Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology

Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology

Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology

Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology


Behaviorism has been the dominant force in the creation of modern American psychology. However, the unquestioned and unquestioning nature of this dominance has obfuscated the complexity of behaviorism.

Control serves as an antidote to this historical myopia, providing the most comprehensive history of behaviorism yet written. Mills successfully balances the investigation of individual theorists and their contributions with analysis of the structures of assumption which underlie all behaviorist psychology, and with behaviorism's role as both creator and creature of larger American intellectual patterns, practices, and values.

Furthermore, Mills provides a cogent critique of behaviorists' narrow attitudes toward human motivation, exploring how their positivism cripples their ability to account for the unobservable, inner factors that control behavior. Control 's blend of history and criticism advances our understanding not only of behaviorism, but also the development of social science and positivism in twentieth-century America.


Historians agree that behaviorism was the dominant force in the creation of modern American psychology. Now that psychology has returned to the eclecticism of its earlier years, we can analyze behaviorism's role in American psychology. Yet scholars of behaviorism stand face to face with a paradox. It would appear that we know everything we could possibly want to know about behaviorism, but behaviorism and its role in psychology remain mysterious and enigmatic. We know everything about behaviorism because behaviorists themselves have written numerous accounts of behaviorism in general as well as of various specific aspects of it, because we have a surfeit of secondary accounts of behaviorism and of behaviorist theories, and because we have volumes of critical writing on behaviorism. Even so, behaviorism remains an enigma because its dominance in American psychology blocks our efforts to understand its role and its nature. American psychologists (and many outside the United States or Canada, especially in the English-speaking world) are trained to think behavioristically from their earliest undergraduate years, usually without being made aware, or realizing, that this is the case. A truly committed and highly trained American psychologist who strives to articulate the fundamental elements of his or her research practices will state a set of behaviorist propositions because it is the academic culture of behaviorism that will dictate the seemingly self-evident basis of the psychological enterprise.

Any American psychologist who searches for understanding in a comparison of psychology with other social sciences will have great difficulty in reaching nonbehaviorist territory. Behaviorism was the soil nourishing early American social science. In the late nineteenth . . .

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