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Lecture 7

PSYC 215 Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Radical Behaviorism, Relational Frame Theory, Behaviorism


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PSYC 215
Professor
John Lydon
Lecture
7

Page:
of 2
Behaviorists also rejected the method of introspection but criticized functionalism because it was
not based on controlled experiments and its theories provided little predictive ability. B.F.
Skinner was a developer of behaviorism. He did not think that considering how the mind affects
behavior was worthwhile, for he considered behavior simply as a learned response to an external
stimulus. Yet, such behaviorist concepts tend to deny the human capacity for random,
unpredictable, sentient decision-making, further blocking the functionalist concept that human
behavior is an active process driven by the individual. Perhaps, a combination of both the
functionalist and behaviorist perspectives provides scientists with the most empirical value], but,
even so, it remains philosophically (and physiologically) difficult to integrate the two concepts
without raising further questions about human behavior. For instance, consider the
interrelationship between three elements: the human environment, the human autonomic nervous
system (our fight or flight muscle responses), and the human somatic nervous system (our
voluntary muscle control). The behaviorist perspective explains a mixture of both types of
muscle behavior, whereas the functionalist perspective resides mostly in the somatic nervous
system. It can be argued that all behavioral origins begin within the nervous system, prompting
all scientists of human behavior to possess basic physiological understandings, something very
well understood by the functionalist founder William James.
Skinner was influential in defining radical behaviorism, a philosophy codifying the basis of his
school of research (named the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, or EAB.) While EAB differs
from other approaches to behavioral research on numerous methodological and theoretical
points, radical behaviorism departs from methodological behaviorism most notably in accepting
feelings, states of mind and introspection as existent and scientifically treatable. This is done by
identifying them as something non-dualistic, and here Skinner takes a divide-and-conquer
approach, with some instances being identified with bodily conditions or behavior, and others
getting a more extended "analysis" in terms of behavior. However, radical behaviorism stops
short of identifying feelings as causes of behavior. Among other points of difference were a
rejection of the reflex as a model of all behavior and a defense of a science of behavior
complementary to but independent of physiology. Radical behaviorism has considerable overlap
with other western philosophical positions such as American pragmatism. Another way of
looking at behaviorism is through the lens of egoism, which is defined to be a causal analysis of
the elements that define human behavior with a strong social component involved.
This essentially philosophical position gained strength from the success of Skinner's early
experimental work with rats and pigeons, summarized in his books The Behavior of
Organisms and Schedules of Reinforcement. Of particular importance was his concept of the
operant response, of which the canonical example was the rat's lever-press. In contrast with the
idea of a physiological or reflex response, an operant is a class of structurally distinct but
functionally equivalent responses. For example, while a rat might press a lever with its left paw
or its right paw or its tail, all of these responses operate on the world in the same way and have a
common consequence. Operants are often thought of as species of responses, where the
individuals differ but the class coheres in its function-shared consequences with operants and
reproductive success with species. This is a clear distinction between Skinner's theory and SR
theory.
Skinner's empirical work expanded on earlier research on trial-and-error learning by researchers
such as Thorndike and Guthrie with both conceptual reformulationsThorndike's notion of a
stimulusresponse "association" or "connection" was abandoned; and methodological onesthe
use of the "free operant," so called because the animal was now permitted to respond at its own
rate rather than in a series of trials determined by the experimenter procedures. With this method,
Skinner carried out substantial experimental work on the effects of different schedules and rates
of reinforcement on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons. He achieved
remarkable success in training animals to perform unexpected responses, to emit large numbers
of responses, and to demonstrate many empirical regularities at the purely behavioral level. This
lent some credibility to his conceptual analysis. It is largely his conceptual analysis that made his
work much more rigorous than his peers', a point which can be seen clearly in his seminal
work Are Theories of Learning Necessary? in which he criticizes what he viewed to be
theoretical weaknesses then common in the study of psychology. An important descendant of the
experimental analysis of behavior is the Society for Quantitative Analysis of Behavior.
Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a
science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with Verbal Behavior and other
language-related publications; Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional
analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky. Skinner
did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas, and the
disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed. In
addition; innate theory is opposed to behaviorist theory which claims that language is a set of
habits that can be acquired by means of conditioning. According to some, this process that the
behaviorists define is a very slow and gentle process to explain a phenomenon as complicated as
language learning. What was important for a behaviorist's analysis of human behavior was
not language acquisition so much as the interaction between language and overt behavior. In an
essay republished in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement, Skinner took the view that
humans could construct linguistic stimuli that would then acquire control over their behavior in
the same way that external stimuli could. The possibility of such "instructional control" over
behavior meant that contingencies of reinforcement would not always produce the same effects
on human behavior as they reliably do in other animals. The focus of a radical behaviorist
analysis of human behavior therefore shifted to an attempt to understand the interaction between
instructional control and contingency control, and also to understand the behavioral processes
that determine what instructions are constructed and what control they acquire over behavior.
Recently, a new line of behavioral research on language was started under the name of Relational
Frame Theory.