Animal Cognition: Proceedings of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference, June 2-4, 1982

By H. S. Terrace; H. L. Roitblat et al. | Go to book overview

4 THE ROAD FROM BEHAVIORISM TO RATIONALISM

Thomas G. Bever

Columbia University


I. ON THE ROAD

Most of the articles in this book reflect some dissatisfaction with the behaviorist approach to animal activity. During the last 70 years behaviorism has appeared in many guises - for the present discussion I will assume that a behaviorist framework follows two principles;

Physicalism:

every term in a description must be based on a physically definable entity.

Associationism:

distinct descriptive terms can be related to each other only by undifferentiated association.

Many scholars now doubt that certain aspects of animal behavior can be described by a model which strictly obeys such postulates. This doubt underlies what can be taken as the current "cognitive revolution" in the study of animal behavior. In this essay, I contrast two directions that this revolution can now take; one that continues the emphasis on learning particular behaviors for which the behaviorist framework still appears to be adequate, and a new direction towards rationalism - the unashamed description of, animal minds.

The inadequacy of behaviorism as a complete account of behavior has in fact been known for a long time. The demonstration of perceptual gestalten simultaneously invalidated the physicalist and associationist principles, by proving the existence of internal plans of perception ( Wertheimer, 1923); rapidly-executed and species-specific behaviors indicated the presence of internal plans of action ( Tinbergen, 1951); maze learning in rats was shown to be like acquiring a "map" of the maze rather than a series of responses ( Tolman, 1948); the conceptual unity of reasoning processes in higher primates inexplainable by any compilation of behaviorist principles ( Kohler, 1925). Thus, a definitive crisis in animal psychology should have occurred many years ago. It is instructive to consider why it did not.

How should psychologists have responded to crucial demonstrations of behaviorism's inadequacies? There Were two choices: one could reject

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