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Watson, Skinner, and Tolman Perspectives

Essay comparing and contrasting the three men of psychology.

In the beginning of psychology, the word “behavior” did not appear in “James Baldwin’s Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology (1901-1905), even though the experts who treated every 900 entries in philosophy and psychology, not to mention relevant terns from anthropology, biology, neurology, physiology, and education. Although ‘conduct’ appeared in Baldwin’s Dictionary, it was defined as the sum of an individual’s ethical actions,” and its use was prescribed for treatments of “moral” action.”” Clearly, behavior was not accepted as a study of analysis. Interestingly, “‘learning’ was not included either, even though the Dictionary drew upon relevant terminology from the field of education (Leary, 2004, pgh.15).”  The very thought that “behavior” as something abstract and meaningless asked the specialists to research the subject thoroughly. Thus, the behaviorists emerged as a psychological category due to comparative psychologists.  

In 1913 John B. Watson issued his famous manifesto firmly establishing “behaviorists” as the conceptual category for psychology (Harzem, 2004, p.6).  Before, in 1907, James R. Angell addressed the American Psychological Association “formally defined functional psychology in contrast to the structure psychology being advanced at the time by E.B. Titchener and his students (Leary, 2004, pgh.18).”  Angell explained that consciousness is embedded within the physical world and that “behavior is the most inclusive of all the functional categories dealing with the biological realm (Leary, 2004, pgh.18).”  Therefore, John B. Watson (1878-1 958), B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), and Edward C. Tolman (1886-1959) are three modern behaviorists ultimately concerned with the science of conduct or behavior of humans and animals (Leary, 2004).

Watson’s basic of logic can be explained “as follows: (i) psychology must be a science, (an implicit assumption, unquestioned at the time by advocates and critics alike), (ii) a fundamental principle of science is that its data must come from publicly observable phenomena, (iii) what is taken to be the subject matter of psychology, namely consciousness, does not satisfy that principle because it cannot be observed publicly, (iv) the methods to which psychology must resort for studying consciousness, namely introspection, are not scientific methods, (v) therefore, the psychology of the time was not a science . Watson’s paper had taken the above as given and proceeded directly to propose what must be entailed in a “natural science” of psychology: (i) it must abandon consciousness as the object of its study, (ii) it must turn only to the study of publicly observable phenomena, namely behavior, and (iii) it must develop methods for publicly observing behavior (Harzem, 2004, p.7,8).”

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