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John Watson and Behaviorism

Psychology is one of the social sciences that plays a critical role in the study and analysis of human behavior in the society. As a result, different theories have been developed to assist researchers to examine how people behave in the society, what influences their behaviors and how these behaviors contribute to peace and harmonious living in the society. Therefore, there have been different theorists who have developed theories in their fields of study of people’s behaviors and the society as a whole. Among the theories that have been developed that extensively cover the way people behave in the society is behaviorism.

Behaviorism can be described as the study of observable behavior in the society. This theory is based on the fact that every action that is depicted in organisms is a behavior. The proponents of this school of thought believe in the fact that for every psychological conduct that is presented in the society, it must be accompanied by behaviors as concrete evidence that such psychological phenomena exists. This school of thought also reiterates that behaviors originate from the outside environment rather that from within a person. Among the theorists of this school of thought is John Watson. He is one of the influential proponents of behavioral psychology. He is credited to be one of the developers of the behaviorist theory (Schultz & Sydney, 2008).

The theory of behaviorism has an origin from the fact that Dr. John Watson disputed former theories that existed during his time that explained the behavior of humans in the society. Therefore, Watson argued that there was need for physical or tangible evidence of people’s behavior to be presented as a support of the position of any particular theory for it to be valid. Therefore, arguing against the existing theories that there were better ways of analyzing and explaining particular behavior in the society, John Watson was able to emerge with the theory of behaviorism. After studying and analyzing the behavior of animals, he chose to use these findings to study the behavior of human beings. In this regard, Watson proposed that it was easy to control the lives of people; how they acted, how they behaved in the society, how to stop certain behavior in the society, etc. Among the greatest contributors and inspirers of Watson is Ivan Pavlov who studied animal behavior when subjected to certain environments. After the development of this theory by Watson, B.F. Skinner contributed by analyzing its credibility through testing of the assumptions that had been made by Watson in the laboratory (Greenwood, 2008, p.104-109).

The researchers that were there during the time of Watson and those that came before him had relied heavily on the mental approach to behaviors in both humans and animals. The theorists and their theories before Watson relied heavily on arguments that human behavior was controlled much by their conscious or sub conscious part. For example, Watson argued that the problem that many theorists had that derailed the study of human behavior was the utilization of methods that were considered to be ancient to him such as introspection that had been used centuries ago when research in psychological field was not well developed. Therefore, he believed that with a change in mindset, and a look at a new approach to studying human behavior could go a long way in bringing change in this field and unearthing truth about the behavior of human beings that had not be experienced in the past (Greenwood, 2008, p.108-113).

Different theorists and researchers of the past possessed different methods of approach to their work, which served as a distinguishing mark from the work of other theorists in the same field. As a result, Watson is not an exceptional. There are various similarities and differences that have been detected in his work in regard to work of other theorists that came before or after him. For example, a critical analysis of Watson’s work and that of structuralists embrace a common approach to their field of study. The structuralism school of thought reiterated that an individual comes after the society. Therefore, a society must be there before an individual. This form of approach is similar to what is used by Watson in the sense that issues were approached from without rather than from within. While other people can argue that a society is formed after individuals have been formed, to the structuralists, this is not the case. In Watson approach, there is an element of without rather within when he argues that people’s behaviors are as a result of external environment rather than internal environment. Therefore, both schools begin arguing their point from an outside world before narrowing down to the individual (Schultz & Sydney, 2008).

There is also a similarity between the modes of approach used by Watson’s behaviorism and functionalism. It is important to note that both schools of thought agree that man is a form of a machine. While Watson proposed that men functioned as machines that had been programmed to adapt to their environment and this was reflected in their behaviors and had no freedom of their own when exposed to certain environments. The advocates of functionalism also reiterate that the mind of people is a form of a machine that operated based on the input that was available to them. For example, functionalists asserts that when the mind of a person was prepared to produce A as the output and it received B as the main input, it will shift its production capabilities and produce AB as the output instead of A since it received an input that is not an ingredient of A (Brown, 2009).  

There are also differences that are depicted in the work of Watson as compared to other theorists that have existed, either before his theory. The role of the mind in determining the behaviors that were portrayed in human beings was a point of contention among these schools of thought. To Watson and his school of thought, the mind had no place in determining people’s behavior. Instead, the environment in which one lived played a very big role in laying the foundation of how people would behave when subjected to it.  This point of view was particularly strengthened after the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, who carried out experiments on animals and their behaviors when conditioned in particular surroundings. On the other hand, a school of thought such as phenomenology approaches issues in the life of humans from a personal experience perspective which relies on what a person is able to perceive in his mind by examining certain situation. Therefore, the mind of a person plays a critical role in this theory more than the environment in which one is living (Schultz & Sydney, 2008).  

The importance of any theory in the society is not defined by the structure of its definition but rather by its contribution to defining and explaining how human life functions and how it can be bettered. The behaviorist theory is not left behind in this particular case. This particular theory has contributed greatly to the enhancement of human life especially in psychology. It is reiterated that once a human being has been able to learn a particular trait in his life, he is also able to unlearn this trait. Therefore, behaviorism has been used extensively in analyzing certain characters in the society and developing mechanisms that can either be used to encourage or discourage people from learning these characters. For example, there are many people today who have been subjected to psychiatry therapy that has enabled them as patients to learn certain traits while shedding off scrupulous characters in their lives. Since behaviorism is manipulative, psychiatrists in most cases use it to control the course of direction that is taken by the lives of their patients (Greenwood, 2008, p.114-119).

This theory has also been found useful in children who have been subjected to certain environment to help them to develop certain skills that would enable them to accomplish certain tasks by following specific careers in their lives. For example, parent induce discipline in their children by spanking them when they begin to develop undesired character in them, this induces fear in these children that is as a result of the pain they experience when spanked because they have done something bad. Similarly, the society in general has used different forms of punishment to reduce cases of indiscipline. For example, there are societies such as the Muslims who stone young people who indulge in premarital sex or chop off limbs of those that are found stealing. As a result, certain characteristics are completely eliminated from their societies (Schultz & Sydney, 2008).

Psychology is one of the fields that have been able to develop in an extensive way due to the number of theorists who have made different contributions to this field. Among them is John Watson with his behaviorist theory that is still being used in the modern world of psychology, nearly a century after it was developed. However, this theory has not been without opponents. There are other theorists who came up with different theories to discredit it. However, while their work is valid to a certain level, the work of John Watson cannot be discredited as baseless due to the contributions it has made to the field of psychology.