Post One: Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism

According to Powell et al. (2009), Skinner’s “version of behaviorism, known as radical behaviorism, emphasizes the influence of the environment on overt behavior, rejects the use of internal events to explain behavior, and views thoughts and feelings as behaviors that themselves need to be explained” (p. 30). Powell et al. (2009) then go on to explain, “Radical behaviorism does not completely reject the inclusion of internal events in a science of behavior; it merely rejects the use of these events as explanations for behavior (p. 30). Unlike Watson, Skinner does not reject “internal events;” therefore, he has two branches of events to count for (Powell et al. p. 30). These two branches are covert and overt. Covert – which are “internal events, such as sensing, thinking, and feeling,” are defined as “private behaviors that are subject to the same laws of learning as ‘overt’ or publically observable behaviors (Powell et al. p. 30). This definition gave Skinner the ability to include internal events for “analysis of behavior” (Powell et al. p. 30).

The text (2009) argues that at first, Skinner did not like the inclusion of internal events (p. 31). Personally, I find the internal events to be intriguing and useful, but Powell et al. (2009) argues you a crucial point – you cannot rely on what a person conveys as their internal behaviors as truth (p. 31). The text (2009) provides an example of children relaying their pain endurance as a way of illustrating unreliability of internal behaviors descriptions; I personally had a similar experience to the text (p. 33). One day I went over my girlfriend’s house while she was babysitting. She was taking care of a six year old boy, and that day he feel and cut open his knee. Upon asking him how bad it hurt, he said, in a whiney voice, “It feels like it was run over by a truck!” Now, I have scraped my knee before, and although it does hurt, I feel as though it pales in comparison to being run over. With that said, I feel like I have experienced a prime example as to why we cannot put full trust in the accuracy of what others tell us are their true internal behaviors/thoughts.

Because of the above mentioned problem, and many more, Skinner decided to reject “internal events as explanations for behavior; instead, he focused on the environment – in particular, the environmental consequences of our behavior – as the ultimate cause of both observable behavior and internal events” (Powell et al. p. 33). Essentially, Skinner is arguing for operant conditioning; however, Skinner believes that present behavior is incited because of past behavior that resulted in a positive reward (Powell et al. p. 35). Below is a video that may help explain the operant conditioning a bit better. I found it quite useful for my response and understanding of what was meant by response due to past experience rather than thought.


  1. I think your experience with the pain of the little boys cut certainly shows that you cannot always trust internal events. I also like this video, it shows how much enviornment influences and shapes our behavior and internal events.


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