Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #363
Roots of the Behavioral Approach to Developmental Studies
Monday, May 29, 2006
1:30 PM–2:50 PM
Area: DEV; Domain: Theory
Chair: Jacob L. Gewirtz (Florida International University)
Discussant: Jacob L. Gewirtz (Florida International University)
Abstract: Reflections and recommendations on how ‘the good society’ (sometimes termed ‘utopia’) may be achieved have a long history, extending across some two and a half millennia from Plato to Thomas Moore (who invented the word ‘utopia’) to Karl Marx and, of course, to B.F. Skinner whose speculations on this topic in ‘Walden Two’ and his abiding interest in utopias is well-known to this audience. Although some of the pre-behaviorist ideas have emphasized the importance of child-rearing practices for achieving the good society, this emphasis came on to its own with the emergence of the behaviorist tradition. This symposium considers the roots of the behavioral research and theory on developmental phenomena, beginning from the contributions of John B. Watson, and the significant effects of that tradition broadly on the contemporary field of Developmental Research.
Developmental Research and Early Hopes for the Good Society.
PETER HARZEM (Auburn University)
Abstract: Reflections and recommendations on how ‘the good society’ (sometimes termed ‘utopia’) may be achieved have a long history. It extends across some two and a half millennia, extending from Plato to Thomas Moore (who invented the word ‘utopia’) to Karl Marx and, of course, to B.F. Skinner, in the work well-known to this audience. Even the notion that the scientific method may help in achieving such a society dates back to 17th century when Thomas Hobbes, impressed by the work of Galileo, speculated that the same scientific methods may also be used to research human nature so as to build the good society. He did not, however, find a way to use those methods; that had to wait until early 20th century, coming to a peak in the work of John B. Watson. This paper briefly considers, against the context of this rich literature, Watson’s views on the scientific and social significance of discovering sound methods for child-rearing for building the good society and his experimental research into child behavior.
Watson on Emotions and Emotional Development.
HAYNE W. REESE (West Virginia University (Emeritus))
Abstract: A book reviewer said in a recent issue of Science that emotion was a topic that was nearly taboo during behaviorism’s dominance. This is unnervingly silly, because actually not only Watson but also other behaviorists, early and modern, wrote about and studied emotions. I give examples but focus on Watson. Watson is sometimes said to have theorized that three emotions are basic--fear, rage, and love but this was not a theory, it was a conclusion based on research showing that these emotions are present in human newborns and are aroused by narrow ranges of stimuli. Watson and Rayner demonstrated that previously unfeared stimuli can arouse fear in an infant as a result of conditioning and generalization, and Watson theorized that conditioning and generalization account not only for the development of fears and phobias in infancy but also for all emotional development throughout life. This theory and his social philosophy led him to recommend child-rearing practices (I give examples), some that are consistent with modern recommendations, but others that seemed then and still seem outré. I argue that all of them were based on good evidence, a reasonable theory, and a humanitarian philosophy.
The Transmogrification of John B. Watson.
LEWIS P. LIPSITT (Brown University)
Abstract: John B. Watson is widely noted and justifiably celebrated as the psychologist who did most to bring Pavlovian psychology, the notion that complex behaviors in all animals and humans are based upon simpler mechanisms and processes of behavior and learning, to America. He put forth, in both the scientific and popular literatures, a model for understanding development in terms of the accrual, based upon experience, of ever more socialized behavior from easily elicited reflexive behavior and the delivery of reinforcement. In his theoretical discussions and his presentations of the paradigm, Watson followed the classical conditioning model quite closely. In his demonstrations of the efficacy of learning techniques with children, however, his own behavior as an experimenter was Skinnerian. Closer attention should be paid to the historic importance of Watson as a bridge person from Pavlov to Skinner, whom we know to have read Watson carefully, and admired him. Watson's real life paradigms for learning and development were essentially of an operant conditioning nature. Had Watson's career in Psychology not been abruptly sidetracked, he might have come to the notion that there are two basic styles of conditioning and learning.



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