. Thorndike
although, not a behaviourist himself but major thinkers that later led to the emergence
of behaviourism. Thorndike’s research using the puzzle box, where a cat placed
within the box and time the escape. The cats learnt an action that had a
favourable consequence which caused them to adopt this behaviour at a greater
rate. The research resulted in the law of effect.

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Before the birth of behaviourism,
the conditioning of reflexes had been an active field of research in Russia (Harrell
& Harrison 1938). Two significant contributors to this research was
Vladimir M. Bechterev and Ivan Pavlov. Bechterev a Russian physiologist, the
founder of reflexology and objective psychology. He concentrated his research
the relationship between environmental stimulus and overt behaviour in humans. In
addition, Pavlov made major contributions into the field of reflexology. Pavlov
similarly studied the instinctive behaviour caused by a stimulus in the
environment. During his research into a dog’s digestive system he discovered a
conditioned reflex, the manipulation of behaviour. This is his memorable
discovery of classical conditioning. Pavlov’s discovery began with his research
into the salivation of dogs when presented with food, when he noticed that the
dogs began to salivate when he just walked into the room. In behaviourist terms
this is know as the learning through association. The dogs learnt to associate
Pavlov with their food so salivate. The behaviour Pavlov noticed led to his
historical experiment into classical conditioning, in which he used a bell as a
neutral stimulus. Pavlov was able to condition the dogs into salivating to the
bell. Classical conditioning suggests that not all behaviour is fixed in the
subconscious as Freud believed, but instead linked to personal experience. Behaviourists
ideas offered an alternative to those of Freud. Watson explored these ideas
further.

Watson, the father of behaviourism,
was a strong voice in the growth of behaviourism and the decline of
introspection technique, to establish psychology as purely an objective
science. Many of Watsons initial ideas in animal behaviour was similar to the
work of Russian objective psychology. Watson’s initial work involved learning
associations in white rats which correlated with cortical development (Goodwin,
2008). After finishing his research into animals at the University of Chicago,
Watson published the article mentioned above ‘Psychology as the behaviourist
views it’ which later became known as the behaviourist manifesto. This was the
birth of behaviourism. After publishing the manifesto Watson focused on
developing on the ideas of Pavlov and Bechterev demonstrating how behaviours
could be conditioned (Goodwin, 2008) One of Watson’s recognisable work was when
his research focused on emotional development and classical conditioning. This
lead to a historical but controversial study of Little Albert, in which he
subjected Albert to rats and furry items with a loud bang to illicit the fear
response. His research although unethical, it served the function of branching
research into child rearing. Watson’s dissatisfaction with introspective ideas,
his research created the shift to the objective study of behaviour.  His research had a lasting influence on
psychology.

B. F. Skinner an American
psychologist was another significant behaviourist who argued that psychology
should only be the study of behaviour. Skinner believed that in order to
explain complex human behaviour classical conditioning is too simplistic.
Therefore, he focused his research on explaining the causes of human actions
and their consequences. Skinner studied and revised Thorndike’s law of effect research
and develop his ideas which led to the theory of operant conditioning. Operant
conditioning involves changing behaviour using reinforcement. Skinner studied
operant conditioning by using animals placed in ‘Skinners Box’.

Behaviourism in the late 1900s saw
the beginning of its decline. With the fall in popularity toward behaviourist
ideas, with it still being in existence came the emergence of cognitive ideas
in 1990s. By the early 2000s behaviourism was replaced by some extend by the
growing paradigm of cognitive psychology, in which today is a present. One of
the precipitating events behind the decline of behaviourism was a review by
Chomsky of a book that Skinner published in 1957 called Verbal Behaviour. The
book extends on Skinners previous research to the acquisition of language in
children. In the book Skinner identifies variables that control verbal
behaviour and how to interact in order to determine a verbal response (Chomsky,
1967). Chomsky argues Skinners claims are bold and that to predict behaviour of
complex organism would require additional information (Chomsky,1967). Skinner
assumed that children utterances were either reinforced or corrected by their
parents leading to the acquisition to correct grammatical understanding.
Chomsky argues that commonly children of immigrant parents can fluently and
correctly learn a second language from other children (Chomsky, 1967) Within
the review Chomsky points out how children can construct acceptable sentences
which they have never heard before. This not accounted for by Skinner. Chomsky
offering this believes, discussed humans have an innate acquisition device that
predisposes to acquire their language. Due to many characteristics of humans
are a product of inborn structure.

In 1961 a paper was published by
two of Skinner’s students called ‘The Misbehaviour of Organisms’. The students Breland
and Breland noted how the study of thousands of animals in the attempt to
condition to do various tasks more often than not resulted in failure. Within
the article they discussed how racoons didn’t fit into the paradigm of operant
conditioning (Breland & Breland, 1961). The response concerned the raccoon
placing two coins into a metal box, in which the manipulation of picking up the
first coin was simple but persistently wanted to rub the coin against the box
instead of dropping the coin in the box (Breland & Breland, 1961). The
rubbing of the coin was evident with the addition of the second coin as the
racoon would rub the two together (Breland & Breland, 1961). The
generalisation of Skinner’s research to all animals lacked evidence. Not only
Skinner’s research behaviourism was considered with creating laws that could be
applied to all animals and even humans. From the article Breland and Breland
contradict these sweeping statements made by behaviourists, arguing their
credibility. The example above and the many within the paper show how
conditioning theory is not universal to all animals. Breland and Breland state
how ‘they were shocked with the results as in their background of behaviourism
there was noting to prepare them for such gross inabilities to predict and
control behaviours’ (Breland & Breland, 1961, p). The article concluded
with Breland and Breland stating how during their fourteen years of research of
the observation of thousands of animals, that knowledge of an animal is
required to fully understand predict and control their behaviour (Breland &
Breland, 1961).

The limitation of animal experiments
became apparent, which was a primary focus for behaviourist research.
Underlining the laws and practises of behaviour were the same for all species
and could be applied to humans. The acumination of further research by
behaviourists promoted the discovery that this was not the case. Animals could
be trained to perform certain tasks but not all, eliciting that not all behaviour
can be conditioned. Therefore, Skinnerian-type training regimes must be species
specific therefore, could indefinitely not be generalised to all humans. As new
data accumulated, the reigning behaviourist paradigm was increasingly unable to
answer important questions. This created uncertainty causing the shift to
cognitive psychology. This instead was a mind based science that relied on experimental
methods to make inferences on mental processes.

This passing of the behaviourist era
did not lead to the abandonment of the results of their research but rather
their overshadowing of their ideas.  The research
founded by behaviourist is still evident with in the present day. Pavlov’s research
in classical conditioning led the emergence of a technique called systematic desensitisation,
a therapy technique that used to treat phobias. In which therapists teach individuals
relaxation techniques to confront their phobias at step by step stages. The technique
changes the association the individual has with the phobia.