What is the “black box” according to behavioral psychologists?

There are many people who, perhaps because of the influence of the work of Sigmund Freud, believe that psychology is responsible for unraveling the secrets of what we often call “the mind.” In fact, many of those who totally reject the psychoanalytic ideas born with Freud in practice still believe that the mind is an entity which, while remaining hidden in the human skull, is the cause of all our behavior, the helmsman of our movements, thoughts and emotions.

This idea, which may even seem obvious, is not shared by all psychologists. Those who belong to the behaviorist current, Famous for researchers such as BF Skinner and John B. Watson, made famous the idea that the human mind is a black box, a metaphor that gives the idea of ​​representing something mysterious, impossible to open to be explored. However, this is a myth, and in fact since behaviorism has been understood by the black box is not it.

The black box metaphor doesn’t mean the mind can’t be studied like a dead animal would be studied. It means that the spirit does not exist.

    What is the behaviorist black box?

    To understand the following, one thing must be clear: the psychological current of behaviorism, which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and dominated in many countries of the world until the 1960s, is defined by its concern for define human behavior as an operational process, Which with the right instruments can be measured objectively.

    This means that behaviorists, unlike other metaphysical-based psychologists, began by analyzing the observable: behavioral patterns of humans and non-human animals. From these events, they made assumptions which they tried to use to predict behavior and, where possible, influence it.

    Primarily, the black box figure is used to represent what lies between an input (a stimulus that the person or animal receives) and output (the behavior of the person or animal). If we think, for example, of the act of rewarding a dog with a treat, and the entry is the candy and the exit is the propensity to repeat the action that was previously used to win this prize.

    Therefore, what lies between the stimulus and the reaction is not known, We only know that there is a mechanism that connects the input with the output. Now … does that mean the black box is unfathomable? The answer is no.

      Black box can be opened

      The idea is that the black box is only black as long as a certain level of analysis is maintained between a type of stimulus and a type of response. If we choose to study the relationship between receiving a treat and the consequence of acting in a certain way as a result of the above, what happened between these two phases is not known, but it is not necessary to know it to generate knowledge at this time. There is no indication that it is not possible to find out what happened “here” later.

      After all, behaviorism it is based on the philosophical currents born of positivism, And that means no time is spent discussing the possibility that there are non-physical elements directing the behavior. If something happening in our behavior cannot be studied at some point, it is not because it is something “spiritual” and by definition impossible to observe or measure, but because the means are available or not to do so. directly.

      As much as the black box is mysterious, it remains something material, and therefore participates in the chain of cause and effect of the world in which we live; there is nothing in it that does not appear out of nowhere, everything has an origin in measurable and observable events that occur around us or in ourselves.

      This is why for behaviorism the mind as an entity isolated from the rest and generator of behavior, not there. In any case, there are mental processes (which occur in the brain), existence is totally conditioned by other processes which are not mental and are as normal and common as a vibrating eardrum or a few drops. of water falling on the skin. And this is also why BF Skinner, shortly before his death, accused cognitive psychologists of being “creationists of psychology”, suggesting that there is a source of behavior for them with no definite origin.

      In short, those who believe that the black box is a metaphor used by behaviorists to reluctantly admit that they need a carpet under which to accumulate their unquestionable doubts will be disappointed.

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