When renowned behavioral scientist Billy Baum would ask visiting speakers “if a pigeon could do the tasks” that were included in their research, he was (in addition to kind of being a wise guy!) making a point about the importance of observable behavior in the behavioral sciences. All things equal, the more observable our variables are, the more that we can be confident that our results actually matter—that our results bear on actual actions that people take in their lives.
While many of the principles of old-school behaviorism have been shown to not fully stand up to scientific scrutiny, I say that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The behaviorists understood the importance of studying variables that can be physically observed. And this approach to behavioral science is as relevant today as it ever was.
NOTE: The unabridged version, with an additional section about behaviorism in the applied human sciences, is found here.
DEDICATION: This post is dedicated to the Ph.D. program in Psychology at the University of New Hampshire. I truly owe nearly everything I have to this gem of an academic program.
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- Geher, G., Carmen, R., Guitar, A., Gangemi, B., Sancak Aydin, G., and Shimkus, A. (2015) The evolutionary psychology of small-scale versus large-scale politics: Ancestral conditions did not include large-scale politics. European Journal of Social Psychology, doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2158.
- Geher, G., Betancourt, K., & Jewell, O. (2017). The link between emotional intelligence and creativity. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.
- Mayer, J.D., & Geher, G. (1996). Emotional intelligence and the identification of emotion. Intelligence, 22, 89-113.
Written by: Glenn Geher
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission