Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism

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24 December 2015

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All through history, education and philosophy have come out as ever-evolving pieces of disciplines that are not only interlinked, but also drivers of each other. This is because; education involves the process of passing down information from one informant to another person who will receive it. The way the knowledge or piece of information by the recipient or learner and the informant or teacher, forms the underlying features of the process of education and its overall effect on the society. In addition, there is evidence of numerous factions of educational disciplines that exist in the field and each requires a particular way or method of doing things. Natural sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, humanities and many other areas of educational learning that split from the mainstream disciplines as well as those that are discovered on a day to day basis in the continued development of ways to not only make education much easier, but also make the underlying mental and behavioral aspects.

On the other hand, without philosophy, it is arguably deducible that education and learning would not be in existences today. Practically, education and learning is one of the most important aspects of human life whose absence is an imaginable. Apparently, it is the historical and the proceeding developments and transformations of the philosophical concepts that shape the kind of processes, developments as well as outcomes involved in education.

The link between education, theories and philosophies

It is in this light that the study of the concepts of structuralism, constructivism, functionalism and the modern behaviorism and cognitivism leads to the understanding that these philosophical as well as empirical studies on educational and learning concepts brings about the result that there has been a progressive development and logical sequence of events in the philosophies which in turn end up bringing about a difference in the understanding of the elements of learning in educations.

As such, this paper seeks to look deep into the basic definitions, concepts and effects of the cognitivism, behaviorism and constructivism. The process of this in-depth analysis is based on the basic players involved and the experiments that have been conducted as well as the other ones, which have the potential to prove the association of the elements. From the historical arenas of education processes to the modern conduction of education of various disciplines including aviation, it is possible for a well-crafted idea, full of valid data and logical relations and linking can be presented to bring about the achievement of this objective. In the end, it will be a requirement to join the dots that link these three concepts in such a way that the timeline and concept of use be made evident. With a broad look at each of the issues, the paper seeks to delve into the development and thus, delve into the proof that all these philosophies come about as a way of filling a loophole found in another or as a complimentary form of mitigation (Buckley, 1989).


Prior to delving into the aspect of behaviorism, it is important to get in touch with the events and concepts that were developed way before this concept and how they have had an influence on the speed as well as the stepping stones for the procession to the eventual use of behaviorism as a way of discerning what happens and goes on in the learning and development process in education. The concepts of structuralism and functionalism have come out as being the key movers and shakers in this process (Kitchener & O’Donohue, 1999). For instance, the schools of thought bring out issues that are different but complimentary to each other such that one phenomenon in one is explained or illustrated by a concept in another. Structuralism is based on the basic nature of all that is in existence and how the basic and smallest particles of material such as atoms act in order to create a particular effect. In psychology therefore, this concept is used as a way of finding and understanding the internal processes of the mind as a way of knowing the human mental processes from the structural point of view. Functionalism, on the other hand, is a concept that seeks to come out with the principles of understanding the functional aspect of consciousness away from the structural perspective (Watson, 2008).

It is from the foundations of the philosophers of the past who came up with experiments and concepts of structuralism and functionalism that the thinking process of creating behaviorism concepts. Having been first brought forth by the John Watson in the early 1900s, a plethora of written materials supported the idea that the study of behavior with a concentration on the extents to which the processes of actions and reaction come about are can be used to understand such concepts as those that influence human behavior (Kitchener & O’Donohue, 1999). Basically, this concept has its key focus on the two-way understanding of the multifaceted relation between a stimulus and a response to it. It is the endeavor of a good psychologist to understand how a stimulus, which is a specific action, event, or sensation that an organism is subjected to, the response on the individual. On the other hand, for the reaction or response of the subject, it should be possible to understand type, or better still, the specific stimulus that is responsible for the response (Buckley, 1989).

As a consequence of this, other affiliates and sub-branches of the conditioning and classical conditioning have come up as a result of myriads of empirical experiments. Thus, as Watson puts it, in a particular environments, well placed conditioned training as well as the little regard to phylogeny or potential, any individual organism is capable of becoming what they are expected, trained or conditioned to be (Watson, 2008).


