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Functionalism vs. Behaviorism

Functionalism vs. Behaviorism

Functionalism connects stimuli, pain and response to other mind states and, thus, it is the best compared to Behaviorism. Today, many scientists do not believe in behaviorist theory due to the numerous holes in the theory.

On the other hand, Behaviorism is defined by behaviorists as the state of mind explained in relation to responses and stimuli. As such, Behaviorism is a scientific and psychological understanding of the mind that deals with focusing on observations of various concepts of the mental phenomenon (Watson 8). It deals with observing behavior as a source of information and a basis for theories. Functionalism is explained by functionalists as the connection between stimuli, pain and responses and their connections to other states of mind. Behaviorism states that creatures depend on how they acts in their response to different stimuli (Haas & International Organization 39).

Behaviorism as a school of psychology explains the behaviors of animals and humans in ways that are both measurable and observable. Behavioral psychology is based on the idea that behaviors are based on conditioning, which occurs through the interaction with the surrounding (Watson 8). Behaviorists believe that interaction with the environment shapes our behavior. The response to the environmental stimuli helps in shaping our behaviors. Behaviorism was introduced in 1913 by John Watson. Watson emphasized that the behavior relates and connects psychological reactions to the environment. He termed the mental process as non-scientific. It also explains the therapeutic system of behavior where the behaviorist theory emerged.

According to Watson, any individual could be trained to perform any task irrespective of his personal traits, genetic background and thoughts (Watson 8). According to Watson, there are two types of conditioning: Classical and Operant conditioning. Classical conditioning occurs where stimuli, that are natural, are paired to a response. Also neutral stimuli are paired with the other ones that occur naturally. The neutral stimuli will evoke the response in the absence of the one that is natural. Operant conditioning is a method of learning where it occurs through use of rewards and punishments (Haas & International Organization 46).

In Behaviorism there have been major theorists who have left behind important events. In 1863, Ivan Sechenov introduced the Inhibitory response concept occurring in the central nervous system. 1990, Ivan Pavlov studied reflexes and salivary responses. In 1920 John Watson outlined man issues about Behaviorism.

Functionalism deals with how questions are formalized in relation to the mind. It is the observation of various mental phenomena, such as cognitive functions including the storage and retrieval of information. It is, thus, clear that the best way to formulate the mental phenomenal questions is through functionalism. Functionalism is a state of mind that is natural branded by what it does and what it is made of (Watson 8). Functionalists believe that their psychological and interior states are different from their behavior. Such distinct psychological and internal situations are what can cause similar behaviors.

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Behaviorism used to be dominant in the middle of the 20th century unlike nowadays. It is an influential force in psychology. Behaviorism is used in teaching new behaviors in animals and also used to discourage behaviors that are unwanted.


Functionalism and Behaviorism are similar and go hand in hand as behaviors are functionally described. Both of them can be argued as theories that do not to solve any problems but only go hand in hand. Anyway, they are not mutually exclusive. The various components of the mind, including emotions, thoughts, experiences and memories are intuitively motivated. As such, it is not easy for scientists to formulate questions about the activities of the brain and how they interact to address questions in the mind scientifically (Haas & International Organization 87).

Functionalism as an approach deals with such problems. To understand the definitions, it is important that the intuitive definitions were replaced with the ones that are functional. In this case scientists can ask questions about the functional roles of the brain, about how their functional roles are fulfilled by the brain and how they interact. Such questions can only be solved scientifically. Functionalism was developed in the 20th century by Louis Henry Sullivan. As an example an individual without an understanding about the nature of the mind was taken. The person, however, recognized that a reliable source of information can be found through observation. In the end there will be Behaviorism that is not dependent on assumptions but rather on identity theory. Both Behaviorism and Functionalism do not require identity theory. Both are just problem-solving approaches that are used in day to day activities.

Critics of Behaviorism

Many people have argued that Behaviorism is only concerned and emphasizes on one dimension, which is an understanding of the human behavior. They also argue that the internal influence and the free will, including feelings, moods and thoughts should be taken into account (Haas & International Organization 4).

Behaviorist theories are said to contradict with Charles Darwin theory of natural selection. Darwin said that human beings are improving positively and gain better control and self-control. It is not what Skinner’s Operant condition is saying. According to Skinner, the positive reinforcement is achieved by Operant conditioning unlike the natural selection theory by Charles Darwin that states the reinforcement was inherited from nature. Both theories are contradictory but still the Charles Darwin theory is generally more accepted than the Operant conditioning.

