Many of the theories in present day psychology are derived from the preexisting theories of psychology. Branches of current psychology have roots dating back to the philosophy of ancient Greek times. To understand these current theories, and ways of thinking, it is important to understand the history of psychology. Many historical figures have contributed to the current field of psychology, specifically, to psychology as a science. John B. Watson was a well-known behavioral psychologist who contributed to psychology by introducing behaviorism to the field, and pushing for psychology to be known as a science of observable behavior. To fully understand the impact of his role in psychology on the acceptance of psychology as a science, it is important to understand his life and the development of his theory.
Personal History & Zeitgeist
John B. Watson was born January 9, 1878 near Greenville, South Carolina. His mother, Emma Watson, raised him to be a devout Baptist Christian and John had promised her that he would become a minister later in life. Emma’s extreme religious devotion was in harsh contrast to John’s father, Perkins Watson, who battled alcoholism and left the family in 1891, when John was thirteen years old. John was reportedly very close to his father and, due to his father’s abandonment, began acting out and falling into trouble with the law. It is reported that, although attempts were made by his father to reconcile, John never revived his relationship with his father, and suffered from depression throughout most of his life (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).
Despite John’s poor performance in school and his trouble with the law, he was accepted into Furman University when he was fifteen years old, where he completed a master’s degree. While at Furman, he studied psychology, specifically the works of Wilheim Wundt, a German psychologist whose work focused on analyzing the conscious mind, and William James, whose work focused on the mental processes, including consciousness (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). After graduation, Watson went on to teach school in Greenville, while he applied to Princeton and the University of Chicago. It was also during this time that his mother passed away. In 1900, he began working towards his doctorate degree in psychology at the University of Chicago, where he studied under James Angell. Angell’s work was in functional psychology, which focuses on different mental operations and believes that mind and body are not separated, but act together. At the time, functionalism promoted studies on animal behavior, child psychology, and habit formation, all of which can be seen in Watson’s later works (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).
Inspired by the concepts he was learning, Watson began to contemplate whether humans could be understood without involving introspection, a technique developed by Wundt, which involves analyzing one’s own thoughts (Wade & Tavris, 2008). After voicing these thoughts, he was discouraged by Angell,...