Methodological Behaviorism (Watson): A Psychology that ignores the mind

The old methodological behaviorism distinguishes the objective world from the subjective world, and states that science must deal only with the objective world, that is, with the world “outside” the subject. For this reason, methodological behaviorism is also called “the psychology of the other”.

For the realism of methodological behaviorism, in terms of study, real behavior occurs in the real world and our senses (aided by instruments or used in direct observation) provide us with only sensory data about real behavior. Therefore, we never know it directly, because we will only access it indirectly through our senses.

This school of thought in Psychology, now also called Classic Behaviorism , postulates that Psychology should deal only with behavior that can be the object of public observation and measurement , instead of looking for causes or influences of behaviors in mental states.

Methodological behaviorism believes in the existence of the mind, but ignores it in its explanations of behavior . For methodological behaviorism, mental states are not classified as objects of empirical study.

In other words, for methodological behaviorism it is not a question of denying the existence of the mind. The point is that, due to its inaccessibility to the study, it is not possible to give it scientific status.

Watson’s Methodological Behaviorism

The postulates of methodological behaviorism were formulated predominantly by the American psychologist John B. Watson .

Watson, with the publication of his article entitled ” Psychology: how behaviorists see it “, inaugurates, in 1913, the term that starts to denominate one of the most expressive theoretical trends still in force: Behaviorism.

The English term “behavior” means “behavior” , which is why, in Brazil, it is also called Behaviorism, Behaviorism , Behavioral Psychology , among others.

(There is a lot of discussion about the terms related to Behavior Analysis, but we’ll leave that for another time).

Watson establishes as an object of Psychology studies the “observable and measurable behavior , whose experiments could reproduce different conditions and subjects.

Watson’s conceptions represent a great opposition to introspection , a movement that was in force at the time, as well as rejecting analogy as methods.

In this way, Watson made pleasant propositions to certain objectives of the psychologists of the time, which contributed to the definitive separation between psychology and philosophy.

Methodological behaviorism and realism

Methodological behaviorism is based on realism .

Realism defends the idea that it is from an external real world – objective – that we constitute our internal world – subjective.

Paradoxically, our contact is restricted to our internal experience, provided by the senses. This is because the external, objective world is not directly accessible to us. Thus, our senses provide us with only sensory data about that real world that we never know directly.

As a methodological behaviorist, therefore, Watson’s interest is concentrated in the search for a psychology that is free of mentalistic concepts and subjective methods, and that can combine the conditions to predict and control .

Therefore, it is important, in line with realism, to establish a dichotomy between the objective and the subjective world. Science, made up of methods specific to the study of the objective world, should deal only with the world that is ‘outside’ the subject, the world that is shared, accessible to others and possible to be the object of agreement.

Understanding that man has an organic apparatus that adjusts to the environment in which he lives through hereditary equipment and through the formation of habits, Watson defends the idea that behavior should be studied as a function of certain environment variables, under the argument of that certain stimuli cause the organism to give certain responses .

Therefore, he sought to describe behavioral events by assigning them a mechanical character and a proximity to physiology, since the reasons that would be underlying the ‘taking’ man to perform the behavior should be treated in isolation.

The foundation of Watson’s methodological behaviorism is an element of Pavlov ‘s famous discovery of classical conditioning : the unconditioned reflex that, according to Furtado (1999), “answers that are elicited (produced) by antecedent stimuli from the environment (eg contraction pupils when there is strong light over the eyes) ”.

By deepening and expanding these notions, John B. Watson arrives at the “ conditioned reflex ”. This concept refers to stimulus-response interactions (relationship between environment and subject) in which the organism starts to respond to stimuli to which it did not previously respond.

This is due to a pairing of stimuli, such as: immersing your hand in the cold water and listening to the sound of a bell repeatedly. After a while, the temperature change in the hands can be elicited only by the sound of the bell, that is, without the need for hand immersion.

The formulation of Watson’s behaviorism is represented by the SR relation, where S is the stimulus of the environment and R is the organism’s response.

Final considerations

It is always worth mentioning that many criticisms of behaviorism, in general, consider only Watson’s methodological behaviorism.


  • “Behaviorism is very superficial”
  • “Behaviorism does not consider feelings and thoughts”
  • “It only works with mice, it doesn’t work like humans”
by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

Leave a Comment