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What is the "black box" according to behavioral psychologists?

June 19, 2024

There are many people who, perhaps because of the influence of the works of Sigmund Freud, believe that Psychology is responsible for unraveling the secrets of something we usually call "mind". In fact, many of those who totally reject the psychoanalytic ideas born with Freud to practice still believe that the mind is an entity that, despite remaining hidden within the human skull, is the cause of all our behavior, the helmsman of our movements, thoughts and emotions.

This idea, which may even seem obvious, is not shared by all psychologists. Those who belong to the behaviorist current , famous by researchers like B. F. Skinner or John B. Watson, made famous the idea that the human mind is a black box, a metaphor that gives the idea of ​​representing something mysterious, impossible to open to be explored. However, this is a myth, and in fact since the behaviorism has been understood by black box is not that.


The metaphor of the black box does not mean that the mind can not be studied just as a dead animal would be studied. What it means is that the mind does not exist.

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What is the black box for behaviorists?

To understand what comes next, one thing must be clear: the psychological current of behaviorism, which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and was dominant in many countries of the world until the 1960s, is defined by its concern define human behavior as an operational process , something that with the right instruments can be measured objectively.


That means that behaviorists, unlike other psychologists based on metaphysics, began by analyzing the observable: behavior patterns of humans and non-human animals. From these events they proposed hypotheses that they tried to use to predict behavior and, as far as possible, influence it.

Mainly, the figure of the black box is used to represent what there is between an input (a stimulus that the person or animal receives) and the output (the behavior that the person or animal performs). If we think for example of the act of rewarding a dog with a treat, and input is the treat and the output is the propensity to return to perform the action that previously served to win that prize.

So that, what is between the stimulus and the reaction is not known , we only know that there is a mechanics that links the input with the output. Now ... does that mean that the black box is unfathomable? The answer is no.


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The black box can be opened

The idea is that the black box is only as long as a certain level of analysis is maintained between a type of stimulus and a type of response. If we choose to study the relationship between receiving a treat and the consequence of acting in a certain way as a result of the above, what has happened between these two phases is not known, but it is not necessary to know it to generate knowledge at that time. There is nothing that suggests that later it will not be possible to know what has happened "in there".

After all, behaviorism is based on the philosophical currents that were born with positivism , and that means that there is no time to discuss the possibility that there are non-physical elements directing the behavior. If something that happens in our behavior can not be investigated at a given moment, it is not because it is something "spiritual" and by definition impossible to observe or measure, but because it is not available to do it or it is not interesting to study it. directly.

As much as the black box is mysterious, it is still something material, and therefore participates in the cause-effect chain of the world in which we live; there is nothing in it that appears from nothing, everything has an origin in measurable and observable events that occur around us or within ourselves.

That's why for behaviorism the mind as an entity isolated from the rest and generating behavior, does not exist . In any case there are mental processes (which occur in the brain), whose existence is completely conditioned by other processes that are not mental and are as normal and ordinary as a vibrating eardrum or a few drops of water falling on the skin. And that is also why B. F. Skinner, shortly before his death, accused cognitive psychologists of being "creationists of psychology", implying that for them there is a source of behavior without a specific origin.

In short, those who believe that the black box is a metaphor used by behaviorists to reluctantly admit that they need a carpet under which to accumulate their incontestable doubts will be disappointed.


Black Box Methodology (June 2024).


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