Extending the Behaviorist Approach

The S-R theory used by Miller and Dollard had its intellectual roots in the thinking of the seventeenth century, when human beings were thought of as being complicated machines which were set in motion by external stimuli. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the stimulus-response model was adopted by John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism. Watson used the S-R model to explain observable behavior, but he avoided applying it to mental processes because he believed that mental processes could not be studied scientifically.

Miller and Dollard extended the behaviorism of Watson to the explanation of mental events through their concept of the cue-producing response and its role in the higher mental processes. This was an S-R explanation: Mental processes were seen as arising from associations between words that represent external objects; the words are cues producing responses. Miller and Dollard's approach, therefore, represented a significant departure from the behaviorism ofWatson. Miller and Dollard tried to explain mental events in their book Personality and Psychotherapy, in which they attempted to explain many psychoanalytic concepts in S-R terms. Because psychoanalysis is largely a theory of the mind, it would have been impossible for them not to have attempted to describe mental processes.

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