Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

11

Theoretical- and EmpiricalBehaviorism Approaches

In the preceding chapters we have focused predominantly on predetermined-epigenetic organismic or probabilistic-epigenetic organismic conceptions of development. These theoretical formulations view a person's psychological development as arising out of an interaction between the intrinsic (nature) and the extrinsic (nurture) variables involved in development. Moreover, such organismic, interactionist viewpoints imply that qualitative discontinuity in part characterizes psychological development, although -- because of adherence to such ideas as the orthogenetic principle -- they also see aspects of development as being continuous in nature. Thus, to differing extents, organismic developmentalists believe that development arises out of an interaction between the organism (and/or the characteristics of the organism) and its environment; furthermore, to different extents, organismic developmentalists represent such development as proceeding through qualitatively different stages.

Although such organismic conceptions have been given most attention in our presentation, we have also at points indicated that an important opposing point of view exists. This approach falls within the "family of theories" ( Reese and Overton 1970) associated with a mechanistic, nurture-oriented view of development. Family members include positions labeled as empirical behaviorism -- that is, the behavior-analysis or the operant-psychology approach ( Reese 1976; White 1976) -- or as theoretical behaviorism -- that is, the learning-theory or the social-learning theory approaches ( Reese 1976; White 1976).

In Chapter 6, in our discussion of the continuity-discontinuity controversy, we introduced some of the basic components of this general point of view and considered some of the ideas of perhaps the most famous contributor to the formulation of this mechanistic, nurture approach, B. F. Skinner. We saw that Skinner views the laws of classical and operant conditioning as being invariantly involved not only in the behavior of humans but, moreover, in the behavior of all animals. Thus Skinner maintains that the laws of classical or operant conditioning are universal; that is, they are continuously applicable to the behavior of all organisms. After one "corrects for" the (seemingly trivial) differences among animals in their anatomical or morphological makeup, one can use the same set of laws of conditioning to account for the behavior and the development of all animals. Skinner suggests that some animals behave in a certain way, for example by pressing a bar with a paw; other types of animals might have to use the beak, and still others might use a hand. Yet, after such differences are accounted for, one sees that all animals behave in accordance with the very

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