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Perspectives of psychology have evolved in the same degree that the field of psychology has evolved over the years. However, theories that form the foundation of psychology have not changed since development. These perspectives contain core values that are relevant in psychology even in the modern world. John Watson, Edward Tolman, and B.F. Skinner developed theories that still form the basis of many schools of thought in psychology (Gray, 2006). These theories contain values that are similar and others that are different. Their perspectives are similar because they focus on behavior as an important topic of study in psychology. These perspectives argue that humans act the way they do because of behavioral aspects (Gray, 2006). However, the approaches differ in discussion of certain aspects of behavior such as behavioral causes and consequences. Watson, Skinner, and Tolman are described as founding fathers in psychology because their theories explicate behavior in humans and animals (Gray, 2006). However, they differ in their detailed description of behavior because they explore the topic from different angles.
The perspective of John B. Watson
The psychological perspective of Watson was developed around knowledge that he acquired from James Angell and Henry Donaldson. He combined the knowledge he had attained from the two psychologists and developed his own theories on behavior. People referred to his theories as “behaviorism” (Hayes, 2001). In later years, Watson gained acknowledgement as the founder of behaviorism. Behaviorism is founded on the belief that all actions exhibited by organisms are behaviors. According to Watson’s theory, behavior was a response to some stimuli either internal or external (Hayes, 2001). His theory is also known as classical conditioning. He formulated two terms, “stimulus,” and “response” that formed the basis of his behaviorism theory (Hayes, 2001). The theory changed how psychologists described and discussed behavior. Watson’s approach to behavior differed with Tolman’s approach significantly. Watson concentrated on the psychology of human beings and animals.
In contrast, Tolman used his thinking to conclude that organisms acted based on their thinking (Hayes, 2001). Behaviorism bases on the assumption that behavior is preceded by other events that include thinking and stimuli. Watson’s aim was to clarify the association between stimuli, response, and consequences of response. Critical aspects of the theory include opposition to mentalistic concepts, absence of individual differences, learning through contiguity, and development of complex behavior through coalescing of invisible reflexes (Jarvis, 2000). Watson’s theory still applies in modern psychology especially in behavior modification. Psychologists use this theory in helping patients to modify behaviors that cause problems and affect their lives negatively. They achieve behavior modification by replacing stimuli that cause problems with that which discourage this problem (Murphy, 1999). The process involves creating new associations between certain stimuli and behaviors such that these new stimuli stimulate new behaviors when they are experienced.
B.F Skinner’s perspective
Similar to Watson, Skinner’s perspective was based on study of behavior and was acknowledged as Radical Behaviorism. According to the theory, behaviors emanate from the environment and have consequences or effects that are expressed externally (Jarvis, 2000). In addition, the theory states that outcomes of behavior recur depending on whether they are positive or negative. The theory accorded great attention to schedule of reinforcement of behavior. As such, the more a behavior is rewarded, the higher the probability that it will be reproduced. On the other hand, lack of reward decreases the probability of reoccurrence of the behavior (Jarvis, 2000).
Reoccurrence of behavior depends on the consequences of the behavior on an individual. Skinner noted that motivation is an important aspect in determining whether a behavior recurs or not. This type of conditioning is referred to as operant conditioning. Skinner rejected the proposition that behavior had internal causes such as emotions and instead laid emphasis on observable behavior rather than development of theories to explain causes of behavior (McIntyre, 2003). This theory is relevant in modern psychology especially in animal training. Operant conditioning applies in animal training to condition animals to certain stimuli. Trainers normally chose a natural behavior and use operant conditioning to transform it into solicited behavior.
For example, operant conditioning is used to train whales to jump out of water in controlled environments (McIntyre, 2003). A behavior is rewarded and as such, the probability of recurrence is increased. The animal repeats the behavior in order to be rewarded. The process is repeated many times and the animal learns and acquires a certain behavior that is considered important through conditioning. For example, a trainer associates a whistle blow with a certain action and whenever the whistle is blown, the animal performs the action associated with a whistle blow (Jarvis, 2000).
Watson and Skinner have a similar viewpoint on behavior even though they differ on certain matters. Watson maintained that study of psychology should focus on studying behavior and desist from referring to mental states in the study of behavior. He believed that mental occurrences were unobservable and as such unviable for scientific study. On the other hand, Skinner rejected Watson’s proposition and argued that mental states were important aspects for psychological analysis of behavior. He believed that even emotions constituted behavior and were viable for scientific study (McIntyre, 2003).
Edward Tolman’s perspective
Tolman was famous for developing the cognitive theory of learning. Through this theory, he explained that learning involved combinations of knowledge and cognition bits regarding the environment. He also developed a theory known as the theory of latent learning. According to this theory, learning can occur without rewards because it mostly happens without awareness (McIntyre, 2003). Considering learning as arising from behaviors, this theory differs with Skinner’s theory significantly. Skinner maintained that behavior recurred depending on the outcome and rewards increased probability of recurrence (McIntyre, 2003). Tolman stated that learning takes place in the absence of human awareness. He differed with Watson and Skinner on behavior because he believed that motive was the reason behind behavior.
In addition, he stated that change in behavior was caused by a shift in the motive behind that behavior (McIntyre, 2003). He also developed chart cognition. Tolman gained acknowledgement as the father of cognitive theory because, apart from studying behavior, he also studied mental processes that took place in the subjects of his studies. Just like Watson, Tolman used other insights to develop and enlarge his theories. His perspective differed from those of Watson and Skinner because he used experiments to illustrate what he meant by his theories (McIntyre, 2003). In contrast, Watson and Skinner used experiments as proof of what their theories stated.
According to Watson, learning was a result of changes in behavior. He put strong emphasis on the importance of considering associations between the environment and behavior in order to understand the process of learning (Murphy, 1999). In contrast, Tolman described learning as a result of cognitive and physical interactions with the environment. He also believed that humans could gain knowledge without being aware of it. Tolman’s theories apply in modern psychology extensively. For example, psychologists used mind mapping to aid patients with memory loss problems to recall certain features within the environment (Murphy, 1999).
Psychological perspectives have undergone evolution in the same degree as the field of psychology has over the years. However, certain theories that form the foundation of psychology have not changed since their development. Examples of these theories include theories developed by Watson, Skinner, and Tolman. Their perspectives are similar because they focused on behavior as important topic of study in psychology. Their perspectives held that humans acted the way they did because of behavioral aspects. However, their approaches differed in their discussion of certain aspects of behavior and their consequences. Watson and Skinner have a similar viewpoint on behavior even though they differ on certain important issues.
Watson maintained that the study of psychology should focus on studying behavior and desist from referring to mental states. Skinner rejected Watson’s proposition and argued that mental states were important aspects for psychological analysis of behavior. Their theories apply in modern psychology. For example, psychologists apply Watson’s theory to help patients to modify destructive behaviors. On the other hand, operant conditioning applies in animal training to condition animals to certain stimuli. They have gained acknowledgement as founding fathers in psychology because their theories explicated behavior in humans and animals. However, they differed in their detailed description of behavior.
Gray, P. (2006). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Hayes, N. (2001). Foundations of Psychology. New York: Cengage learning.
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Jarvis, M. (2000). Theoretical Approaches to Psychology. New York: Routledge.
McIntyre, T. (2003). The History of Behaviorism. Web.
Murphy, G. (1999). An Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology. New York: Routledge.