Methodological Behaviorism as a Radical Behaviorist Views It

By Moore, J. | Behavior and Philosophy (Online), January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Methodological Behaviorism as a Radical Behaviorist Views It


Moore, J., Behavior and Philosophy (Online)


Methodological Behaviorism as a Radical Behaviorist Views It

Skinner (1964) opened one of his canonical articles with the following paragraph:

Behaviorism, with an accent on the last syllable, is not the scientific study of behavior but a philosophy of science concerned with the subject matter and methods of psychology. If psychology is a science of mental life-of the mind, of conscious experience-then it must develop and defend a special methodology, which it has not yet done successfully. If it is, on the other hand, a science of the behavior of organisms, human or otherwise, then it is part of biology, a natural science for which tested and highly successful methods are available. The basic issue is not the nature of the stuff of which the world is made or whether it is made of one stuff or two but rather the dimensions of the things studied by psychology and the methods relevant to them. (p. 79)

Over the years, the literature of psychology has seen numerous discussions and analyses of the subject matter and methods of psychology, starting with Watson's (1913) classic article on S-R behaviorism and extending to the present (see Moore, 2008). Many of these discussions and analyses distinguish behaviorism from other viewpoints in psychology such as humanism, psychoanalysis, and especially cognitive science, as if behaviorism was a single homogeneous point of view. Moore (2008) has suggested otherwise: There are different forms of behaviorism, including some forms to which applying the label behaviorism is questionable.

The aim of the present review is to critically examine one of these forms- methodological behaviorism-from the standpoint of another: radical behaviorism. In so doing, we hope to gain a greater understanding of the differences between them, and in a broader sense a greater understanding of scientific epistemology. Radical behaviorists argue that methodological behaviorism began in the first quarter of the 20th century and has been the modal, orthodox orientation that underlies nearly all of psychology since the middle of the 20th century. For instance, in an influential article more than 50 years ago, Bergmann (1956), perhaps the archetypical methodological behaviorist, argued that "Virtually every American psychologist, whether he knows it or not, is nowadays a methodological behaviorist" (p. 270). In later statements reminiscent of Bergmann, George Mandler, a prominent cognitive psychologist, explicitly advocated some form of methodological behaviorism in the following passages:

We [cognitive psychologists] have not returned to the methodologically confused position of the late nineteenth century, which cavalierly confused introspection with theoretical processes and theoretical processes with conscious experience. Rather, many of us have become methodological behaviorists in order to become good cognitive psychologists. (Mandler, 1979, p. 281)

[N]o cognitive psychologist worth his salt today thinks of subjective experience as a datum. It's a construct. . . .Your private experience is a theoretical construct to me. I have no direct access to your private experience. I do have direct access to your behavior. In that sense, I'm a behaviorist. In that sense, everybody is a behaviorist today. (Mandler in Baars, 1986, p. 256)

As readers might infer from the comments above, methodological behaviorism currently underlies mainstream research programs in psychology as well as professional socialization in that discipline. It underlies courses in research methods, experimental design, and statistics in most psychology departments at colleges and universities. It underlies such standardized tests in the discipline as the Graduate Record Examination. Research and psychological explanations that are not consistent with these features are given less weight, if any weight at all, in the scientific community, for example, as reflected in the editorial practices of journals and research support from granting agencies. …

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