Behavior therapy is a psychological approach focusing on observable behavior determined by the environment and the history of interactions between the individual and his environment.
For example, learning is described as a modification of the observable behavior, due to the change in the force with which is associated a response to external stimuli (outer environment) or internal stimuli (internal environment) to the body.
Historically, behaviorism emerged in reaction to the “mentalist” approaches, which considered the “mental” the cause of any action defending introspection as a method of access to the understanding of the mind. Following the impact of Sigmund Freud and his structuralism theories, psychology was divided between Europeans and Americans, who continued perception and behavior theory respectively.
In 1913, John Broadus Watson (who invented the name) established the basic principles of the behavior therapy by saying, in an article entitled The Psychology as the behaviorist sees that if psychology wants to be seen as a natural science, it must be limited to observable and measurable events, by excluding, in theory, all interpretations that rely on concepts such as conscience and condemning, methodologically, the use of introspection “as little useful for psychology as it is chemistry or physics.” He made learning a central object for the study of behavior, which must be approached only in terms of measurable behaviors produced in response to environmental stimuli.
This position of principle advocated by Watson corresponded to what was later called the “methodological behaviorism” to differentiate it from other currents which it gave birth to.
Indeed, in the 1940s and 1950s, Burrhus F. Skinner introduced the concept of operant conditioning on the basis of observations made on the animals placed in operational paradigms in which they learn by trial and error actions to take to get a reward. While Watson rejected it, Skinner was using the law of the Thorndike effect, which stated that behavior was a function of its consequences, to develop the concepts of reinforcement, shaping, and programmed learning.
These principles marked a profound disagreement with the methodological behaviorism of Watson accepting the idea that internal variables can intervene in individual behavior analysis. In addition, this current did not reject internal processes such as thoughts or emotions but described them as “private events” that can equally well apply the principles of operant psychology which is to say “everything is the behavior,” including mental events, hence the term “radical behaviorism,” which means this approach.
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