Social Behaviorism: History And Theoretical Principles

A psychological paradigm that broke with traditional behaviorism based only on the objective.

The study of the human mind has traditionally been carried out through the analysis of verbalizations, physical reactions and behaviors. Different tests and trials have been proposed through which to infer the mental state of people and how they react to the natural and social environment.

One of the many aspects that have been studied is the socialization process and the ability to relate to our peers. Studied among other disciplines by social psychology, this object of study has been observed from different perspectives, including behaviorism.

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

Preamble: brief explanation of behaviorism

Behaviorism is one of the main theoretical currents that have emerged throughout history with the purpose of understanding why humans act as they do. This paradigm is based on the objective observation of reality, seeking empirical and scientific knowledge based on observable and measurable evidence.

Being the mind something that does not enjoy such characteristics, behaviorism in general ignores its direct study and is based on behavior as an object of study. This is based on the observation of the association capacity between stimuli, which allows generalizing responses from one stimulus to another. Thus, the basis of behaviorism is the association between stimulus and response.

Since behaviorists began to work based on operant conditioning, it was considered that the performance of a specific behavior is mainly influenced by its consequences, which can be positive (with which the emitted behavior will become more likely) or negative, assuming the conduct of the conduct is a punishment (which reduces the conduct).

The black box

Although behaviorism is aware that the mind exists, it is considered a “black box”, an unknowable element to which little importance is given to explain behavior and which is at an intermediate point between stimuli and responses. The human being is a fundamentally passive being who limits himself to capturing stimuli and responding in the appropriate way.

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

The mind does not stop having an influence on this process, which would cause other currents to emerge over time, such as cognitivism focused on explaining mental processes. But before that, some authors tried to take into account the existence of an intermediate point. This is how social behaviorism was born.

Social behaviorism

Traditional behaviorism, as we have seen, bases its theory on the association between stimuli and tried to explain behavior directly. However, it neglected the influence of internal processes and ignored the role in behavior of subjective and non-measurable aspects of our mental life. Elements such as the opinion of others or beliefs, which in principle do not suppose immediate damage or reinforcement on a physical level, were not considered.

That is why some authors, such as George H. Mead, decided to try to explain the mind through behavior, focusing their research on the field of social bonding and initiating the type of behaviorism called social behaviorism.

In social behaviorism, more focused on the process of formation of behavior and the factors that initiate it, it is considered that the human being is not a mere passive element in the chain between stimuli and responses but is an active part that it is capable of acting on the basis of internal impulses or external elements. The person interprets the stimuli and responds according to that interpretation.

Exploring mental processes

Thus, in social behaviorism it is taken into account that all those traces that interaction with others leaves in our mind and its study is partly behavioral, in the sense that it starts from the systematic observation of behavior in the process of realization of social events. However, it is not possible to ignore the existence of internal processes that affect the performance of social behaviors.

Although the link between stimuli and responses is still used to explain behavior, in social behaviorism this link is exercised through the concept of attitude, in the sense that through the accumulation and interpretation of experiences we form an attitude that It will alter our behavior and induce a specific type of response, while these responses and attitudes can act as a stimulus in others.

The social, both the interaction itself with others and the cultural context in which it is carried out, 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 psychological school

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

1. Social behavior

Social behaviorism considers that the relationship between people and the actions and behaviors that we carry out 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 the actions of one another and partly following the stimulus-response chain.

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

For social behaviorism, one of the main elements of interest that mediates in every social act is communication and language. The person emerges as such in a concrete context in which numerous meanings have been socially constructed, acquiring different attitudes towards them and exercising our behavior based on them.

Sharing the use of meanings through language allows the existence of learning, and based on this, the subjectivity through which we guide our behavior can be born. That is why for Mead and social behaviorism the self and the mind are a product, a consequence of social interaction.

In fact, personality formation is highly dependent on language. Throughout development, the child will participate in different situations and games in which her performance will receive a series of responses from the rest of the components of society, which are communicated to her through language and the act. Based on them, different attitudes towards the world and towards oneself will be formed, allowing the personality and the self to be forged.

3. Self-concept from social behaviorism

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

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

4. The me and the me

Thus, the subjectivity of a person depends to a large extent on the capture of the responses of our behaviors, which we use as a stimulus. 

Mead considered the existence in the self of two internal elements in the structuring of the person, the me and the self. The self is the perception that the individual has regarding how society, understood as the “generalized other”, perceives him. It is about the evaluative part of the person that integrates the external expectations in the own being, reacting and acting on the basis of them.

In contrast, the self is the most internal part that allows the existence of a specific reaction to the environment, the primal and spontaneous part. It is about what we believe to be, a part of us that will emerge through the conjunction and synthesis of the different perceived “mis”. Through this we can once again observe how within Mead’s social behaviorism the mind is considered as something arisen and prepared from and for social action.

Bibliographic references:

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

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *