Clark Hull’s Deductive Behaviorism

One of the most important and historically most important theoretical currents in psychology is behavioralism. This current seeks to explain human behavior and action from the objective analysis of behavior, which is understood as the only obvious correlate of the psyche and generally ignores mental processes due to the inability to observe empirically.

Throughout history, there have been multiple developments within behaviorism that have varied the approach or the way in which behavior is understood. One of them was prepared by what would be the APA’s 44th president, Clark Leonard Hull: we speak of deductive behaviorism or deductive neoconductism.

    Brief introduction to behaviorism

    Behaviorism starts from the intention of making the study of the human psyche an objective, factual science, moving away from hypothetical constructions that cannot be proven. It is based on the premise that the only thing that can be truly demonstrated is the behavior, Based on the association between stimulus and response or between behavior and consequences to explain human behavior.

    However, he does not initially view the mind or mental processes as part of the equation that explains or influences behavior.

    In addition, he is considered to be the fundamental passive subject, an information receptacle that simply responds to stimulation. It would be thus until the arrival of the neoconductisms, in which the existence of own demonstrable forces of the subject begins to be considered. And one of the best-known neoconductors is Hull’s deductive behaviorism.

      Hull and deductive behaviorism

      Based on the prevailing logical positivism of the time and Skinner’s developments with regard to behavior reinforcement, Thorndike and Pavlov, Clark Hull will develop a new way of understanding behaviorism.

      Methodologically, Hull considered that behavioral science should start from deduction, proposing a hypothetico-deductive model in which, from some initial premises based on observation, it is possible to extract, deduce and later check different principles and sub-theories. The theory had to maintain consistency and be able to be developed from logic and deduction, using mathematical-based models to be able to develop and demonstrate his theories.

      In terms of behavior, Hull maintained a functional perspective: we act because we have to do it in order to survive, being the behavior, the mechanism by which we succeed in doing it. The human being or the organism itself ceases to be a passive being and becomes an active element which seeks survival and the reduction of needs.

      This fact is a milestone that incorporates into the typical stimulus-response scheme a set of variables that mediate between the independent variable and the dependent variable in this relationship: the so-called variables involved, variables of the body as motivation. And although these variables are not directly visible, they can be deduced mathematically and verified experimentally.

      From his observations, Hull establishes a number of postulates that try to explain behavior, being the impetus and habit the central components that make it possible to understand phenomena such as the learning and emission of behaviors.

      The impulse or the impulse

      One of the main theories emerging from Hull’s deductive neoconductism is the theory of impulse reduction.

      The human being, like all creatures, he has basic biological needs that he must meet. The need arouses an impulse or impulse in the body, an emission of energy that generates that we seek to compensate for our lack through behavior in order to ensure or encourage the possibility of adapting to the environment and of to survive.

      We act according to the intention of reduce the impulses that our biological needs cause us. The needs are present regardless of the existence or not of the stimulation and generate or lead the emission of behaviors. Thus, our needs are considered to motivate us to adopt a behavior.

      The needs that lead us to the impulse can be very variable, from the most biological like hunger, thirst or reproduction to others derived from socialization or obtaining elements related to the satisfaction of these needs (such as money).

      Habit and learning

      If our actions reduce these needs, we obtain a reinforcement that will generate the behaviors that have been achieved and allow this reduction to be more likely to be replicated.

      Thus, the body learns by strengthening the association between stimuli and responses and behaviors and consequences based on the need to reduce needs. The repetition of reinforcing experiences they end up setting up habits that we reproduce in those situations or stimuli that provoke the emission of a behavior by provoking the impulse. And faced with situations that have characteristics similar to those generated by a certain impulse, we will tend to act in the same way, generalizing the habit.

      It is important to keep in mind and stress that the impulse itself only provides us with the energy and motivation to act, but it does not generate the habit: it is derived from conditioning. That is, if we see something that looks edible, the urge to eat may arise, but how we do it depends on the associations we have made between certain behaviors and their consequences in order to meet our needs.

      The strength of the acquired habit depends on many factors as contiguity and contingency between the emission of the behavior and its reinforcing consequence. It also depends on the intensity with which the impulse appears, the number of repetitions of the association and the incentive that the consequence supposes by reducing more or less the necessity. And as the strength of the habit increases, it becomes harder and harder to quench, to the point that even if it stops serving to reduce momentum, it is possible to persist.

      Hull also worked and studied the accumulation of experience, being greater the quantity of learning of the conduct which is carried out in the initial moments than the one made later. On this basis, the different learning curves emerged thereafter. Less remains to be learned from the behavior, so over time the amount of information learned decreases.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Hull, CL (1943). Principles of behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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