behaviorism, school of psychology which seeks to explain animal and human behavior entirely in terms of observable and measurable responses to environmental stimuli. Behaviorism was introduced (1913) by the American psychologist John B. Watson, who insisted that behavior is a physiological reaction to environmental stimuli. He rejected the exploration of mental processes as unscientific. The conditioned-reflex experiments of the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and the American psychologist Edward Thorndike were central to the development of behaviorism. The American behaviorist B. F. Skinner contended that all but a few emotions were conditioned by habit, and could be learned or unlearned. The therapeutic system of behavior modification has emerged from behaviorist theory. Therapy intends to shape behavior through a variety of processes known as conditioning. Popular techniques include systematic desensitization, generally used on clients suffering from anxiety or fear of an object or situation, and aversive conditioning, employed in cases where a client wishes to be broken of an unhealthy habit (such as smoking or drug abuse). Other behavior therapies include systems of rewards or punishments, and modeling, in which the client views situations in which healthy behaviors are shown to lead to rewards.

See B. F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (1965); J. B. Watson, Behaviorism (1930, repr. 1970); J. O'Donell, Origins of Behaviorism (1986); K. W. Buckley, Mechanical Man: John B. Watson and the Beginning of Behaviorism (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Moore, J.
The Psychological Record, Vol. 61, No. 3, Summer 2011
Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction
G. E. Zuriff.
Columbia University Press, 1985
FREE! Psychology: From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist
John B. Watson.
J. B. Lippincott, 1919
Librarian’s tip: This book is by John B. Waton, who is considered to be the founder of behaviorism
Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology
John A. Mills.
New York University Press, 1998
Modern Perspectives on B. F. Skinner and Contemporary Behaviorism
James T. Todd; Edward K. Morris.
Greenwood Press, 1995
Some Myths about Behaviorism That Are Undone in B.F. Skinner's "The Design of Cultures"
Wyatt, W. Joseph.
Behavior and Social Issues, Vol. 11, No. 1, Fall 2001
Behaviorism, Neobehaviorism, and Cognitivism in Learning Theory: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
Abram Amsel.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1989
Psychological Behaviorism: A Path to the Grand Reunification of Psychology and Behavior Analysis?
Holth, Per.
The Behavior Analyst Today, Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 2003
Toward a New Behaviorism: The Case against Perceptual Reductionism
William R. Uttal.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
What Have Behaviorists Accomplished - and What More Can They Do?
Kunkel, John H.
The Psychological Record, Vol. 46, No. 1, Winter 1996
The War between Mentalism and Behaviorism: On the Accessibility of Mental Processes
William R. Uttal.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Psychology and 'Human Nature'
Peter Ashworth.
Psychology Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "...Not Separable from the World: Skinner's Radical Behaviourism"
Behavioral Science as the Art of the 21st Century Philosophical Similarities between B.F. Skinner's Radical Behaviorism and Postmodern Science
Cautilli, Joseph; Rosenwasser, Beth; Hantula, Don.
The Behavior Analyst Today, Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring 2003
The Oxford Companion to the Mind
Richard L. Gregory; O. L. Zangwill.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Behaviourism" begins on p. 71
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