Behavioral theory is also criticized for failing to generalize the human behavior. All the experiments were carried out on animals and their behaviors. The application of animals in the tests is then compared to humans, who are known to be complex beings. In this case, animals are used as substitutes for human beings. Such research, thus, requires more experiments with the use of human beings as participants to prove that the theory is valid.

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Behaviorism is also criticized for failing to explain how the human language has developed. Skinner’s ideas are not applicable to the memory of human beings and their language that are both complex processes. His inability to explain the language phenomenon has been heavily criticized. According to Skinner, verbal response stimuli are explained in four ways (Haas & International Organization 67). First, he claims that there is no connection between the stimuli and the community. Skinner said that a child could learn if there was a public stimulus to be associated. The second is where public stimuli occur due to nonverbal signs. The third, he claims that both the public and private stimuli are identical. Skinner, who was a behaviorist did nut incorporate linguistics (Wann 54). Finally, the private stimuli coincide with characteristics giving not an accurate description.

Behaviorism is said not take into account the other types of learning through usage of rewards and punishments. Also it has been noted that animals and people can change and adapt when some new information is introduced.

Strengths of Behaviorism

It is easy to quantify, collect data and information for research, since it is based on behaviors that are observable (Haas & International Organization 52).When there are therapeutic techniques that are effective, such as trainings, token economies and behavioral analysis, such behaviors could help change behaviors that are harmful for both adults and children.

Application of Behaviorist Theory

A behaviorist could focus on doing away with symptoms by applying both Classical and Operant conditioning. It could also be used in the treatment of addiction to alcohol and nicotine. The taste and unconditioned pleasure are associated to one another (Haas & International Organization 112). Despite the fact that behavioral theory is not widely used, its effects on the environment cannot be underestimated in developing the personality of individuals. Behaviorism has been used to contain certain behaviors, such as addiction and disorders. Comprehensive Behaviorism can be abandoned but its ideas are still useful and cannot be ignored (Wann 54).

Behaviorism as a Critic against Functionalism

Behaviorism would count as critics against Functionalism (Wann 54). A Functionalism works in harmony and as one unit. Functionalists argue that institutions persist as they have a role to play in promoting integration. Functionalism has been criticized due to the fact that it does not take into account the social change. It is considered by some individuals to be biased. Functionalism is also criticized for attributing the needs of people in the society (Wann 54).

Unlike Functionalism, Behaviorism failed to study how the inner brain works. It is later that the functionalists expounded the theory to create a relation between the two of them. The Relation Frame Theory acted as a bridge by using behavior and cognitive roles to analyze linguistics (Haas & International Organization 45).

Functionalism was inspired by the ideas of Emily Durkheim who was concerned by the societies’ ability to sustain stability over time. Social stability was sought through solidarity obtained by having and sharing similar symbols and values (Abrahamson &Mark 31). Functionalism just like the Behaviorism theory has almost the same criticism as the behavioral theory. Identity theory supporters criticize both above-mentioned theories claiming that they are similar. Identity theorists assume that reductionist viewpoint does not necessarily require the mind theory and as such is seen as extrapolations that are extraneous (Abrahamson & Mark 451).

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In the societal context, functionalist assumes that society does not have needs unlike human beings who have varying needs. Society is said to be alive only due to human beings. Critics downplay the Functionalism theory as it fails to take into account how individual actions may affect society and its institutions (Haas & International Organization 24).

Functionalists also point out the failure of the theory to explain how social change occurs, since it only focuses on equilibrium and social order. Functionalism relates the social life to the present and not the past. Social institutions that are in existence at present may disappear and the new ones can emerge. Critics of Functionalism can be justified as the theory does not encourage people to take an active part in changing their lives. It can be criticized as soon as such role can lead to individual development. Functionalism is not always beneficial to society, since it will not compensate problems that may arise (Haas & International Organization 24).

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Both Behaviorism and Functionalism theories are said to have common features in, for example, not providing evidence that are necessary while transmitting knowledge. Both Behaviorism and Functionalism can be criticized for not being able to solve problems. They can be regarded as only approaches to solving problems, hence they are not mutually exclusive but tend to work together.