John Watson’s Behaviorism Application in Management

Psychology is no longer a reserve for scholars but has been accepted and applied in various fields. Psychology is especially very important in management. Management psychologists hold that managerial roles could be simplified by proper use of psychology. One of challenging things in management is managing behavior of employees. It is well known that behavior of employees has great influence on general performance of an organization. Some behaviors can lead to high performance while others could have counter-productive effects. Considering this, it is the responsibility of the management to create appropriate environment that facilitate high productivity. John Watson is one of pioneers in study of psychology. He is mainly associated with behaviorism psychology. Watson’s theory of psychology has a place in management. This paper reviews influence of Watson ideas in management. It mainly focuses on how his theory of psychology can be used in management.

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John Watson is one of psychologists that have contributed highly in development of learning theory of psychology. Other psychologists in the same category as Watson include Ivan Pavlov, Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner. These psychologists had various aspects in common because of their view on human behavior. Unlike other psychologists such as Piaget and Sigmund Freud, these psychologists held that human behavior is learnt. Pavlov could be considered as the founder of this class of psychologists through his work on classical conditioning. Although Pavlov could be the pioneer of behaviorisms, Watson led to adoption of this term to refer to the different perspective of psychology. Basing his research on Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment, Watson wanted to show that human behavior was learnt. He believed and showed through his experiments that human behavior was conditioned. Popular although ethical questionable experiment with little Albert showed that human behavior is conditioned (DeMar, 1989).

John Watson behaviorism holds that human behavior is a response to a stimulus. Watson believed that human behavior could be explained by looking at precedence that could have led to the behavior. Likewise, Watson believed that it is possible to predict behavior or even influence the way in which people behave (DeMar, 1989). Watson is responsible for the term ‘behaviorism’. The concept of behaviorism, which he contributed highly to develop, holds that human behavior can be correlated to other conditions in the environment of an individual (Watson, 1928). The concept posits that certain events precede and follow a behavior. In general, behaviorism aims at unfolding relationship between a certain behavior and events that acts as stimulus. Watson believed that behavior could be explained by evaluating observable conditions in the environment of a subject other that using speculation on cognitive process or unconscious motives. In essence, Watson’s behaviorism insists on the role of environment on human behavior.

The main role of management is to use available resources in achieving organization’s objectives. Among all other resources, human resource is the most important resource as it influence the way in which other resources are used. Workers in an organization can help an organization achieve its objectives at ease but can as well be barriers to successful attainment of certain goal (Porter & Steers, 1991). Certain behavior in workplace can have counterproductive effect where they lower performance. Considering that workers’ behavior can affect performance, it is the role of management to ensure that favorable behavior prevails. According to Watson behaviorism, favorable behavior can be attained providing favorable environment that act as stimulus to the required result.

Watson asserts that behavior is learnt or is conditioned by environment. According to his concept of behaviorism, desired behavior can be attained by providing appropriate stimuli. In fact, Watson held that human behavior could be predicted or even be controlled. In his experiments, Watson observed that human behavior was conditioned in that it was a response to precedent conditions (Watson, 1928). Using Watson’s behaviorism in management, the role of management would be creating favorable conditions that could lead to desired behavior. In other words, the role of management would be to create stimuli from which the desired behavior would follow. One way in which Watson’s behaviorism is used is in increasing performance. For instance, by promising certain rewards for sales the management can influence the effort applied by sale representatives. For example, using commission system where sale person make good returns from commodity sold can encourage hard-work leading to high performance.

Watson behaviorism is based on the concept of stimulus response. Using this concept in management, the role of management is to create the appropriate stimulus that would lead to desired response (Watson, 1913). The secret of using Watson’s behaviorism is the ability to know the appropriate stimulus that would lead to desired results. By knowing appropriate stimulus to a certain desired behavior, the management can be able to influence organizational behavior through invoking appropriate response by use of appropriate stimulus.

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Human behavior, according to Watson, develops because of trial and error. An individual learns to behave in a certain manner depending of the response that they receive from environment. The concept of trial and error is common in all life situations. In some instances, an individual may encounter unfamiliar situations. In such cases, individuals tend to take actions that correspond with favorable response. In management, Watson’s concept can be used by providing the appropriate response (Naik, 1998). There must be consistency on response provided by managements. As new workers strive to find their place in an organization, they rely mostly on response that they receive from their new environment. Through trial and error, the new workers are able to find the appropriate behavior. By creating consistent response, the management is able to create organizational culture or behavior. The workers are aware that certain actions would elicit particular response. Thus, Watson’s behaviorism can be used in controlling negative workplace behavior. For instance, by consistently responding accordingly to negative workplace behaviors such as lateness and absenteeism the management can not only control the behaviors but also create the appropriate culture (Martinko, Gundlach & Douglas, 2003).

Skinner, developing from Watson’s behaviorism, came up with what he referred to as ‘Operant Conditioning’. Using this concept, management can be able workplace behavior and performance. Management can use positive and negative reinforcements to control certain or motivate organizational behaviors. Punishment, on the other hand, can be used to prevent certain undesired behavior (Martinko, Gundlach & Douglas, 2003). Operant conditioning is based on behaviorism concept of environment’s effect on behavior. Using Watson’s concept, managements role is that of creating a favorable environment that motivate certain desired results.

Watson’s behaviorism is not always applicable in management. Pure behaviorism assumed by some behaviorist is unrealistic. The assumption that human beings are mechanistic and thus only respond to external factors is incorrect. Watson behaviorism ignores influence of thought, motivation and cognition to behavior. Sigmund Freud psychodynamics show the influence of subconscious mind on behavior (Miller, 2009). An individual’s past may have great influence on the way they behave in the present. This implies that manipulating the external environment does not always lead to behavior change. This can explain difference in behavior in individuals in the same environment. It can also explain consistency on behavior of an individual under different conditions. Thus, by only focusing on environment, management may not always be able to evoke desired behavior. In some situations, individuals may respond in a contrary behavior as anticipated. For instance, management may assume that rewarding individuals depending on their individual contributions in an organization would lead increase in performance. This may not be the case in some cultural that does not support individualism. In some cases, external conditions may elicit varying behavior in some individuals. While promotion may elicit joy in some individuals, it can evoke contrary response to individuals with inferiority complex. Watson’s behaviorism also ignore the role of social dimension on behavioral. Vygotsky’s cognitive developments theory shows the role social dimension on cognitive development. Historical context and social interaction also have influence on behavior (Miller, 2009). By ignoring these aspects, management may fail to achieve desired behaviors.

Watson’s behaviorism has a role in management. Watson understood behavior as conditioning that result from environment. By providing appropriate external conditions, management can be able to condition workers to behave in a particular desired way. However, Watson’s concept is not applicable in all situations. Watson’s behaviorism ignores the role of motive and social dimensions on behavior. Apart from behaviorism, other psychological theories also have an important role in management. By applying concepts from different theories, management can be able to control negative workplace behaviors and promote performance.

Reference List

  1. DeMar, G. (1989). Behaviorism. Web.
  2. Martinko, M. Gundlach, M. & Douglas, S. (2003). Toward an Integrative Theory of Counterproductive Workplace Behavior: A Causal Reasoning Perspective. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 10(2): 36-50.
  3. Miller, P. (2009). Theories of Developmental Psychology. London: Worth Publishers.
  4. Porter, L. & Steers, R. (1991). Motivation and work behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  5. Watson, J. (1913). Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158-177.
  6. Watson, J. (1928). The ways of behaviorism. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers Pub.
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