Account to gain psychology its scientific credibility,

for the rise and decline of behaviourism within psychology and critically
assess the legacy of this movement.

            Behaviourism emerged in the
early 20th century creating a radical shift in psychological
paradigms (Harré, 2006). They proposed advanced idea’s supported by vigorous
scientific testing, making them highly significant and influential within the
discipline. Thus, they are only concerned with observable phenomena of behaviour
that can be measured systematically and objectively (Green, 2002). Behaviourists claim all
behaviour is learnt through interactions and experiences with the environment on
the basis of stimulus-response learning. Before this emergence the existence of
experimentalist psychology was predominant, discussed by key historical figures
such as Wundt. Following the behaviourist paradigm was the cognitive revolution,
that aided overthrow of the approach.

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During the late 19th century evolutionary
thought arose yielding “images of human nature consistent with and reflecting
life in the new industrial-scientific cultures” (Richards, 2010). Darwin believed the
attention of psychological research should be towards nativist, instinctive
explanations, helping to advance the functionalist approach that argues
psychological phenomenon can be justified by recognising its survival value for
the organism. Evolutionary thought was underemphasised by earlier disciplinary
historians in the role it had in gaining psychology status along with the
natural sciences. Instead, they emphasised experimentalist psychology which was
viewed as the study of consciousness (Richards, 2010).

Early experimentalists, such as Wundt, developed
the idea of introspection as the predominant technique to study consciousness
within the structuralist movement (Boring, 1961).  Introspection is the examination of one’s own
conscious mental states, which Wundt believed could be studied scientifically (Richards, 2010). Wundt is often considered
as the founding father of psychology, as his laboratory in Leipzig 1879 was the
first to be dedicated to psychology. He helped to gain psychology its
scientific credibility, although his methods proved to be inadequate.

James was the leader of the psychological
movement of functionalism that was influenced by evolutionary thought. However,
unlike Darwinists he stressed the importance of the individual over the
survival of species (Taylor, 2011). According to James
consciousness helps people adapt to their environment. He believed the
appropriate way to understand this was to study how the mind works, rather than
studying elements of the mind (Richards, 2010).  Alongside Wundt, James was a key figure in the
advancement of psychology in the 19th century and they were
accredited for the scientific significance of their work.

However, both structuralism and functionalism’s
practical value was questioned concerning the reliability of their methods and
the disagreement between the two. Introspective methods were not often
replicable in other laboratory studies concerning different participants. Thus,
a paradigmatic shift was necessary to overcome the limitations of
experimentalism, moving the focus away from studying the mind to studying
behaviour (Moore, 2011).   

Watson was the first psychologist to bring about
the behaviourist paradigm in the early 20th century. He argued that
due to the mistaken notion that fields of facts are conscious phenomena that
can be investigated using introspection only, human psychology had failed to
join the field of the natural sciences. Behaviourism views psychology as a “purely
objective, experimental branch of natural science”, centred around providing
the basis for prediction and control of behaviour (Watson, 1913). Much of Watson’s research concerned
the study of animal behaviour. In his eyes, this was a suitable way to systematically
study behaviour, as he famously claims “the behaviourist…recognizes no dividing
line between man and brute.” Thus, he saw no place for the use of introspection
within psychology due to the ability to investigate all animals and organisms
without having access to their mental consciousness. In 1920 Watson and Rayner conducted
the experiment of Little Albert. Within laboratory settings, they successfully
conditioned 11-month-old Albert to construct a phobia of furry objects, such as
rats, by pairing the presentation of various furry objects with a loud bang (Beck, Levinson, & Irons, 2009). The phobia was created
through the provision classical conditioning, a theory introduced by Pavlov. The
novel idea of behaviourism coined by Watson soon became a point of
philosophical, psychological and public discussion, later developed by Skinner
and Pavlov (Schneider & Morris, 1987)

Skinner developed Watson’s claims regarding the
behaviourist movement. Unlike Watson who believed the denial of consciousness
was a fundamental feature of psychological study, he extended the realm of
behaviour to include private experiences, thoughts and feelings. Yet, the logic
of conditioning still applied to private behaviour (Harré, 2006). Skinner was the founder of operant conditioning. This
is the explanation that behaviour is followed by a consequence and the nature
of the consequence, whether it be positive or negative, alters the individual’s
tendency to repeat the behaviour in the future (B.F. Skinner, 1971).  Famously, the experiment known as Skinner’s
Box demonstrated how operant conditioning proved successful in rats. They were
placed in a cage where the act of pressing a lever resulted in either positive
reinforcement in the form of a food pellet, or negative reinforcement by
turning off an electric shock. The rats quickly learnt the two outcomes and
became conditioned into continually pressing the lever. Skinner concluded that
behaviour followed by reinforcement is more likely to be repeated in the future
(Skinner, 1990).

Alongside Watson and Skinner in the 20th
century, Pavlov contributed ground-breaking discoveries. Research he had
conducted in the late 19th century had only just been translated
into English in the 1920’s, hence the realisation of the significance of his
findings in the 20th century. He introduced the idea of a
conditioned reflex, extending the domain of neurophysiology to cover unnatural
responses. Pavlov argued organisms with complex nervous systems exhibit a
variety of responses specific to the nature of the environmental conditions
perceived, which are natural reflexes. However, conditioned reflexes also arise
in higher animals and man, as a range of stimuli will stimulate any given
response which may be different from what is naturally evoked. This can be
explained through conditioning (Harré, 2006). Pavlov put forth the theory of learning through
association known as classical conditioning. He famously tested his theory out
on dogs and concluded that “if the intake of food takes place simultaneously
with the action of a neutral stimulus which has hitherto been in no way related
to food, the neutral stimulus readily acquires the property of eliciting the
same reaction in the animal as would food itself” (Pavlov, 2012). He successfully conditioned
the dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by continually pairing it with
food, thus a learnt association was made between the unconditioned response and
the neutral stimulus.  Salivation became
the conditioned reflex.

