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BEHAVIORISM AND THE PROFESSIONALIZATION OF AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGY: A STUDY OF JOHN BROADUS WATSON, 1878-1958

KERRY WAYNE BUCKLEY, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

In 1913, John B. Watson characterized behaviorism as a science that would be useful to "the educator, the physician, the jurist and the businessman." He appealed to the professional interests of may psychologists who may have differed with him theoretically. Behaviorism not only became a new school of psychology, but also demonstrated a means by which the profession of psychology could respond to the needs of a new corporate order. As formulated by Watson, behaviorism denied the existence of consciousness and maintained that only observed behavior was a legitimate object of study. But Watson also insisted that the goal of psychological investigation was the "prediction and control of behavior."^ Watson belonged to a new generation of professionals who came of age around the turn of the century. This ambitious group found that the very problems created by industrialization also created opportunities for those who could offer solutions to these problems. The notion of control is the underlying theme connecting the growth of science, technology and the emerging professions with the expansion of an urban society. The shift of authority from the family and the church to a bureaucracy of experts that provided social services gave rise to a demand for behavior control to which Watson directed his energies.^ In 1920, Watson was forced to resign from the psychology department at Johns Hopkins University under a cloud of scandal. He then joined the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York. As an advertising psychologist, he developed market research techniques and directed advertising campaigns.^ During the 1920s and 1930s, Watson increasingly turned his efforts toward spreading the behaviorist faith to a mass audience. Through an enormous output of books, magazine articles and radio broadcasts he was able to establish himself as an expert on subjects ranging from child rearing to economics. In effect, Watson became the first "pop" psychologist to an expanding middle class.^ Behaviorism was, above all, a faith in a radical environmentalism which appealed to both reformers and reactionaries. If behaviorism represented the freedom to re-make the individual, it also posed the possibility of directing human activity into pre-determined channels. It was the lattter aspect of behaviorism that Watson chose to emphasize. For, as envisioned by Watson, behaviorism was to serve the authority of those who desired a stable and predictable society. ^

Subject Area

American history

Recommended Citation

BUCKLEY, KERRY WAYNE, "BEHAVIORISM AND THE PROFESSIONALIZATION OF AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGY: A STUDY OF JOHN BROADUS WATSON, 1878-1958" (1982). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8210301.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8210301

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