Behaviourism was a process devised Ivan Pavlov, the famed Russian psychologist. From 1901 onwards, Pavlov studied dogs and taught them to salivate by sounding a bell prior to giving them food. They
managed to salivate with the ringing of the bell, prior to the food arriving. During the early 20th century, US Behaviourist John Watson intellectualized upon the subject. His studies of animals brought him to the conclusion that psychology was a purely objective branch of science. Denying any form of inherited characteristics in behaviour, he argued we were a product of nurture only. People could be trained to be whatever they want to be or do.
Such behaviourist notions had only one outcome, which arose through psychologists such as American B F Skinner. Skinner decreed the human organism to be nothing more than a machine, behaving in lawful and predictable ways to external forces. Evading morality, if an action led to a good outcome for the individual, it would be repeated; in bad, it would be avoided. Soon, the behaviourists taught learning itself could become simply a matter of outside stimuli providing values through expectation of reward.
Cognitive psychology really began with US anti-behaviourist George Miller. Interested in mind and behaviour, he went on to study areas such as perception, concept, memory and language. It was clear that something from within the mind interacted with the outside stimuli loved by the Behaviourist. And this was a form of cognition. Ulric Neisser argued that the cognitive approach is where sensory input is transformed and stored, providing cognition, or analysis, in everything we do. This again seemed a genuinely commonsense approach. But we must place the idea in terms of what was going on at the time.
The Cognitive approach came in line with advances, and the growing importance of, computers and computing. We can see in this school of thought that the brain equates with hardware, and thoughts with software. In the end, Cognitive psychology replaced the human with a new type of machine – the computer.
Humanistic psychology concentrated totally on the individual – his choices, his free will, his creativity. In this sense, it validated consciousness as important. One of the spiritual fathers of the Humanistic approach was Jungian psychologist Abraham Maslow, and one of his central advances was the idea that psychology should also deal with the healthy mind, and not just mental illness. Grounded in human behaviour, a healthy psyche was one that gained a man’s ‘wants’. It was a study of how to be successful, because man had a need to self-actualize; to feel he had achieved what is needed in life. Indeed, Maslow argued that a feeling of euphoria could be achieved by feeling as one with things; a term he called the peak experience.
Unfortunately, the Humanistic approach was also a natural consequence of something else. It came in line with the self-expression of the hippy. Semi-mystical in nature, the validation of the individual involved led to the present outpouring of New Age psycho-babble, with pointless platitudes such as ‘know yourself.’
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