Radical behaviorism: theoretical principles and applications

Human behavior is a phenomenon that has been attempted to explain in many different ways since ancient times. What is behind our behavior? Why do we behave the way we do? Psychology has often tried to answer these questions from different points of view.

One of the paradigms he tried to explain is behavioralism. And in this current, one of the best known approaches is Skinner’s radical behaviorism.

    Behaviorism: basic premises of the paradigm

    Behavioralism is a paradigm of psychology whose purpose is to study behavior and the processes that give rise to it, from an empirical and objective perspective. It is based on the premise that the mind and mental processes are non-objectifiable concepts and that it is not possible to study them scientifically, their only visible correlate being the behavior we adopt.

    It is based on a mechanistic conception of behavior in which it is stipulated that it is the properties of the stimuli which cause the subject, who is a passive being and reactive to these properties, to respond in a certain way.

    In addition, behavioral acquisition and learning in general are considered to be achieved through the ability to bind and associate stimuli in certain circumstances that allow this association.

    This is conditioning process in which exposure to stimuli occurs which generate a positive or negative response in the body and other neutrals, connecting the subject to the two stimuli in such a way that he responds in the same way to the conditioned stimulus (the neutral which ends up acquiring positive or negative characteristics in due to its association with the initial stimulus) than in the face of the appetitive or aversive element. Through different processes it is possible to associate or dissociate stimuli, which has been used for example in the treatment of phobias.

    Concepts such as the will or other mental aspects and even the mind itself are not denied, but rather are considered a consequence of stimulation and behavioral response instead of its cause. Essentially, therefore, the cause of the behavior is considered to be external.

    Since the birth of behaviorism, this paradigm has evolved, with different types of behaviorism. But one of the most interesting and important, next to the classic, is radical behaviorism.

      Skinner’s Perspective: Radical Behavioralism

      Radical behaviorism is one of the main theoretical developments in behavioralism, from which are born different neoconductive currents. Radical behaviorism considers that while classical conditioning (also called responding) is a valid explanation for understanding reactions to a particular stimulus, it is not enough to explain our behavior in relation to it.

      This is why BF Skinner, the lead author and developer of this type of behaviorism, considered and argued that human behavior is not just caused by the stimulus-response association, but that the root of the behavior lies in the effect. or the consequences that our own actions have on ourselves. The mind and intellectual processes are considered to be existing elements, but they do not explain behavior and their study is unproductive. Anyway, thought could be defined as verbal behavior derived from the same conditioning principles.

      For Skinner and radical behaviorism, the behavior and its persistence or modification depend on what it can cause. If a behavior has favorable consequences for us, we will tend to repeat it often in order to obtain the benefit in question more often. If, on the other hand, the behavior causes harm, we will do it less often or we will inhibit it.

      The association between behavior and its consequences is what is called operative conditioning, and the stimuli that make us repeat the behavior or not, the reinforcers (which can be of different types). It is in this type of thinking that concepts such as reinforcement and punishment arise, which will then be applied in different techniques.

      some limitations

      The contribution of radical behaviorism has been essential in the development of the scientific study of behavior. However, this perspective has the drawback that at least initially it does not take into account other factors such as motivation, emotions, The intelligence or personality of the subject.

      It is because of these and other limitations that different neoconductive approaches would eventually emerge that take them into account and even one of the reasons why they would end up joining the behaviorist and cognitivist lines in the cognitive-behavioral paradigm.

        Applications of radical behaviorism

        Radical behaviorism has been an approach to the study of behavior with great importance and presence in different fields, including clinical and educational.

        The idea that behavior depends on its consequences and that it can be changed through the use of programs in which certain behaviors are reinforced or punished has led to the generation of techniques that are still used today, although they have developed and incorporated concepts from other paradigms such as the cognitivist. These are behavior modification techniques, particularly related to radical behavioral operative techniques.

        Reinforcement and punishment positive and negative aspects are the most basic and are an integral part of most others. In reinforcement, the repetition or acquisition of a behavior is caused either because an appetitive stimulus is provided or because an aversive is suppressed, while in punishment a behavior is diminished or eliminated by the appearance of aversive stimuli or suppression of reinforcements.

        As for the concepts of positive and negative, the positive is understood as that in which a stimulus is added and the negative in which it is removed. Other derived techniques are those of molding or chaining to learn how to perform behaviors, as well as blackout and aversion techniques.

        These types of techniques have been used to help reduce problematic behaviors and promote more adaptive behaviors. They are generally applied to behavioral problems, in children and adults, and in certain learning processes in which new behaviors need to be developed or existing ones changed.

        However, failure to take into account aspects such as mental processes has led to limit its usefulness and even in some cases to have unwanted effects. Cognitive aspects must be integrated in the treatment of problems such as depression or learning problems.

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