Theory of John B. Watson Versus Lev Vygotsky's Theory: Analytical Essay

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The news event is a CNN interview with Brad Pitt (a well-renowned actor) with Christiane Amanpour, a journalist at CNN. The interview focuses on the perspectives of the actor on loneliness, masculinity, and his relationship with alcohol (CNN News, 2019). This interview comes at a time when the actor has faced some life challenges owing to some decisions he has made, which have had a role to play in his marriage breakdown with his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie. The divorce was a widely publicized affair, with their six children being caught in between. In this interview, Pitt attributes his upbringing and those of healthy children as having a significant influence on the decisions that children make later in life. He was not expected to show vulnerability at the risk of losing his masculinity, lessons from his childhood. He admits that his interaction with alcohol was because he was running from dealing with the reality of his life, which did not help him ultimately. This caused much loneliness in his life. He admits that he cannot fault his father for his decisions because possibly that is what his father learned, but he thanks him for the good things that have come to him in life (CNN News, 2019). He raises the concern of the societal expectations towards men, which do not give them any chance to become vulnerable to different challenges they may face, which affects children negatively. He identifies that becoming sober and being aware of some harmful tendencies he may have, which he identified and corrected to help in shaping him as a parent.

Background of the Behaviourist and Non-behaviourist Figures

Behaviorist Figure: John Watson

Conceptual History

John B. Watson is a widely recognized American psychologist who left a mark as the founder of the psychological school of Behaviourism. His work, research, and theories were prominent in the psychology field. Through this prominence, his impact is felt universally in terms of his knowledge input (Shute & Slee, 2015). Watson was born on January 9, 1878, in Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina. He became more widely recognized as John B. Watson particularly, in scholarly spheres. His parents were Emma Watson and Pickens Butler. His mother tried to steer him towards church since she hoped he would preach the Gospel when he grew up, causing her to expose John to ruthless religious training. Instead, these methods backfired since he ultimately felt hatred towards religion and, instead, recognized himself as an atheist.

On the other hand, John’s father had an alcohol addiction. He left Emma and John (at 13 years of age) to live with two new women. John experienced much poverty. As a result, his mother sold the family land (Tracy, Lamb & Ainsworth, 1976). They shifted to Greenville, South Carolina, where John became subjected to different people and began to adopt a different worldview from a psychologist’s perspective. He grew up studying psychology and influence the field significantly.

Significant Contributions

Watson established the school of behaviorist methodology contained within the psychology discipline, and he published his perspectives on his psychological theory in 1913. He published an article titled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” widely regarded as a manifesto on behaviorism (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). The article delineated behaviorism as an intentional branch of science, which would root its findings and theories on experimental research employing purely observable data. One objective of behaviorism is to comprehend how particular behavior emerges as a result of conditioning to outside stimuli. Additionally, Watson was not primarily concerned with cognition, introspection, thought, or other types of interior consciousness. He perceived it foolish to construe the internal workings of the mind and considered that psychologists should become concerned with only what was observable.

Watson utilized his views on all components of human behavior, including memory and language. He deemed language to be an “exploitative habit.” This term was intended to portray the human capacity to influence the sounds created by the larynx (Shute & Slee, 2015). Furthermore, he deemed all behavior (including language) to be the condition in this scenario through copying. He theorized that gradually, people learned to relate particular spoken words or sounds with specific shapes, situations, or objects on paper (words). Watson hypothesized that in the same manner that people discover to relate sounds with symbols or objects, so too did people discover to relate certain behaviors, feelings, and other elements with symbols, objects, and situations. His most recognized and influential work was his research on emotions. He was especially interested in acquiring knowledge of how emotions could be studied. He deemed that emotions were physical reactions to outside stimuli. He also considered that fear, love, and rage were all yet to be discovered at birth.

Significant Research

Watson was especially interested in acquiring more knowledge of fear. He paired an otherwise dull stimulus (a deafening bang), with the look of an equally non-threatening thing (a white rat). In the study, the sharp unpleasant sensation of deafening noise merged with the rat would generate a response of fear (Buckley, 1989). He studied this occurrence in the controversial and famous “Little Albert” study. He employed deafening sounds in the research in order to condition the baby to be afraid of white rabbits, rats, and other analogous stimuli. In another research study, he also discovered that such fears and anxieties could be untaught through subjection to the feared entity and learning new associations between stimuli. Furthermore, Watson deemed that the behaviorism principles could be utilized to mold babies into anything a parent, experimenter, or another individual might desire (Buckley, 1989).

