06.04.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today's soundtrack is Ween: The Mollusk.

This morning I'm reading the next chapter of Behaviorism: Classic Studies, "Behavior and the Concept of Mental Disease," by John B. Watson. It was originally published in 1916. in the Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods.

Watson noticed that medical doctors referred to diseases without physical causes as being mental illnesses; as a psychologist, he thought there must be a better way to phrase it. Watson followed Freud's teachings, but he believed Freud used a convoluted way of describing things; Watson preferred to use a "simpler and a more common-sense way (and at the same time a more scientific way)" (p. 34).

Though man has many instincts and capabilities, he must suppress some to realize the others, for some will run counter to the full development of others: an example given, quoted from William James, is that one cannot be both a millionaire and a saint, for "[t]he millionaire's work would run counter to the saint's" (p. 35). Similarly, we accumulate and then must discard many habits - both good and bad - throughout our stages of development, from childhood through adulthood. For example, the sucking reflex of the baby must be discarded if a toddler is to learn to eat solid food. "Some of [these habits] yield with difficulty and we oftten get badly twisted in attempting to put them away" (p. 35). Watson believes that such habits are not consciously attained and discarded, and that if he is doing a psychoneurological assessment, he needs to "look for habit disturbances - maladjustments - and attempt to describe [his] findings in terms of the inadequacy of responses, of wrong responses, and of the complete lack of responses to the objects and situations in the daily life of the patient" (p. 36) - so he looks for the subject's responses to demands placed on them, then he tries to find the root of any abnormal responses. Where Watson really differs from other psychiatrists is that he believes "that the description of 'mental' cases can be completed as well as begun in behavior terms" (p. 36)!

Watson sees language as a "system of motor habits" (p. 36), and says that "speech should be looked upon as a vast system of conditioned reflexes" (p. 36), since words "have no functional significance apart from their connection with motor acts" (p. 36). As we know from learning about classical conditioning, "almost any stimulus can, under suitable conditions, be substituted for another stimulus which has a very definite act of its own as a consequence" (p. 37). We have learned to associate certain words with certain actions. Watson says that many mental illnesses present with speech problems - not stuttering or aphasia, but things like Freudian slips, difficulty in making correct word associations, etc. They indicate a disturbance in a person's ability to form habits and to associate words with actions. Watson believes that psychologists can observe speech patterns objectively and therein find out whether a person has a mental disturbance.

Watson believed that the way that classical conditioning was made possible was that a primary stimulus was introduced, the subject's glands reacted, and while the hormones secreted were still active, a secondary reinforcer would be introduced, thereby building a physiological association between the two.

Watson believed that for all people working in the field of psychology to be better able to share knowledge, they must abandon the outdated psychological terms and be willing to adopt new terms.