Psychology: From the Standpoint of a Behaviorist

By John B. Watson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
THE ORGANISM AT WORK

A. THE FUNCTIONING OF ESTABLISHED HABIT SYSTEMS.

What is Meant by Function .--Several times in the text we have had occasion to speak of functions. Now that we have examined most of the phases of an individual's acquisitions both of the explicit and implicit kinds it seems well to get a more exact formulation of what is meant by the term. After an act has been acquired and used for a definite time and is then repeatedly put away and again used, the learning and re-learning phases and periods of no practice become of little consequence. We assume that every normal individual can perform the acts required by a social environment and we do not care particularly whether it took him a long time to learn them or a short time. We are interested, in the discussion which follows, in the question as to the rapidity and accuracy with which those habits work and the factors which influence them. It is convenient to call each organized habit system of an individual which is always ready to act under appropriate stimulation, an acquired function, in contrast to emotional and instinctive functions. (The total assets of an individual are the sum of his hereditary and acquired functions, his retentiveness and his plasticity. Examples of such acquired functions are, of course, talking, walking, swimming, addition, subtraction, writing and all similar ones discussed in the preceding two chapters. As we use the term, it has no fixed implication and is not a mathematical or even a rigidly scientific one. A function is really, then, a phase of activity that one happens to be studying and measuring; the acquired functions are equivalent really to habits except for the fact that when we use the term function we generally (but not even here always) leave the genetic aspect out of consideration. New habits, if continued, end always by giving us new functions. In studying children (or adults if learning) the term habit is emphasized; in studying adults the term function is most frequently met with,

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