See B. F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (1965); J. B. Watson, Behaviorism (1930, repr. 1970); J. O'Donell, Origins of Behaviorism (1986); K. W. Buckley, Mechanical Man: John B. Watson and the Beginning of Behaviorism (1989).
From early psychology in the 19th century, the behaviorist school of thought ran concurrently and shared commonalities with the psychoanalytic and Gestalt movements in psychology into the 20th century; but also differed from the mental philosophy of the Gestalt psychologists in critical ways. Its main influences were Ivan Pavlov, who investigated classical conditioning, Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson who rejected introspective methods and sought to restrict psychology to experimental methods, and B.F. Skinner who conducted research on operant conditioning. In the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the cognitive revolution.
Skinner, who carried out experimental work mainly in comparative psychology from the 1930s to the 1950s, but remained behaviorism's best known theorist and exponent virtually until his death in 1990, developed a distinct kind of behaviorist philosophy, which came to be called radical behaviorism. He is credited with having founded a new version of psychological science, which has come to be called behavior analysis or the experimental analysis of behavior after variations on the subtitle to his 1938 work The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis Of Behavior.
This essentially philosophical position gained strength from the success of Skinner's early experimental work with rats and pigeons, summarized in his books The Behavior of Organisms and Schedules of Reinforcement. Of particular importance was his concept of the operant response, of which the canonical example was the rat's lever-press. In contrast with the idea of a physiological or reflex response, an operant is a class of structurally distinct but functionally equivalent responses. For example, while a rat might press a lever with its left paw or its right paw or its tail, all of these responses operate on the world in the same way and have a common consequence. Operants are often thought of as species of responses, where the individuals differ but the class coheres in its function--shared consequences with operants and reproductive success with species. This is a clear distinction between Skinner's theory and S-R theory.
Skinner's empirical work expanded on earlier research on trial-and-error learning by researchers such as Thorndike and Guthrie with both conceptual reformulations Thorndike's notion of a stimulus-response 'association' or 'connection' was abandoned and methodological ones the use of the 'free operant', so called because the animal was now permitted to respond at its own rate rather than in a series of trials determined by the experimenter procedures. With this method, Skinner carried out substantial experimental work on the effects of different schedules and rates of reinforcement on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons. He achieved remarkable success in training animals to perform unexpected responses, and to emit large numbers of responses, and to demonstrate many empirical regularities at the purely behavioral level. This lent some credibility to his conceptual analysis. It is largely his conceptual analysis that made his work much more rigorous than his peers, a point which can be seen clearly in his seminal work Are Theories of Learning Necessary? in which he criticizes what he viewed to be theoretical weaknesses then common in the study of psychology. An important descendant of the experimental analysis of behavior is the Society for Quantitative Analysis of Behavior.
As Skinner turned from experimental work to concentrate on the philosophical underpinnings of a science of behavior, his attention turned to human language with Verbal Behavior and other language-related publications; Verbal Behavior laid out a vocabulary and theory for functional analysis of verbal behavior, and was strongly criticized in a review by Noam Chomsky. Skinner did not respond in detail but claimed that Chomsky failed to understand his ideas, and the disagreements between the two and the theories involved have been further discussed.
What was important for a behaviorist's analysis of human behavior was not language acquisition so much as the interaction between language and overt behavior. In an essay republished in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement, Skinner took the view that humans could construct linguistic stimuli that would then acquire control over their behavior in the same way that external stimuli could. The possibility of such "instructional control" over behavior meant that contingencies of reinforcement would not always produce the same effects on human behavior as they reliably do in other animals. The focus of a radical behaviorist analysis of human behavior therefore shifted to an attempt to understand the interaction between instructional control and contingency control, and also to understand the behavioral processes that determine what instructions are constructed and what control they acquire over behavior.