Whereas the concepts and principles of behaviorism have been used for a long time to come up with an understanding of the underlying and deep-seated issues in learning processes, there was need to understand the process of learning with the point of view that emanates from the study of the thought process, information processing and manipulation as well as the effects on learning. As such, from the early times of scientific and philosophical propositions, it is noted that the search of the understanding of the learning process is spotted with a spectra of footprints of scientists and scholars (Jahnke & Nowaczyk, 1998). Though they use a mixture of various earlier concepts, Charles Darwin’s evolution theory states that from the onset of existence of life, organisms have gone through changes within and without their species in a bid to participate equivalently in the competitive world of the survival for the fittest as well as Dewey’s spiritual approach tend to agree on one thing; that organisms and human beings undergo gradual development and depending on the environment, there are possible modifications that come about in order for the organism to better live in their environments. It is for this reason that all eyes then focused into the exploring the key influencer of consciousness and thought as well as the varying effects that come from it (Shettleworth, 2010). Through a number of experiments, it was found that the though process and what affects it, play an important role in determining the learning ability, process and outcomes involved. Apparently, in as much as structuralism and functionalism come close to helping understand the internal process of learning; they are just basic foundations and stepping stones towards the understanding of behavioral, cognitive as well as constructivism. This means that even though Watson puts it across that through behavioral condition in a suitable environment, one can become whatever they are conditioned to be by learning, there are a few variations that can only be explained via the understanding of cognitive processes. Basically, it is a known fact that performance in assessment procedures and tests come out differently for different people. This is because there are a difference in the cognitive aspect of learning that is manifested in the motivation, age and level of intelligence, personality and other traits that influence an individual’s ability to learn. It is also of importance in the understanding of the processes that bring about the differences between the reflective and the impulsive persons as well as turning the stones covering the facts about crystallized and liquid intelligence. One of the most outstanding aspects of cognitivism is the fact that it is related to treatment and not stimuli as in behavioral models. As such, visual effects in learning process, signs, classroom structure, motivation and teaching methods are among the factors to consider when the subject is under study for the cognitive aspect of learning (Jahnke & Nowaczyk, 1998).


Notably observed as one of the most dominant forms of education theories that the modern arena of education is based, is presents itself as the latest used form of model by many. Constructivism is defined as the ability of the student or the learner to perceive a new piece of information, store it in the memory and add it to the already existing information in the memory such that the end result is a learning process that is composed of a knowledge based on various building blocks acquired over time. The student, having gone through experiences, read or learnt about the information prior to the current information learnt, is able to add up or relate the piece of information, makes a connection and derives a meaning or conclusion from it. As such, this method is seen as being one that links both the processes of learning involving practical and theory. Through this, it is more possible to the learner than ever before, for the learner to fulfill the main role of education; to make a meaning of life and the thing that surround the human race (Shettleworth, 2010).

Application in the aviation industry

Logical reasoning and actions that come as a result are of great importance in every working or professional environment. It is important to note that, some more than others, workforce environments require great precision, stability of the mind as well as accuracy of thought in the bid to bring about excellent completion of tasks or assignment. The aviation industry is one of such fields of work, which need great and well-regarded ways of doing things that will come out as evidently efficient and effective. It is for this reason that all involved in this process from their time of training and learning need to be percolated in terms of ability and mental acuity (Reed, 2007). Once this is done, all should be subjected to the widely ranging learning processes that are based on the models mentioned above. Through studying of the learning process with regard to behavior, spatial skills, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, ability to link pieces of information and fix a problem in the shortest time possible, it is possible to come out with fully baked personnel for the field of work. Even though these methods of evaluating learning processes act as complimentary aspects of the others, it is important to note that many situations vary with what they demand from the person in charge. For this reason, subjection of the learning subject to each of them before evaluation of the ability to use all in combination is a vital idea for the potential personnel for the aviation industry. Moreover, it is through these educationally proven processes that one’s abilities, limitations can be determined, and recommendations made as to the kind of departments in which one is able to fit in. Generally, these educational theories and philosophies have logically evolved over time in a bid to bring about advancements in the field of education and learning process (Reed, 2007).


Buckley, K. W. (1989). Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism. New York: Guilford Press.

Jahnke, J. C., & Nowaczyk, R. H. (1998). Cognition. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

O’Donohue, W. T., & Kitchener, R. F. (1999). Handbook of behaviorism. San Diego, Calif: Academic Press.

Reed, S. K. (2007). Cognition: Theory and applications. Australia: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Shettleworth, S. J. (2010). Cognition, evolution, and behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Watson, J. B. (2008). Behaviorism. Tucson, Ariz: West Press.

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StudyScroll. (2015). Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 26 September, 2023]

"Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism" StudyScroll, Dec 24, 2015. Accessed Sep 26, 2023.

"Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism" StudyScroll, Dec 24, 2015.

"Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism" StudyScroll, 24-Dec-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 26-Sep-2023]

StudyScroll. (2015). Mechanical man: John Broadus Watson and the beginnings of behaviorism. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 26-Sep-2023]

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