To: firstname.lastname@example.org From: "John A. Johnson"
Date: Wed, 01 Sep 2004 09:18:36 -0400 Subject: Re: [evol-psych] What is "behavior"? What is "actions"? On Tue, 31 Aug 2004 19:24:45 -0600 Jay Feirman wrote: >Why do ethologists >want the definition of behavior to be purely descriptive or phenomenological >and the cognitive and evolutionary psychologists want to add other >properties into the definition? What would change in cognitive or >evolutionary psychology if behavior was just defined descriptively? Or, is >this just a dominance issue with each field of study trying to get the other >field of study to use its definition? I would say it is a dominance issue. In this entire thread on definitions of behavior and actions, I didn't see much recounting of the history of power struggles on this issue amongst schools of psychologists and philosophers. I would like to recall a very small portion of that history. John B. Watson revolutionized psychology when he declared that psychology is the study of observable behavior rather than mind, and Watsonian and Skinnerian behaviorism dominated psychology in the United States from the 1920s through 1960s. When the computer provided an alternative paradigm for the emerging cognitive perspective in the 1960s, psychologists began talking about the hypothetical behavioral events that might be occurring in the black box between stimulus input and behavioral output. This led to funny definitions in psychology textbooks; one of my favorites is "Psychology is the study of overt and covert behavior" ("covert" referring to unobservable events in the brain, not the activities of spies). Psychologists, with their historical worries about their scientific inadequacy, hoped that use of the seemingly objective word "behavior" would somehow substantiate their discipline. The behaviorist legacy is still with us and is evident each time someone defines behavior (overt or covert) as a *response* to the environment. Even the apparently counter-revolutionary cognitive perspective in the 1960s assumed that behavior begins with "inputs." S->R psychology lives. A less visible, dissenting view in the 1960s was led by philosophers such as T. Mischel, who wished to distinguish actions from behavior. Whereas *behaviors* represented relatively mindless, mechanical, Pavlovian-like reflexes to the environment, *actions* were defined as the outcome of internally-generated intentions, based on internal beliefs and desires. Without denying that behaviors occur, these philosophers claimed that actions are infinitely more interesting than behaviors because actions distinguish human beings from other animals. This philosophical movement led to the Ethogenic Psychology of Rom Harre and his followers. Despite the label "ethogenic," this school of thought is a lot closer to social constructivism than ethology. Evolutionary psychologists don't pay much attention to ethogenic psychology because we don't want to draw hard lines between humans and other animals, but I think we might want to pay more attention to the notion of actions that are purely internally generated. >Also, what are the properties of a good definition? One criterion might be a >definition which contains the fewest assumptions, as I stated in a previous >posting that scientific definitions that contain assumptions often have >relatively short half-lives. And that's why I like the simple, descriptive, >ethological definition of behavior as the self-directed movement of the >individual or part of the individual through space and time. I'm less sanguine about finding a theoretically neutral definition of behavior. I think we will always have dominance struggles amongst scientists who wish to establish their own definition in order to impose their theoretical predilections upon others. But I like Jay's definition, particularly the "self-directed" portion. Although ethologists, like behaviorists, study behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, they also study a body of behaviors that are wholly directed by inner mechanisms ("self"): appetitive behavior, explorative behavior, in vacuo behavior, etc. I'm less concerned about owning and imposing a particular definition of behavior or the subject matter of evolutionary psychology as I am about including behaviors that originate from within the active organism as well as those that originate in the environment. --John -------------------------------------------------------------------- John A. Johnson http://www.personal.psu.edu/~j5j/ Professor of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University Penn State is not responsible for my behavior. Nor am I for the university's. Real Utilitarianism: Moral Goodness as Causal Efficacy: http://drj.virtualave.net/other/religio/morality.html