Skinner's view of behavior is most often characterized as a "molecular" view of behavior; that is, each behavior can be decomposed into atomistic parts or molecules. This view is inaccurate when one considers his complete description of behavior as delineated in the 1981 article, Selection by Consequences and many other works. Skinner claims that a complete account of behavior has involved an understanding of selection history at three levels: biology (the natural selection or phylogeny of the animal); behavior (the reinforcement history or ontogeny of the behavioral repertoire of the animal); and for some species, culture (the cultural practices of the social group to which the animal belongs). This whole organism, with all those histories, then interacts with its environment. He often described even his own behavior as a product of his phylogenetic history, his reinforcement history (which includes the learning of cultural practices) interacting with the environment at the moment. Molar behaviorists, such as Howard Rachlin argue that behavior can not be understood by focusing on events in the moment. That is, they argue that a behavior can be understood best in terms of the ultimate cause of history and that molecular behaviorist are committing a fallacy by inventing a fictitious proximal cause for behavior. Molar behaviorists argue that standard molecular constructs such as "associative strength" are such fictitious proximal causes that simply take the place of molar variables such as rate of reinforcement. Thus, a molar behaviorist would define a behavior such as loving someone as exhibiting a pattern of loving behavior over time, there is no known proximal cause of loving behavior, only a history of behaviors (of which the current behavior might be an example of) that can be summarized as love. Molectular behaviorists use notions from Melioration theory, Negative power function discounting or additive versions of negative power function discounting.
Behaviorism is a psychological movement that can be compared with philosophy of mind. The basic premise of radical behaviorism is that the study of behavior should be a natural science, such as chemistry or physics, without any reference to hypothetical inner states of organisms as causes for their behavior. A modern example of such analysis would be Fantino and colleagues work on behavioral approaches to reasoning. Other varieties, such as theoretical behaviorism, permit internal states, but do not require them to be mental or have any relation to subjective experience. Behaviorism takes a functional view of behavior.
There are points of view within analytic philosophy that have called themselves, or have been called by others, behaviorist. In logical behaviorism (as held, e.g., by Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel), the meaning of psychological statements are their verification conditions, which consist of performed overt behavior. W. V. Quine made use of a type of behaviorism, influenced by some of Skinner's ideas, in his own work on language. Gilbert Ryle defended a distinct strain of philosophical behaviorism, sketched in his book The Concept of Mind. Ryle's central claim was that instances of dualism frequently represented 'category mistakes,' and hence that they were really misunderstandings of the use of ordinary language. Daniel Dennett likewise acknowledges himself to be a type of behaviorist.
It is sometimes argued that Ludwig Wittgenstein defended a behaviorist position, but while there are important relations between his thought and behaviorism, the claim that he was a behaviorist is quite controversial (e.g., the Beetle in a box argument). Mathematician Alan Turing is also sometimes considered a behaviorist, but he himself did not make this identification.
As of 2008, modern day behaviorism, known as "behavior analysis," is a thriving field. The Association for Behavior Analysis: International ABAI website currently has 32 state and regional chapters within the United States. Approximately 30 additional chapters have also developed throughout Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia. In addition to 34 annual conferences held by ABAI in the United States and Canada, ABAI will hold the 5th annual International conference in Norway in 2009.
The interests among behavior analysts today are wide ranging, as a review of the 30 Special Interest Groups (SIGs) within ABAI indicates. Such interests include everything from developmental disabilities and autism, to cultural psychology, clinical psychology, and Organizational Behavior Management (OBM; behavior analytic I/O psychology). OBM has developed a particularly strong following within behavior analysis, as evidenced by the formation of the OBM Network and the influential Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM; recently ratest the 3rd highest impact journal in applied psychology by ISI JOBM rating
Modern behavior analysis has also witnessed a massive resurgence in research and applications related to language and cognition, with the development of Relational Frame Theory (RFT; described as a "Post-Skinnerian account of language and cognition." RFT also forms the empirical basis for the highly successful and data-driven Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In fact, researchers and practitioners in RFT/ACT have become sufficiently prominent that they have formed their own specialized organization, known as the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) ACBS website
Some of the current prominent behavior analytic journals include the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) JABA website, the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB) JEAB website, the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management (JOBM) JOBM website, Behavior and Social Issues (BSI) BSI website, as well as the Psychological Record Psych. Record website Currently, the U.S. has 14 ABAI accredidated MA and PhD programs for comprehensive study in behavior analysis ABAI Accredited Programs