Out with the Old, in with the New ... or So We Should Believe: A Review of J. E. R. Staddon's the New Behaviorism, Second Edition

By Amd, Micah | The Psychological Record, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Out with the Old, in with the New ... or So We Should Believe: A Review of J. E. R. Staddon's the New Behaviorism, Second Edition


Amd, Micah, The Psychological Record


Staddon, J, The new behaviorism. London: Psychology Press: Taylor & Francis Group, 2014. 2nd ed., pp. 282. ISBN-13: 978-1848726888

By invoking his approach to the science of behavior as the new behaviorism, John Staddon dismisses the large variety of "behaviorisms" that have emerged over the past quarter century. Indeed, among the numerous options available for the modern behaviorist, such as biological behaviorism (Timberlake 1999), functional contextualism (Gifford and Hayes 1999), and logical behaviorism (Kitchener 1999), to name just a few (for a comprehensive review, see O'Donohue and Kitchener 1999), Staddon only acknowledges Rachlin's (2014) teleological approach, and even that quite briefly. Despite neglecting the work of so many of his contemporaries, Staddon's extensive contributions to both radical behaviorism (Staddon 1993) and the experimental analysis of behavior (Staddon and Cerutti 2003) warrants the attention of behavioral scientists of all stripes. The present review aims to focus on those features Staddon considers essential for TB while omitting mention of aspects already discussed in reviews of the first edition (Baum 2004; Zuriff 2001). I begin the present review by summarizing the contents of the second edition of The New Behaviorism in the section below.

Overview

Staddon's book comprises of four parts. Part One provides a history of behaviorism, from Watson's declaration of "behaviorism" as a natural science to the thoroughgoing approach advanced by B. F. Skinner (for details regarding Skinner's approach, see Schneider and Morris 1987). Staddon's commentary on events that have shaped contemporary behavioristic thought is well worth reading for those unfamiliar with the rich history of the field. For those who have read the previous edition, however, there have not been any significant additions in the first part worth noting. As sufficient treatment of this section has been provided in previous reviews (Baum 2004; Zuriff 2001), Part One will not be discussed further. It is worth noting that among the behavioral pioneers highlighted in Part One, Staddon appears least critical towards the work of Clark Hull, a matter to which I shall later return.

No review of the intellectual heritage of behaviorism would be complete without acknowledging its most recognized proponent, B. F. Skinner, to whom Staddon dedicates the second part of his book. In Part Two, the author provides a critical review of the successes, philosophy, and failures of Skinner's radical behaviorism, particularly regarding the insulation of radical behaviorism from mainstream psychology (cf. Skinner 1993). Staddon's criticism of the Skinnerian approach is not new (Staddon 1973), and has been extensively addressed by others previously (Baum 2004; Zuriff 2001). Consequently, it will not be discussed further in the present review.

In Part Three, Staddon lays the foundation of his theoretical behaviorism, which has been significantly expanded upon since the first edition. Part Three argues that behavioral scientists need to develop parsimonious models that explain behavior in real time, inferring internal states when necessary to account for functionally equivalent histories (more on 'internal states' later). A primary goal of the current review is to summarize Part Three for behavioral scientists interested in mechanisms and theory but otherwise constrained by antitheoretical philosophical frameworks, as well as for those who may be interested in Staddon's message were it not so critical of radical behaviorism (p. 3).

The fourth and final part of the book is an informative, if somewhat unrelated, addition to the current edition inspired by reviews of the first edition (Zuriff 2001). Part Four provides commentary about some of the troubles facing American health-care, education and legal systems. Although this part could have been a separate text altogether, as the relationship with TB is unclear, it nevertheless constitutes as a significant addition to the present edition and will be discussed in the second half of the present review. …

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