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The Idea of Behaviourism

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John B. Watson is considered as the father of Behaviourism, although it should be noted that many other personalities contributed greatly on the school of behaviourism. Behaviourism holds that the subject matter of human psychology is the behaviour or activities of human beings. Behaviourist believes that “consciousness” is only another word for “soul”, there is no further definition or use (Watson and Kimble, 1998). Watson (1913), describe a person’s mind as a tabula rasa or blank state at birth and we learn through experience and association with the help of environmental stimulus.  Behaviourism studies and understands human and nonhuman or animal behaviour. There is great interest in introspection during the 19th century, most psychological theories and studies are about the mind and the analysis of a person’s thought processes. Behaviourism became well know during the 19th century as a popular belief that behaviour can be observed in the immediate environment instead of more complex studies of the mind (Boakes, 1984). Behaviourism is a school of psychology that studies observable behaviour, and this can be considered as one of its major strength. Behaviourism allows psychologists to study and research behaviour in a systematic and scientific way (Moore, 1994). The term behaviourism started with John Watson and its basic principle is the stimulus-response reflex model (Koch, 1964). Behaviourism emphasises that observable behaviour can be studied systematically without the effect of other internal mental states. Behavioural psychology believed in learning through conditioning and hypothesised that conditioning happens through stimulus in the environment.

 The idea of behaviourism can be considered similar with the Russian Objective Psychology whose founder is Ivan Mikhailovich Sechenov (1829-1905). Sechenov was influenced by the work of La Mettrie and the Berlin physiologists’ positivism and firmly denies that behaviour is cause by thoughts, rather he believed that external stimulus is the cause of all behaviour (Henley, 2017). Sechenov (1863), stated that the initial cause of any action always lies in external sensory stimulation, because without this thought is inconceivable. Sechenov’s most important idea in the Reflexes of the Brain is the concept of inhibition. He also believed that the only valid approach to the study of psychology involves the objective methods of physiology (Henley, 2017). Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) is a physiologist whose greatest contribution is the study about classical conditioning. Pavlov concluded that organisms respond to environment in terms of unconditioned and conditioned reflex. Unconditioned stimulus triggers unconditioned reflex which is innate. On the other hand, conditioned reflex stems from experience in relation to the laws of contiguity and frequency (Pavlov, 1928). With Sechenov’s influence on Ivan Pavlov, he believed that excitation and inhibition can characterized all central nervous system activity (Henley. 2017). Another great Russian contributor to behaviourism is Vladimir Bechterev (1857-1927). Bechterev’s view in psychology concentrated on the relationship of environmental stimulus and behaviour. Bechterev used the term reflexology meaning strictly objective study of human behaviour that aim to understand the relationship between environment and overt behaviour (Henley, 2017).

John B. Watson first developed behaviourism during the 20th century (1878-1958), he is considered as the founder of behavioural movement. Watson was born in Travelers Rest near Greenville, South Carolina. His mother is a nurse and is extremely religious. His father on the other hand drank, swore and chased other women. Watson’s parents divorced when he was 13, he was greatly affected when his father left their home as they have a close relationship. Watson completed his undergraduate degree at Furman University and did further studies at the University of Chicago. Watson worked as carer for white rats in a laboratory and with the influence of neurologists Angell and Henry Donaldson, he began to investigate the developmental and learning process of white rats. Watson stated that the goal of psychology is to predict and control behaviour (Henley, 2017). Watson found the Russian objective psychology as similar to his own thinking, however his ideas are completely independent to the Russian psychologists. Most Russian psychologists is interested in the relationship of biology with an organisms’ behaviour while Watson is focused on the relationship of environmental stimulus with behaviour (Henley, 2017).

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