Logo IMG

Behaviorism at 100


The author is very confused in his use of terminology. The only term that has been used since 1968 to describe this field is applied behavior analysis. Behaviorology is not recognized by the vast majority of scientists and practitioners in ABA.
posted by Jon Bailey
December 13, 2011 @ 3:16 PM

I registered so I could leave a comment. The word "behaviorology" is an unusual description for behaviorism. The science of behavior is not "behavioralism" (which I believe is politcal science) or this "behaviorology" word. It is behavior and behaviorism. There is no behaviorology in Skinner's description: About Behaviorism. The adjective is "behavioral." I very much appreciate Mr. Ledoux bringing attention to the field, but using the wrong name could mix readers up.

posted by Martin Ivancic
December 13, 2011 @ 4:25 PM

I have never heard of the term behaviorology before. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst I am curious where the original term came from and why it is utilized in the manner it is in this article as though it is common terminology within the field of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, and the philosophical field of behaviorism. All guidance on this issue is much appreciated in advance.
posted by David Cox
December 13, 2011 @ 11:40 PM

A quick search on PsycInfo, the database of research and associated media published by the American Psychological Association, yielded the following information: The term "Behaviorology" yielded 19 hits consisting of 14 journal articles and 5 books. The term "Applied Behavior Analysis," searched as a single term, yielded 3,580 hits for similar information, producing 3,230 journal articles and 210 books. For the latter, these could be considered extremely conservative numbers. Use of this and other atypical terms throughout the article to describe the long-standing and well-researched body of science in this field is a disservice to the researchers, clinicians, and ultimately the public.
posted by Bruce Gale
December 14, 2011 @ 12:59 AM

It seems important to check misconceptions as they occur or they get out of hand. This morning I heard a story (NPR) where a Chinese father was recommending frequent physical punishment of children under 12 years old. He said these children are undeveloped animals so he had to resort to Pavlovian methods. Pavlov did work with animals as many scientists do, but he never recommended punishing children in development. It is easy to discredit important scientific contributions in the public eye by describing them inaccurately.
posted by Martin Ivancic
December 14, 2011 @ 8:25 AM

This article is more wishful thinking than facts.

The fact is that there is no functioning discipline of "Behaviorology."

Here is the reality. There are perhaps a few dozen behaviorists who reliably call themselves "Behaviorologists" among the thousands who do not. They have minor but interesting publication read by very few outside their number. They occasionally publish articles promoting their ideas in more widely read journals. Even so, they remain almost entirely unknown even to their fellow behavior analysts. Most behavior analysts--a substantially growing number of late--remain in departments of psychology, get degrees in psychology, accept the fact (sometimes grudgingly) that what they are doing is a kind of psychology, and continue in the manner of Watson and Skinner to try to divest psychology of its prescientific baggage and make it into the "science of behavior." If they want to be distinctive, they call themselves "behavior analysts." These facts are not altered by the existence of a small number of academic departments devoted substantially or entirely to behavior analysis at universities that also have psychology departments. These may be the seeds of a separate discipline in the future. For now, however, they function more as speciality enclaves that remain functionally and practically tied to their historical and conceptual roots in psychology. I studied in such a department--and was ultimately granted a Ph.D. in "Developmental and Child Psychology." My mentor had a degree in psychology, as did his, and his. These facts are also not altered by the existence of laws and regulations in some states specifically addressing the practice of applied behavior analysis as a speciality. Those laws and regulations are not acts of disciplinary subdividing. They are pragmatic reactions to the need to establish clear and recognized standards for the skills required to effectively treat autism.

Unfortunately, this article seems less of an attempt to speak about the first 100 years of behaviorism, and more of an attempt to promote the agenda of a very tiny minority within the field. It is true that psychology is not yet the natural science of behavior Watson and Skinner hoped it would become. However, such things do not occur quickly. More than a century after Claude Bernard, medicine continues have trouble divesting itself of prescientific notions of vitalism--as evidenced by things such as the availability of Reiki and homeopathy in mainstream hospitals. Despite slow pace, things are changing. Unlike even a decade ago, few seriously argue against the superiority of behavioral approaches in developmental disabilities, head injury, anxiety disorders, habit problems, and a growing number of other areas. Even in language we see behavioral notions being reintroduced after a long exile.