Non-behaviorist Figure: Lev Vygotsky

Conceptual History

Lev Vygotsky is recognized as a seminal Russian psychologist who established his sociocultural theory. He deemed that social relations play a vital function in children’s learning. Using such social relations, children experience a continuous learning process. However, Vygotsky noted that culture deeply influences this process (Yasnitsky, 2018). Collaborative learning, guided learning, and imitation all play an essential function in his theory. Vygotsky was born on November 17, 1896. He went to Moscow State University, where he studied various topics such as philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and sociology. He later graduated with a law degree in 1917. Nevertheless, his formal research in psychology did not commence until 1924, during his college attendance at the Institute of Psychology, located in Moscow. He became a prolific writer who, within ten years, started researching topics like memory, attention, and language with the assistance of students, including Alexander Luria and Alexei Leontiev.

Significant Contributions

Vygotsky’s life ended abruptly on June 11, 1934, when he succumbed to tuberculosis at 37 years of age. He is regarded as a formative thinker in the discipline of psychology, and a more significant proportion of his work is still being explored and discovered at present. While he was a contemporary of Piaget, Freud, Pavlov, and Skinner, his work never achieved their degree of reputation during his lifetime (Yasnitsky, 2018). Part of the reason was that the Communist Party usually disparaged his work in Russia, making his work significantly unavailable to his obscurity. Regardless, his work exerted more influence from the time of his death, especially in the fields of educational and developmental psychology. In the 1970s, his work became well recognized in the west as fresh ideas and concepts were introduced in the disciplines of developmental and educational psychology (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). Ever since, Vygotsky’s works and theories have been construed and have become very weighty, especially in the education field.

Significant Research

Vygotsky’s considerable research involved the publishing of six books. The work focused on psychology topics for over a decade. His interests were moderately diverse but often focused on issues of child education and development. He also examined such topics as language development and the psychology of art (Veraksa & Veraksa, 2018). Vygotsky established the zone of proximal development, which he defined as “the distance between the real development intensities as ascertained by the level of possible development and independent problem solving as determined by problem-solving steered by adult guidance or in teamwork with more possible peers. Fundamentally, this zone is the bridge between what a child recognizes and what he is not aware of yet. The process of obtaining that information needs skills that a child cannot do independently or does not yet have, but can perform with the aid of a more conscious entity.

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Another significant work is the sociocultural theory, where Vygotsky proposed that human development emerges from a dynamic relationship between society and individuals. Through this relationship, children learn slowly and continuously from teachers and parents. However, this learning can differ among cultures. It is noteworthy that Vygotsky’s theory stresses the dynamic form of this interaction (Zuckerman, 2007). According to this theory, society does not merely influence people; people also change their society.

Analyzing the Event from Both Perspectives

From Watson’s perspective, a child learns by observing his environment and the stimuli that condition his behavior. Watson’s behaviorism rebuffed the aspect of the unconscious and the natural mental state of an individual since it was not visible and was put through the subjective interpretation of a psychologist. For instance, Freud would request his patients to narrate their dreams. Then, he would construe the ideas and examine what they signified within the context of the individual’s life. Watson found this prominence on subjective interpretation and introspection to be very unhelpful and unscientific in comprehending behavior(Buckley, 1989). When analyzing this event from Watson’s perspective, the exposure of Brad Pitt to his home environment that involved a very critical and authoritarian father would cause him to become shaped by these factors into adulthood. As such, the perspective emphasizes that the environment a child is subjected to develops them into the adults they become.

His experiment with Little Albert showed that within the context of a trial, fear could be induced in an individual’s or child’s life using the most ordinary and boring things, but it would still achieve success. The emphasis on the environment may somehow explain the reason why when a child grows up in a disruptive home; they are more inclined to have the same types of homes in the future since they digest what they see, and manifest it in their behavior accordingly. In Pitt’s case, as is evident, observing his father’s alcoholism had an influence in his learning process as a coping mechanism, and he ultimately, resorted to alcohol and substance abuse in his adulthood (Shute & Slee, 2015). As such, for behaviorism, the developmental issues were critical. Unhealthy adult personalities emerged from habit systems brought forward from infancy.

Vygotsky’s perspective on this event takes the notion that social interaction plays a significant role in cognition development. He also believed that society plays a fundamental role in the course of “making meaning.” Dissimilar to Piaget’s idea that the development of children must necessarily precede their learning, Vygotsky disputed that “knowledge is a universal and necessary element of the process of creating culturally organized, especially human psychological function. This implies that social learning goes before development. Therefore, Vygotsky’s perspective agrees with Pitt’s thoughts about the role of his childhood in his development into adulthood (Yasnitsky, 2018). Vygotsky places significantly more prominence on social factors that add to an individual’s cognitive development. He stresses that a child’s cognitive development emerges from social relationships that are accompanied by guided learning inside the zone of proximal child development and the co-construct knowledge of their partners (Zaretskii, 2009).

