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Burrhus Frederic Skinner: Behaviorist Biography Report

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Updated: Aug 24th, 2021

Behaviorism is one of the psychological theories which help to explain human behavior and actions, motives and internal and external drivers. Behaviorism underlies a particular science of behavior rather than that science itself. This theory involves philosophy of science, a philosophy of mind, an empirical background theory. Behaviorism is not the science of behavior developed by behaviorists but the framework underlying that science.

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990) is an American psychologist who created radical behaviorism. His theory is based on verbal behavior factors applied to different settings and environments. His main works are Beyond Freedom and Dignity Verbal Behavior and science and Human Behavior. Skinner studied psychology at Harvard University and received PhD in 1931 (Slater 8). Critics admit that he was influenced by B. Russell and his study An Outline of Philosophy. In this book, Russell analyzes and depicts behavioral patterns and psychology of J. B. Watson. Also, Skinner was interested in works by physiologist Cozier (Slater 10). During his college years, Skinner developed “the rate of response” theory, a core of psychological research. Further, Skinner suggests how a verbal community can train speakers to respond discriminatively to private stimuli. Skinner theorizes that in teaching verbal responses to private stimuli, the verbal community makes use of public stimuli tied to the private stimulation.

The verbal responses constituting the language of first-person reports are thus not a purely phenomenal vocabulary-they must have some tie, however tenuous, to public stimuli. It is therefore possible for a verbal community to train its members to speak about private stimuli (Slater 12). He does not trust first person reports of private events and does not use them as observation reports. His reasons for rejecting introspection are thus based, in part, on an unproven empirical hypothesis and constitute a fifth behaviorist objection to introspection.. In practice, Skinner does agree with the behaviorist exclusion of introspection from scientific methods of observation. Skinner explains behavior as a function of environment. He developed operant conditioning chamber tool which helps to investigate and analyze behavior in certain conditions. Skinner’s theoretical concepts consist of intervening variables, such as drive, and private events, consisting of covert stimuli and responses. Theory, for Skinner, consists of economical descriptions of functional relations which subsume a number of behavioral regularities. Skinner’s approach, radical behaviorism, does not require truth by consensus. He admits that at certain points in the history of science and for certain subject matters, these methods may be appropriate, but not for psychology whose subject matter, behavior, shows lawfulness at the level of observables (Slater 15).

The value of this approach for childhood education is that it can help researchers to explain and understand emotions, thinking and perceptions as factors of investigation. Skinner relies on inductive approach and sees data as the core of any research (Hetherington et al 23). Because Skinner objects to both intervening variables and hypothetical constructs, he objects to theories containing theoretical concepts. Moreover, Skinner also claims that psychological theories in general are neither necessary nor desirable. Skinner supposes that theory has a detrimental influence on the development of psychology. He is particularly concerned with the methods, especially hypothetico-deductive techniques, prescribed for the scientist to follow in formulating theory.

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky

Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Soviet development psychologist working on child development theories and education. He developed cultural-historical psychology and worked on detectology. His main works are Psychology of Art (1925) and Thought and Language (1934). Developmental psychology aimed to explain and analyze stages of child’s development and maturity process. It studies psychological changes take place in children and adults during different stages of development and ages.

In contrast with other important early Soviet psychologists, who had either physiological or philosophical backgrounds, Vygotsky was initially a literary critic and school teacher. His psychological theory was apparently much influenced by his analysis of Hamlet, the subject of his master’s thesis in 1916, and his study of linguistic philosophers such as Mikhail Bakhtin (Oakley 10). Vygostky graduated Moscow University in 1917 and worked at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow. One of Vygotsky’s main propositions, that internalized signs become the psychological tools that serve as intermediaries between the external world and actions, was quite in line with the idea espoused by many writers and thinkers of the 1920s (Oakley 12).

Vygotsky placed more emphasis on the internalization of signs as psychological tools that made it possible for the developing human being to operate within, and be part of, the cultural context than on early practical infant activity insofar as psychological development is concerned. His main theories are mediation and internalization, philosophy of science and methodology of research, high mental functions and zone of proximal development (Oakley 14). Vygotsky claimed that the internalization of signs (as psychological tools) represents a primary process in the formation of a person’s psychological structure, emphasizing the role of speech; Rubinstein emphasized the structuring power of practical activity including preverbal activities.