It is difficult enough when behaviorism is misrepresented by its critics. What are we supposed to do when we get it from our friends?

James T. Todd, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Eastern Michigan University
posted by James Todd
December 14, 2011 @ 10:18 AM

What a shame.

The article could have outlined the unique philosophical position of (radical) behaviorism, the far-reach practical success its applications have enjoyed (applied behavior analysis), and the burgeoning laboratory analysis of complex human behavior, such as language and cognition.

Instead, the vast majority of the article is concerned with presenting a niche area (so niche that there is not even a special interest group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International dedicated to it).

It is also noteworthy that the authors cites his own work on behaviorology (Fraley & Ledoux, 2002) in the References section.

And, on a final note, the example of equivalence relations is, in fact, more akin to transitivity, which may be explained by recourse to lower level, associative-like processes.
posted by Simon Dymond
December 14, 2011 @ 4:10 PM

A careful reading of the article addresses most of the concerns expressed in the online comments about Behaviorism at 100.

Most, but not all.

While the online comments show that some readers would have preferred certain relevant discussions and extensions of the philosophical considerations in Skinner’s 1963 Behaviorism at 50 paper to be included in the present article, the main American Scientist readership (traditional natural scientists and engineers of energy, matter, and life forms) may have found that material less interesting. Although that material was originally present in the article, the decision to replace those pages with the excerpts from Skinner’s 1957 article created the need for an unabridged version of the paper. The missing material is available from the author, and an improved version will be available as part of a separate article as soon as it passes its more formal peer review process. Stay tuned.

On the other hand, I cannot help but find the implication, in the comments, that somehow numbers trump scientific and disciplinary integrity, to be quite a bit more disturbing. Behaviorologists do not have to be numerous; they have to be independent natural scientists addressing the relation of their discipline to the culture that it serves. Even if the number of behaviorologists was a mere dozen, those 12 would still represent the only independent natural science of behavior named using an established term uncompromised by any connections with fundamentally mystical disciplines. Such connections reduce the credibility of behavior analysts in the eyes of traditional natural scientists, making the behavior analysts’ contributions to humanity’s future (such as helping with the behavior components of reducing global warming, within the limited time frame available before we must endure its worst effects) more difficult to provide. Behavior analysts who prefer increasing their distance from fundamentally mystical disciplines can regain their credibility by re–declaring their independence while using behaviorology as the name for their basic science. For example, how about Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) who, so long as they are without independence, have greater difficulty getting outsiders to see the justification for their separate credentials, and so they continually face being required to be supervised by licensed traditional--and often anti scientific--psychologists, or even being required to replace one half to two thirds of their natural science and engineering training with training in traditional psychology so that they can be both less effective and licensed as psychologists themselves? (However, if the non–natural claims on the “Applied Behavior Analysis” [ABA] label are not so strong, can it succeed as the label for the engineering side of the independent discipline?)

posted by Stephen Ledoux
December 31, 2011 @ 12:11 AM

Call it behavior, behaviorism, or behaviorology, the principles explored in the paper by B.F. Skinner and reviewed, commented upon and expanded by Ledoux present a critical and effective
strategy for learning in a physical world. While some of the science may not presently be explained, it is undeniable that results are achieved when we arrange contingencies according to the successful experimental results reported in these articles.
Organisms learn new behaviors. The evidence is there. It behooves science now to act upon the results of these experiments and practice the discipline. Further research into the neurology and chemistry of behavior
will no doubt add to our knowledge in a meaningful way, but changing behavior is the immediate goal and, as shown in these papers, we already know well how to achieve this. What is the phrase...Just Do It?
posted by celia chesluk
January 9, 2012 @ 11:45 PM


Read Past Issues on JSTOR

JSTOR, the online academic archive, contains complete back issues of American Scientist from 1913 (known then as the Sigma Xi Quarterly) through 2005.

The table of contents for each issue is freely available to all users; those with institutional access can read each complete issue.

View the full collection here.


Year-end indexes in PDF format:






Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

Write for American Scientist

Review our submission guidelines.

Subscribe to American Scientist