By the mid 20th century the
behaviourist paradigm was well established. Both Skinner and Pavlov’s
behavioural research was concerned with experimental methods investigating the
effects of independent variables on dependant variables, within controlled
laboratory settings. Radical behaviourists denied the existence of free will
arguing everyone is born tabula rasa and are determined entirely by their
environment through stimulus-response learning. This reductionist approach
provoked critique amongst the discipline, allowing for alternative theories to
gain recognition and popularity from the psychological community.

(Chomsky, 1967) offered a critique of the
behaviourist approach, and in particular Skinner’s stance on verbal behaviour.
He argued that higher mental functions, such as language use, are more complex
than the instinctive behaviours often studied in behaviourist experiments and
cannot be explained simply by stimulus-response learning. Thus, the results of
these experiments may not be easily generalisable to justifying higher-level behaviours.
Chomsky therefore believed that different types of information processing, such
as language and speech, should be identified and studied independently, rather
than searching for general principles.

In the mid 20th century along with
the development of the first electronic computers, the cognitive revolution
emerged, spurring the decline of behaviourism. Cognitive psychologists saw a
flaw in the behaviourist model and attempted to restore the study of mental
life, which was previously dismissed by them. Psychology shifted away from purely
studying behaviour to exploring the mind and the cognitive processes within (Watrin & Darwich, 2012).  Mental processes of thinking transformed from
sensory input including problem-solving, perception, remembering and reasoning
were the main focus of cognitive psychology. The mind was often likened to a
computer, explained through theoretical computer models of how sensory input
resulted in behavioural output. Bruner led the research into cognition and
developed hypotheses about unobservable cognitive processes (Harré, 2006). His critical studies were called the Judas Eye
experiments, aimed at investigating the feasibility of a fundamental principle
“that the world looked different depending how you thought about it” (Bruner & Watson, 1983). They established the place
of cognitive schemata, sets of information used to manage current knowledge and
lay the foundations for future understanding. In the late 20th
century came the emergence of cognitive neuroscience, a way of studying the
influence of brain structures on mental processes. Advances in brain imaging
techniques, such as PET and fMRI scans, allowed cognitive psychologists to
objectively and scientifically study the neurological basis of mental processes
such as memory (Milner, Squire, & Kandel, 1998). By the 1990’s cognitivism
was dominating psychology in almost all areas of study. By introducing new
rigorous methods of study, the attention of the general public was swayed towards
the new, exciting discoveries of cognitive psychology and away from behavioural
animal studies that are central in behaviourism (Roediger, 2004).

Although there was a lot of criticism towards
behaviourism, suggesting the decline and possible death of it, there is still
controversy on this topic. Arguably, behaviourism is currently alive and well
in contemporary psychology, and their legacy is still hugely influential in areas
such as psychopathology (Roediger, 2004).  For example, in the 1950’s Wolpe developed the
behavioural therapy of systematic desensitisation based on the principles of
classical conditioning. The therapy intends to eliminate the fear response of a
phobia, and substitute a relaxation response to the conditioned stimulus progressively
using counter conditioning. The patient is taught deep muscle relaxation
techniques and breathing exercises, an important step toward successful
reciprocal inhibition. This is when an anxiety response is inhibited because it
is incompatible with a relaxed response. Patients are gradually exposed to a
phobic stimulus progressing up their fear hierarchy, each stage provoking
higher levels of anxiety as the treatment persists. Once the stimulus fails to
arouse a feared response the therapy has been successfully applied to the
patient (Wolpe, 1968).  There is substantial empirical evidence demonstrating
the success of systematic desensitisation. For example, Lang et al treated a
group of students who were suffering from a phobia of snakes with the technique
of systematic desensitisation. Lower fear ratings were reported after undergoing
11 sessions, working through their hierarchy (Lang & Lazovik, 1963).  

A further practical application, founded on the
legacy of behaviourism, was the use of token economy systems. Often used in
psychiatric wards or prisons, desirable behaviours are reinforced with tokens
that can be later exchanged for rewards. Tokens are the secondary reinforces
and may be in the form of fake money, stickers or buttons. Whereas the rewards are
the primary reinforces and can range from privileges, activities or snacks (McLeod, 2015). For example, (Meichenbaum, Bowers, & Ross, 1968) found when investigating institutionalised
female adolescent offenders classroom behaviours, a token economy system proved
successful in improving their behaviour. Such empirical evidence supporting the
practical application of behaviourist theories enforces the extent to which an
influential legacy still remains within current psychological study.

To conclude, the emergence of behaviourism aided
a critical historical function for psychology in moving it methodically into
the domain of the natural sciences. Behaviourist psychologists asserted methods
of study comparable to scientists and insisted it was appropriate for all
psychologists to adopt. The theoretical consequence of this was “an abandonment
of concern with many genuinely profound philosophical and theoretical questions
about psychology’s status and nature that had previously preoccupied the
discipline” (Richards, 2010, p.75). Behaviourism dominated psychology
from 1913 to the early 1950’s until rivalrous doctrines emerged. Many were
unsatisfied with behaviourist reductionist explanations, thus the cognitive
revolution was favoured in its methods of explaining complex behaviours, inducing
the decline of behaviourism. However, behaviourist contributions remain hugely
influential in psychological practice. Aspects of behaviourism are continued in
a less rigid fashion in helping treat and explain higher-level behaviour.