Hence, the theoretical framework of Vygotsky and his work mainly revolves around social interaction and a child’s cognitive development. In this case, Vygotsky would assert that in his childhood, every function in Pitt’s cultural development occurred twice: primarily on the social level, and after, on the individual degree. This implies that fundamentally, it occurs between people then translated and manifested in the intrapsychic domain of the child (Zaretskii, 2009). He shows the learning process that occurs first through the interaction of the child and his environment and later, cognitively. Simply, interaction of Pitt with his background as a child involved the first people he encountered, who are his parents. The mode of communication and relations manifested between interaction with the parents, and any dysfunctionality was taken in cognitively progressively as he developed. Vygotsky offered the example of the action of pointing a finger. Primarily, this behavior starts as an insignificant grasping motion. Nevertheless, as people respond to the gesture, it is internalized as a movement that bears meaning. Notably, the gesture of pointing embodies an interpersonal link between people.

Comparing and Contrasting both Approaches relative to the News Event

The behaviorism approach adopted by Watson is a model of learning among humans and animals, which only concentrates on objectively visible behaviors and reduces the role of mental activities. This means that learning is only considered the attainment of new behavior. The fundamental notion of behaviorism is a conditioning, considered a universal learning process (Buckley, 1989). This means that when it comes to Watson’s view, Pitt’s learning and behaviors should be regarded as being just new information. Alternatively, Vygotsky’s school of thought is rooted in cognitivism, which focuses on the “brain.” This implies that the focus is on the processing and storage of information as very significant in the learning process. In his model, he identifies an internal knowledge structure as a schema (Yasnitsky, 2018). When a child creates a schema, new information is usually compared against the accessible cognitive structures identified as “schema.” The cognitive development and behavior formation of a child results from combining, extending, or changing the schema to accommodate new information. Information acquisition occurs in three phases. During the information acquisition, the individual is actively able to accommodate new information, which may be responsible for changing their behaviors (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).

In Watson’s behavioral perspective, the role of learners is passive. When introduced to an environment, the learner merely responds to stimuli. For instance, in Pitt’s case, being positioned in this form of an environment where he observed his parent’s behavior and learned from it was a passive process where he was not an active participant. As such, while he was present, the observed behavior was the stimuli he responded to, which then emerged in his adulthood after being practiced and internalized (Shute & Slee, 2015). On the other hand, Vygotsky perceives learners as individuals who process, amass, and recover information for later utilization. This allows the learner to create relations and to develop a knowledge set helpful for living. In this scenario, following the endurance of a hard childhood, Pitt processed different interactions, accumulated, and retrieved the information, which is currently being retrieved as a point of reference for learning the behaviors he has developed from childhood to adulthood (Zaretskii, 2009). He then used the information processing approach to convey and assimilate new information.

A similarity observed between the two approaches is that both Watson’s and Vygotsky’s models are their emphasize on the influence of social aspects on a child’s life on their maturity and adulthood development. In Watson’s case, he views the interactions of the child through his environment, as a source for observations that translate into new behavior. In the case of this news event, it can be assumed that from this perspective, Pitt would have acquired his behavior by observing some of his parents during childhood. The cognitive perspective adopted by Vygotsky largely embraces the element of social relationships more deeply compared to that of Watson. Vygotsky views the child as a dynamic explorer of their environment, where development can be perceived as a socially conveyed process (Bhoghossian, 2006). In this process, children attained skills and knowledge through their conversations with more experienced and skilled members of their community. Vygotsky insists on the support granted to children to help them with tasks that they are not able to do alone.

Recommendations from both Perspectives

From Watson’s perspective, to prevent Pitt’s situation, He should have been subjected to role models that focused on exposing him to and performing tasks that were instrumental to his growth and acquisition of new behavior. From this perspective, the role of the parents or society, which the child interacts with, is to provide the stimuli for the child to respond to and acquire new information that forms a behavior.

From Vygotsky’s cognitive perspective, the child should be exposed to social connections that are healthy to his or her cognitive development. This means that since the child uses the acquired schema of information to form new behavior while developing on the previously acquired information, the role of the society is to provide a healthy platform that allows interaction of the child with the environment in a healthy manner. As previously identified, a child is an active explorer within the environment instead of a passive learner. In this context, Vygotsky would recommend the creation of a good platform that motivated this interaction on a level that would promote positive development in Pitt’s life.

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Theory of John B. Watson Versus Lev Vygotsky’s Theory: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from
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