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A Blank Slate

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At the time of John Watson’s advocacy of behaviorist psychology, many of his contemporaries were supporting the idea of eugenics.  Watson, however, opposed the idea, coming down firmly on the side of nurture in the nature vs. nurture debate.  Human behavior, he believed is shaped by conditioning, not; inherited characteristics; we are all born a “blank slate.”

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He even boasted that given a dozen healthy infants and a level playing field, he could train any of them to become a specialist in any field–regardless of the individual’s talents, abilities, or race.  Although he admitted he was overstating his case, he believed the principle stood true–that stimulus–response conditioning is the way that we learn and it can be used to shape behavior.  More controversially, in his famous “manifesto” lecture, Watson explicitly said that the goal of behaviorism is not the study but the “prediction and control of behavior.”

“Watson famously said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well–formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select.”

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