The personality principle affirms that psychological states and processes do not function or exist independent of the total person and that it is always a person who perceives, thinks or feels. Vygotsky proposed that the theoretical and empirical contents–that is, the conceptual and factual material–and the means of the organization and study of that material, all of which constituted the “corpus” of psychology, be differentiated. The means was the scientific method itself, which, at that time, was considered to be dialectics in its Hegelian variation that Marx had “put back on its feet from standing on its head” (Oakley 16). His view of signs as indirect stimuli interposed between stimuli and responses, in the classic behavioristic models, however, added nothing to the understanding of the problem. The most serious deficiency in Vygotsky’s theory, in my opinion, is his failure to explain how signs relate to “lower natural psychic” functions (Oakley 19). The cultural and historical conception was the attempt to study experimentally the changes in the psyche influenced by historical changes in culture (using the central Asian region) ended in failure again, due to ideological criticism.

His theories and methods allow childhood educators to understand development processes and stages of development. Humans require another kind of mental development: historical developmental laws. The tool, according to Karl Marx, offered the rational means to go beyond animal instinct; it expressed a human relation of activity to object. Tools develop through work, a key concept in dialectical materialism because of its relation to alienation. Work for others can be alienating if the profit is not distributed justly (Stassen 23).

For educators working with children, it is crucial to understand learning processes and psychological development of children at different age. Thus, psychology deals with concepts important to the professional and private spheres: activity, group, and “the collective.” However, the acknowledgment of statistical and mathematical methods occurred without extensive application of them. Both theorists, Skinner and Vygotsky have explained psychological practice and its impact on children and their behavior. Practice in everyday education and social life reveals the complexity of ideology’s influence on culture. But practice also refers to actual psychological investigative practice. The reception of the psychological practice and theories of Skinner and Vygotsky reflects practice in both senses. Attachment theory and radical behaviorist theory entered into education (Hetherington et al 29).

Many theoretical concepts are unproblematic because they represent mere transformations within the behavioral data language. “Rate of response” is an example of a concept which integrates over multiple observations but is not the equivalent of the set of them. Similarly, the “average number of subjects turning right,” when not a whole number, represents a datum that cannot possibly be observed. Behaviorism represents the assumptions, values, and presuppositions implicit in this science (Slater 21). Behaviorism represents a certain set of values. It recommends goals for behavioral science and suggests standards for evaluating scientific activity. Values are even more salient with respect to applied behavioral science in which behaviorism promotes applications congruent with particular social aims. The boundaries of the behavioral data language are not sharply defined by both theorists (Hetherington et al 21).

Wherever they are drawn, the study of behavior must exceed them to establish a science. It must transcend the immediate momentary observation to impose or discover coherence in its subject matter. Vygotsky, during the 1920s, focused his efforts on the so-called higher psychic functions, including thought, speech, selective attention, concept formation, and logical memory. It is clear that he was little concerned with investigating the nature and role of feelings and will, both of which are also higher psychic phenomena. He also was not concerned with lower psychic processes. These concepts allow educators to analyze behavior of children and their motives, and, as the most important, develop unique strategies and tools to guide and teach children. Vygotsky’s theory offers insights into the psychological development of individuals by stressing the basic role played by signs in the ontogenetic self-mastering of “natural psychic processes” (Stassen 7).

His observation that there are changes in the intermediate roles of signs during the course of ontogenetic development is especially important even though there are other ways of interpreting this process–for instance, that the signs, as bearers of social knowledge, mutually interpenetrate with existing knowledge (Hetherington et al 83). Specific prescription for moving toward a more conceptually integrated psychology, and thus eliminating the crisis in psychology, is to propose that consciousness and activity are unified. This principle, while important, refers only to the social aspect of the human being and not to the psyche as a whole. Children education would benefit if progress are made in establishing a fundamental science of society. The concepts sign, activity, and communication are crucial for educators because they help to find an individualistic approach to every child and understand his inner self. Development is best viewed as a personality system consisting of the intellectual, emotional-sensual, and volitional traits of character. These theories allow educators view children as social beings and society as a system of personalities.

Draft

Behaviorism is not the science of behavior developed by behaviorists but the framework underlying that science. Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990) is an American psychologist who created radical behaviorism. Behaviorism represents a certain set of values. It recommends goals for behavioral science and suggests standards for evaluating scientific activity. Values are even more salient with respect to applied behavioral science in which behaviorism promotes applications congruent with particular social aims. The boundaries of the behavioral data language are not sharply defined by both theorists (Hetherington et al 21).

