PSYC 1010 Study Guide - Final Guide: American Psychologist, Universal Grammar, Behaviorism
Course CodePSYC 1010
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Skinner’s School of thought
B. F. Skinner was an American psychologist best-known for his influence on behaviorism, which was a
theory that emphasized the study of overt behavior as the subject matter of scientific psychology. One
of B.F Skinner’s opinions was that language was a behavior learned through the environment. He
believed that learning a language is the same as learning any other behavior and that children are
shaped by outside forces (like the environment, their parents and surroundings) to learn how to speak.
This differed from Chomsky's theory of language which was centered on the idea that language is
innate, meaning that a person has a pre-existing mechanism in their brains that allows for language
processing to occur and that this mechanism is later triggered by the surrounding environment. He
called this concept universal grammar. His views were primarily based on a cognitive perspective which
contradicted Skinner’s idea that behavior is continuous reinforcement that leads to language
acquisition. While I do believe that the human brain has great and untapped potential, I agree more
with Skinner that behavior is developed and created overtime. My view stems from a constructionist
perspective that our society and environment shapes our understanding of the world and our views. I
also believe that communication and language are very different. While the brain has the ability to learn
different languages, we can still communicate to others without using words. From what I have seen,
young children who have not yet learned to speak can still communicate their needs to others by
pointing, crying, etc. It is only when adults teach infants how to form their intentions into words that a
child learns to speak. This learning has to be continually reinforced by adults so that the language that
children are learning to speak can be remembered and developed over time. When the child is exposed
to the world they connect what they have learned to their surroundings which can help deepen their
understanding of the language. Take the case of Genie, a child who was a victim of severe abuse,
neglect, and social isolation. Since she was kept socially isolated, she had never learned how to speak.
According to Chomsky’s theory, the mechanism in her brain could be triggered by the environment, but
it took a long time after she was rescued to learn some basic verbal skills. I believe that this learning was
only due to the fact that those who helped her constantly encouraged her to form words and
communicate with others.
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