Behavior Modification and Cognitive Developmental Communities: A Study of Orientations

By Faust, David PhD; Moates, Danny R. PhD | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1987 | Go to article overview

Behavior Modification and Cognitive Developmental Communities: A Study of Orientations


Faust, David PhD, Moates, Danny R. PhD, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


Leading psychologists from the behavior modification and cognitive developmental communities responded to a questionnaire assessing demographic variables and beliefs about a diversity of methodological and theoretical issues. The responses were then subjected to factor analysis. In two of the three major areas covered by the questionnaire, all beliefs loaded strongly and discretely on a single factor that may reflect a fundamental orientation toward science. The communities differed significantly on a scale derived from the factor. The results may appear to confirm only what is already known, but the small absolute difference between the groups on the scale, the heterogeneity within the groups, and the simplicity of the factor solution all raise questions about popular views of behavioral and cognitive psychologists.

Do behavioral and cognitive psychologists really live in separate theoretical worlds? If there are essential differences in viewpoint, what exactly are these differences and how can they best be categorized and described? What variables or factors might account for the contrasts?

Questions about the points of contrast and similarity among research communities in psychology, and between behavioral and cognitive psychologists in particular, have spurred many friendly and not-sofriendly debates among scholars. These questions are of renewed interest in light of the apparent reemergence of cognitive psychology and the tendency of behavioral psychologists to incorporate cognitive constructs more freely into their theories. Unfortunately, there are minimal data with which to anchor or evaluate arguments, and there has been little direct study of research communities in psychology (for exceptions, see Coan, 1968; Kimble, 1984; Krasner & Houts, 1984; Mahoney, 1979). Thus, we attempted to address the questions posed above by studying cognitive and behavioral psychologists directly.

The study of behavioral and cognitive psychologists or, more precisely, the respective subcommunities of behavior modifiers and cognitive developmentalists reported here was part of a larger theoretical and empirical program addressing the development of scientific disciplines. One programmatic aim was to sample the beliefs of various scientific groups on a range of issues, to subject the data to factor analysis, and to compare results to predictions based on a theoretical model. Thus, in order to place the current study in context, it is helpful to review certain features of this theoretical model.

PREMISES OF THE THEORETICAL MODEL

The theoretical model used in the program primarily addresses the cognitive structure and organization of scientific communities and the manner in which structure and organization change as communities evolve toward more mature scientific status. A central postulate is that fundamental or overriding schemes, which are referred to as orientations, play a central role in the construction and selection of scientific beliefs.

As an initial approximation, if one views scientific beliefs as organized hierarchically, then orientations stand at the top of the hierarchy and are dominant in the selection and organization of beliefs. For example, beliefs about general scientific issues, such as questions about the role of analytic versus synthetic study, align with one's overall orientation, as do beliefs about more specific issues, such as questions about preferred methods of measurement. We posit that there are just two basic orientations, that they exist on a continuum, and that the standing of an individual scientist or a community of scientists in relation to this continuum is a central descriptive and functional feature. The two orientations are the stimulus and symbolic orientations, the first characterized by a primary focus on the application of ideas within the world to gauge veridicality and the second by a primary focus on the internal structure of ideas.

Within the stimulus orientation, conformity to expected regularities within the external world (whatever these regularities are believed to be) is the primary criterion for evaluating the truth or merit of ideas. …

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