the turn of the twentieth century, the field of Psychology found itself in a war between two contending theoretical perspectives: Gestalt psychology versus Behaviorism. With its roots within the United States, behaviorists in America were developing a theory that believed psychology should not be concerned with the mind or with human consciousness. Instead, behavior and the actions of humans would be the foremost concern of psychologists. Across the Atlantic, Gestalt psychology emerged by placing its criticism upon the methodology of introspection, especially by ways of disparaging behaviorism. Although the two theories originated on separate continents, their opposing ideas were brought together after World War II and continued to battle each other for almost half a century.
An American psychologist, by the name of John B. Watson, is historically known for “selling” the idea of Behaviorism to other American psychologists during the 1900s. Watson insisted that “psychology had failed to become an undisputed natural science because it was concerned with conscious processes that were invisible, subjective, and incapable of precise definition” (Hunt, page256). Watson’s position on human behavior was that it could be explained entirely in terms of reflexes, stimulus-response associations, and the effects of multiple reinforcements upon a person--entirely excluding any mental processes. Watson’s work was based on the experiments of Ivan Pavlov, who had studied animals’ responses to conditioning. In Pavlov’s most well-known experiment, he rang a bell each time he presented the dogs with food. Every time the dogs would hear the bell, their initial response would be to salivate because they believed that food was going to be offered. Pavlov then rang the bell without bringing food, yet the dogs continued to salivate. In essence, the dogs had been “conditioned” to salivate at the sound of the bell. From this research, Pavlov concluded that humans also react to stimuli in the same way--a finding that Watson would later emphasize.
In modern psychology, behaviorism is most closely associated with B.F. Skinner, a man who molded his reputation by testing Watson’s theories in the laboratory. Skinner’s studies led him to believe that people operate on the environment to produce certain consequences, along with simply responding to their surrounding environment. His continued research led him to the development of “operant conditioning”, the idea that we behave the way we do because this kind of behavior has had certain consequences in the past. Like Watson, however, Skinner refuted the notion that human behavior is influenced by any action of the mind. As an alternative, our experience of reinforcements determines our behavior.
During the time that behaviorism was the prevailing learned theory in America, across the sea in Europe, the Gestalt theory was taking form. While...