B. F. Skinner, Edward C. Trolman, and John Watson Essay

B. F. Skinner, Edward C. Trolman, and John Watson, although all wonderful and very intelligent psychologist, did not always agree, when it comes to behaviorism perspectives. Some perspectives were believable at the time and others society felt was so far out in left field that it did not make any sense to them in any way. Even though all three were very intelligent, they all three come from very different backgrounds. B. F. Skinner was a product of a small town America. He was from Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. He grew up at a time when optimism within the emerging white middle class was high in America.

The country had just emerged from difficult economic times in the 1890’s and it had just been beaten the overmatched Spanish in the Spanish-American war. (Goodwin, 2008) Edward C. Tolman was born into an upper middle class environment in a suburb of Boston. As a child he learned the virtues of perseverance and hard work from his father, a successful business executive, who had a Quaker background. (Goodwin, 2008) John Watson was born in 1878 in the rural area just outside of Greenville, South Carolina. He was born into a family that would earn the label “dysfunctional” today.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

His father was a marginally successful farmer whose interests included consuming large amounts of alcohol, brawling, and committing adultery. He frequently left home for extended periods of time. Watson’s mother was fiercely religious that he aspire to the ministry. Growing up in his environment by mid adolescence he had behavioral problems of his own. (Goodwin, 2008) Skinner is responsible for making the distinction between classical and operant conditioning. Skinner distinguished between type s and type r conditioning.

He said through the procedure of pairing two stimuli one that initially elicits the response and one that does not. Some behavior is emitted by the organism and is controlled by the immediate consequences of the behavior, not by an eliciting stimulus. (Goodwin, 2008) In type R conditioning or operant conditioning, a behavior is emitted and is followed by some consequence, and the future chances of that behavior occurring are determined by those consequences. (Goodwin, 2008) In other words if the consequence of the behavior is a negative one, then most likely the individual will not do that type of behavior again.

If the consequence is rewarding the behavior will more than likely be repeated over and over? Skinner chose the term operant to describe this form of behavior because the behavior operates on the environment when it happens, it produces a predictable outcome. (Goodwin, 2008) Tolman based his theory in the aspect that behavior should be more defined more broadly as actions that serve some purpose. That is, behavior is purposive and goal oriented. Tolman argued that the unit of study had to be larger than the “molecular” muscle movements, glandular responses, or neurological responses emphasized by Watson. Goodwin, 2008) One of Tolman’s students, for example, showed that rats taught to swim through a maze were later able to run through it accurately. Hence, what was learned could not be simply a series of individual kinesthetic responses? (Goodwin, 2008) The animal must come to some general understanding of the pattern of the maze and the response needed to be understood in terms of whole behavior patterns that had meaning beyond the component movements. For Tolman, goal directedness or purposiveness was a universal feature of the behavior that we learn.

Although the term “purpose” seems like a return to a subjective , even introspective psychology, Tolman merely meant that behavior always seems to have the character of getting from a specific goal object. (Goodwin, 2008) John Watson believed that psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness.

The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist’s total scheme of investigation. (Watson, 1913) ‘I never wanted to use human subjects. I hated to serve as a subject. I didn’t like the stuffy, artificial instructions given to subjects. I always was uncomfortable and acted unnaturally. With animals I was at home. If felt that, in studying them, I was keeping close to biology with my feet on the ground.

More and more the thought presented itself; can’t I find out by watching their behavior everything that the other students are finding out by using [human subjects? (Watson, 1913) Even though all three of these men have different perspectives on behaviorism, they all seemed to feed off of one another in one way or another. They used each other’s work and tried to outdo the other. They were all goal oriented and had different aspects of the environment around them. Whether it be classical or operant in one way or another it is used within all of these men’s perspectives.

They may have called it something different but in the truth they all used each other’s research to try and figure out what they could do to get ahead in their career. Even today we see psychologist using these men’s formulas to help those individuals in the modern world who have issues with behavior. We have seen this type of perspectives all through the years. These men gave us something that we needed to continue the research that is being continued on today. Even though they all worked at different levels and used animals to try and get their point across they all were doing it for the good of science.

They used each other’s knowledge to help one another get more information for the theories they were trying to prove. (Goodwin, 2008) They all worked with some type of stimuli in order to deal with the response whether it be from the environment or other resources. Dealing with animals made it easier for them to test and do research on their theories. It was all dealing with the mind and between the three of them they changed how we look at a person and their surroundings. (Goodwin, 2008) In conclusion these men are the reason that most questions that we have now have answers.

Even in theories and experiments today their knowledge and research is used to help determine what type of behaviors and what causes those behaviors are determined. What outside sources and how you can teach someone to do different tasks and things that people pick up on by just knowing. For instance we all know that a stove is hot. They also dealt with consequences in one’s life. We all know the consequences we have with the choices that we make, and yet most of us still do make those choices even if the consequences are negative.

The mind is an incredible place and I do not think we will ever know every detail about why we make the decisions as individuals that we do. Learning behavior starts at a very young age and continues through adult hood. The things that we learn as children and the consequences that go along with it usually stick with us through our whole lives. We determine what choices we make no matter what the consequences. We are able to remember things that stay with us our whole lives. Different consequences and choices for different people usually determine what type of environment they come from or live in.

I grew up in a very poor family and an abusive family, this in turn made me a very strong person. But on the negative side of that aspect has turned me into a very non-emotional person. There are positives and negatives to everything that we encounter. We choose how we want those choices to be made. I chose a different path than the way that I grew up because of the consequences that I have seen in my life and I never wanted to face those. Once we become adults we decide what type of life we would like to lead, and then it is up to us to help not only ourselves but also our children to make the right behavior choices.

We are the future and without those three men, we may never know what can happen within ourselves and what kind of responses we can receive through our environment and the consequences we face in our everyday lives as human beings.


Goodwin, C. (2008). A history of Modern Psychology 3rd. ED. . Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons. Watson, J. (1913). John Watson and behaviorism . Retrieved October 22, 2012, from Watson: http://www. psych. utah. edu/gordon/Classes/Psy4905Docs/PsychHistory/Cards/Watson. html