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A History of Behavioral Psychology

John Mills

Publication Year: 1998

Behaviorism has been the dominant force in the creation of modern American psychology. However, the unquestioned and unquestioning nature of this dominance has obfuscated the complexity of behaviorism.

Control serves as an antidote to this historical myopia, providing the most comprehensive history of behaviorism yet written. Mills successfully balances the investigation of individual theorists and their contributions with analysis of the structures of assumption which underlie all behaviorist psychology, and with behaviorism's role as both creator and creature of larger American intellectual patterns, practices, and values.

Furthermore, Mills provides a cogent critique of behaviorists' narrow attitudes toward human motivation, exploring how their positivism cripples their ability to account for the unobservable, inner factors that control behavior. Control's blend of history and criticism advances our understanding not only of behaviorism, but also the development of social science and positivism in twentieth-century America.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. xi-xii

I wrote a substantial part of the first draft of this book while I was a visiting research fellow at The University of Melbourne in 1990. I am most grateful to Professor Roger Wales and to the faculty and staff of the psychology department for providing me with a very congenial working environment (and I am especially grateful to...

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Introduction: Shaping a Profession: Behaviorism in American Psychology

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pp. 1-22

Historians agree that behaviorism was the dominant force in the creation of modern American psychology.¹ Now that psychology has returned to the eclecticism of its earlier years, we can analyze behaviorism’s role in American psychology. Yet scholars of behaviorism stand face to face with a paradox. It would appear that we know...

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1. The Birth of Psychological Behaviorism

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pp. 23-54

Behaviorism derived its unity from social and institutional sources; its intellectual and conceptual cohesion was correspondingly slight. Moreover, forms of behaviorism, usually unacknowledged and unnamed, pervaded American social science from its beginning. I will address four major motivating factors in the history of...

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2. From Apogee to Perigee: Radical Behaviorism Appears but Fails to Take Root

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pp. 55-82

Typically, the classical neobehaviorisms of the post–World War II period are assigned a continuous history, originating in the empiricism and associationism of Locke and Hume, which culminated in the mature psychological associationism of Alexander Bain and in Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary associationism, from which...

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3. The Conceptual Basis of Neobehaviorism and Behavioral Science

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pp. 83-102

The new behaviorisms of the 1940s and 1950s, consisting of precisely formulated and conceptually rigorous theories, were radically different from their predecessors. Empirically, neobehaviorism derived its support from extensive work in animal laboratories, so that there was a complete contrast with the speculative behaviorisms...

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4. The Behaviorist as Research Manager: Clark L. Hull and the Writing of Principles of Behavior

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pp. 103-122

Hull’s major work, Principles of Behavior, which he and his friends always referred to as his magnum opus, was the first attempt to write an all-embracing psychological theory using the principles of behaviorism.¹ Hull intended the Principles to be the first part of a trilogy, since it did no more than state a set of general...

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5. The Behaviorist as Philosopher: B. F. Skinner

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pp. 123-151

Behavioral science reached its highest and most complete development in Skinner’s writings. No behavioral scientist had a greater influence (both direct and indirect) on the discipline than he. But even though nobody disputes the extent of his influence, assessing its nature is a different matter. To quote Winston Churchill, he was a...

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6. Behaviorists as Social Engineers: Behavior Modification Applied to Abnormal Psychology

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pp. 152-178

Psychological behaviorism found its highest and most complete expression in the behavior modification movement. Behavior modifiers believed that psychological abnormalities or dysfunctions could be fully understood in terms of actions and that all actions could be brought under the control of external...

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7. Faithful unto This Last

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pp. 179-193

There was once a time when an academic psychologist lived his or her professional life in a behaviorist world. Behaviorists set the agenda in departments of psychology, even for psychologists who did not belong to one of the neobehaviorist schools and who were not working in exclusively behaviorist areas (such as animal...


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pp. 195-238


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pp. 239-245

About the Author

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pp. 246

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759967
E-ISBN-10: 0814759963
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814756119
Print-ISBN-10: 0814756115

Page Count: 246
Publication Year: 1998