One Thing I Don’t Understand About Behaviouralism

We’re studying a lot of Behaviouralism (which I guess is to be expected in the first year of psych) and there’s one issue with it that I just can’t work out.

Behaviouralists talk about how the mind is an unknowable black box and there’s no point in investigating it so let’s just stick to focussing on the actions. This makes historical sense, given they didn’t have the neural imaging tools that are now easily available to modern-day psychologists, but there’s a hole in this idea.

They claim that the mind is unknowable, yet both classical and operant conditioning both rely on a human desire — either to move towards something or away from something.

You can only reward someone if you know what they find rewarding.

You can only punish someone if you know what will cause them pain.

If the mind is unknowable, then how can you know what to provide as a reward or punishment?

I don’t get it.

The only thing that seems clear is that the foundations of PNST are the same as in Behaviouralism, in that people will take actions that get them what they want in life and avoid those that limit their ability to get what they want, but the difference is that PNST identifies the core desire and Behaviouralism leaves it as an ‘unknown black box’.

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