Social behaviorism: history and theoretical principles

The study of the human mind is traditionally done through the analysis of verbalizations, physical reactions and behaviors. Various tests and tests have been proposed to deduce the mental state of people and how they react to the natural and social environment.

One of the many aspects that has been studied is the process of socialization and the ability to relate to our fellow human beings. Studied among other disciplines by social psychology, this object of study has been observed from different angles, including behavioralism.

Although the latter is based on the association between stimuli and responses in the same subject without generally taking into account the intermediate mental processes, there is a branch of it that has taken these factors into account, trying to explain mind through behavior, focusing on the processes of social interaction. It’s the partner’s behaviorl.

Preamble: brief explanation of behaviorism

Behavioralism is one of the main theoretical currents that have emerged throughout history with the aim of understanding why human beings act the way they do. this paradigm it is based on the objective observation of reality, Search for empirical and scientific knowledge based on observable and measurable evidence.

Being the mind something that does not enjoy these characteristics, behaviorism generally ignores its direct study and relies on behavior as the object of study. For that it is based on the observation of the capacity of association between stimuli, which makes it possible to generalize the responses from one stimulus to another. This way, the basis of behaviorism is the association between stimulus and response.

Since behaviorists began to work on the basis of operant conditioning, it has been considered that the performance of a particular behavior is mainly influenced by the consequences of it, which can be positive (so that the behavior emitted becomes more likely) negative, assuming the conduct of driving is a punishment (which reduces driving).

The black box

While behaviorism is aware that the mind exists, it is viewed as a “black box”. an unknowable element to which little importance is given to explain the behavior and that it is at an intermediate point between stimuli and responses. Human beings are fundamentally passive beings who limit themselves to capturing stimuli and responding in the appropriate way.

However, the simple association between stimuli and responses or the link with positive or negative consequences is not sufficient to explain a large number of complex behaviors, processes such as thinking, or to understand the why of certain behaviors (such as some due to psychopathologies).

The mind keeps having an influence on this process, which it would do over time, other currents such as cognitivism have emerged focused on the explanation of mental processes. But before that, some authors have tried to take into account the existence of an intermediate point. This is how social behavioralism was born.

Social behaviorism

Traditional behaviorism, as we have seen, bases its theory on the association between stimuli and attempts to directly explain the behavior. However, he put aside the influence of internal processes and he ignored the role in the conduct of the subjective and non-measurable facets of our mental life. Elements such as the opinions of others or beliefs, which in principle do not involve immediate harm or physical reinforcement, were not taken into account.

This is why some authors, like George H. Mead, decided to try to explain mind by behavior, focusing their research on the area of ​​social bonding and initiating the type of behaviorism called social behaviorism.

In social behavior, more focused on the process of behavior formation and the factors that initiate it, we consider that the human being is not a simple passive element in the chain between stimuli and responses but is an active part that is able to act on the basis of internal impulses or external elements. The person interprets the stimuli and responds based on that interpretation.

Explore mental processes

Thus, in social behaviorism, it is taken into account that all these traces left in our mind by the interaction with others and their study are partly behaviorist, in the sense that they start from the systematic observation of the behavior in the process of social realization. acts. However, it is not possible to ignore the existence of internal processes that affect the performance of social behaviors.

While the link between stimuli and responses continues to be used to explain behavior, in social behaviorism this link operates through the concept of attitude, in the sense that through the accumulation and interpretation of experiences, we form an attitude that has changed our behavior and induces a particular type of response, whereas these responses and attitudes can act as a stimulus in others.

The social, both its own interaction with others and the cultural context in which it takes place, is used as a stimulus for the emission of behaviors, while in turn, the behavior elicits a response from the environment. .

Keys to understanding this school of psychology

Below you can see a series of ideas that help to understand what is the perspective from which social behaviorism begins and what methodology defines it.

1. Social behavior

Social behaviorism considers the relationship between people and the actions and behaviors we carry out they become a stimulus that will provoke a response in another, Which in turn will become a stimulus for the first.

In this way, the interaction will take place continuously, affecting everyone’s actions and partly following the stimulus-response chain.

2. The importance of language in the construction of the person

For social behavioralism, one of the main elements of interest in any social act is communication and language. The person emerges as such in a specific context in which many meanings have been socially constructed, acquiring different attitudes towards him and exercising our behavior according to them.

Sharing the use of meanings across language enables learning to exist, And on this basis, the subjectivity through which we guide our conduct can arise. This is why for Mead and social behavioralism, the ego and the mind are a product, a consequence of social interaction.

In fact, the formation of personality largely depends on language. Throughout development, the child will participate in different situations and games in which his performance received a series of responses from other components of society, which, through language and action, are communicated to him. On the basis of them, different attitudes towards the world and towards oneself will be formed, allowing to forge the personality and the self.

3. Self-concept from social behaviorism

By this current, the term self-concept refers to the set of verbal self-descriptions that a subject makes of himself, descriptions that are used by others to interact with him.

It can therefore be observed that these auto-verbalizations act as a stimulus which elicits a response in the other subjects, a response which, as we have said, will generate a response for us. But these self-descriptions do not appear out of nowhereBut they depend on the stimulation that the person has received.

    4. The me and the me

    Thus, a person’s subjectivity largely depends on capturing the responses of our behaviors, which we use as stimuli.

    Mead considered the existence in itself of two internal elements in the structuring of the person, Me and me. Mine is the individual’s perception of way in which society, understood as “the generalized other”, perceives it. It is the evaluative part of the person who integrates external expectations into his own being, reacting and acting accordingly.

    On the contrary, the ego is the most intimate part which allows the existence of a concrete reaction to the environment, the primitive and spontaneous part. This is what we think we are, A part of us that will emerge through the conjunction and synthesis of the different perceived “mine”. Through this we can re-observe how in Mead’s social behavior the mind is seen as something that has arisen and prepared for and for social action.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Mead, GH (1934). Spirit, person and society. From the point of view of social behaviorism. Buenos Aires: Paidós.

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