His theory is based on verbal behavior factors applied to different settings and environments. He was influenced by B. Russell and his study An Outline of Philosophy. During his college years, Skinner developed “the rate of response” theory, a core of psychological research. Further, Skinner suggests how a verbal community can train speakers to respond discriminatively to private stimuli. The verbal responses constituting the language of first-person reports are thus not a purely phenomenal vocabulary-they must have some tie, however tenuous, to public stimuli. It is therefore possible for a verbal community to train its members to speak about private stimuli (Slater 12). Theory, for Skinner, consists of economical descriptions of functional relations which subsume a number of behavioral regularities. Skinner’s approach, radical behaviorism, does not require truth by consensus. He admits that at certain points in the history of science and for certain subject matters, these methods may be appropriate, but not for psychology whose subject matter, behavior, shows lawfulness at the level of observables (Slater 15). Skinner supposes that theory has a detrimental influence on the development of psychology. He is particularly concerned with the methods, especially hypothetico-deductive techniques, prescribed for the scientist to follow in formulating theory.

This approach can help researchers to explain and understand emotions, thinking and perceptions as factors of investigation. Skinner relies on inductive approach and sees data as the core of any research (Hetherington et al 23). Because Skinner objects to both intervening variables and hypothetical constructs, he objects to theories containing theoretical concepts. Moreover, Skinner also claims that psychological theories in general are neither necessary nor desirable. Wherever they are drawn, the study of behavior must exceed them to establish a science. It must transcend the immediate momentary observation to impose or discover coherence in its subject matter.

Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a development psychologist working on child development theories and education. His main works are Psychology of Art (1925) and Thought and Language (1934). In contrast with other important early Soviet psychologists, who had either physiological or philosophical backgrounds, Vygotsky was initially a literary critic and school teacher. His psychological theory was apparently much influenced by his analysis of Hamlet, the subject of his master’s thesis in 1916, and his study of linguistic philosophers such as Mikhail Bakhtin. Vygostky graduated Moscow University in 1917 and worked at the Institute of Psychology in Moscow. Vygotsky placed emphasis on the internalization of signs as psychological tools that made it possible for the developing human being to operate within, and be part of, the cultural context than on early practical infant activity insofar as psychological development is concerned.

His main theories are mediation and internalization, philosophy of science and methodology of research, high mental functions and zone of proximal development. Vygotsky proposed that the theoretical and empirical contents–that is, the conceptual and factual material–and the means of the organization and study of that material, all of which constituted the “corpus” of psychology, be differentiated. The means was the scientific method itself, which, at that time, was considered to be dialectics in its Hegelian variation that Marx had “put back on its feet from standing on its head” (Oakley 16). His view of signs as indirect stimuli interposed between stimuli and responses, in the classic behavioristic models, however, added nothing to the understanding of the problem. The most serious deficiency in Vygotsky’s theory, in my opinion, is his failure to explain how signs relate to “lower natural psychic” functions (Oakley 19). The cultural and historical conception was the attempt to study experimentally the changes in the psyche influenced by historical changes in culture (using the central Asian region) ended in failure again, due to ideological criticism.

Vygotsky, during the 1920s, focused his efforts on the so-called higher psychic functions, including thought, speech, selective attention, concept formation, and logical memory. It is clear that he was little concerned with investigating the nature and role of feelings and will, both of which are also higher psychic phenomena. He also was not concerned with lower psychic processes. These concepts allow educators to analyze behavior of children and their motives, and, as the most important, develop unique strategies and tools to guide and teach children. Vygotsky’s theory offers insights into the psychological development of individuals by stressing the basic role played by signs in the ontogenetic self-mastering of “natural psychic processes” (Stassen 7). His theories and methods allow childhood educators to understand development processes and stages of development. Humans require another kind of mental development: historical developmental laws. The tool, according to Karl Marx, offered the rational means to go beyond animal instinct; it expressed a human relation of activity to object. The concepts sign, activity, and communication are crucial for educators because they help to find an individualistic approach to every child and understand his inner self. Development is best viewed as a personality system consisting of the intellectual, emotional-sensual, and volitional traits of character. These theories allow educators view children as social beings and society as a system of personalities.

Works Cited

Hetherington, E.M., Parke, R.D., Gauvain, M., Locke, V. Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2005.

Oakley, L. Cognitive Development. Routledge, 2004.

Stassen, K. The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence. 2002.

Slater, L. Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century. W W Norton & Co Ltd; Auflage, 2004.

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