Behaviorism: Give me anyone, and I can make them into Anything

“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 — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

–John Watson, Behaviorism, 1930


The term behaviorism refers to the belief that behaviors can be measured, trained, and changed. Also known as behavior psychology, behaviorism is a theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning therefore occurs through interaction with the environment, which then makes behaviorists believe that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our behaviors.

As Watson’s above quote suggests, strict behaviorists believe that any person could potentially be trained to perform any task, regardless of things like genetic background, personality traits, and internal thoughts (within the limits of their physical capabilities); all it takes is the right conditioning.

For instance, I grew up in a very small farm town with a graduating class of 100. The class a year older than me however had a class of almost 200, and out of them probably only half would graduate. Going into my 6th grade year was when I met this kid in the 7th grade Rick. We were both on the track team and I got to know him better, but still didn’t know everything about him. I did learn however that his parents were both drunks, one in jail and the other non-existent and that he was currently sleeping under the high school bleachers on the high jump mats. Through out the years, my mother who came to both of our track meets got to meet Rick too, and although he would never ask for help, food, money or a place to stay my mom would kind of help him out. We didn’t officially adopt him or take him under our roof, but we called him family. We did what we could to help support him, feed him meals and even reconnect with some local grandparents. We helped him with homework, got him tutors, helped him with his college admissions, and watched him graduate high school and earn a full ride scholarship to go to college. From there we watched him take off, he did a couple of magazine shoots and modeled for Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch, he was asked to do multiple NYC fashion shows and offered a salary many people wouldn’t turn down. He instead enlisted in the army, got selected and graduated from Ranger school, one of the toughest programs out there.

This example here goes to show a couple of fitting objectives when it comes to studying behaviorism. First, due to his upbringing, Rick was never dependent on anyone, never asked for help because he was never used to receiving help, and also didn’t believe he was worthy of anything good. So at first, he was very reluctant towards help, and saw it that he could find ways to survive on his own without other peoples pity party. However, with a little acceptance of help he started to see rewards. He started doing well in school, and for the first time saw graduation as a possible thing. On top of that he had colleges asking for him.

Therefore in this situation, it was difficult to control Rick’s complete environment without overstepping too many lines, but by the way my mother and I helped mold his surroundings, I believe that we helped shape his future for the better.

-Kendall Pierce

1 thought on “Behaviorism: Give me anyone, and I can make them into Anything

  1. Gavin M Shuler

    Wow! That is a really amazing and interesting story about your friend! And good on you and your family for sticking up for someone down on their luck!
    How do you think Rick would have turned out differently if you had not gotten to know him? Where would he be now instead? Do you think your family and you, assisted substantially on his path to success (graduating from Ranger school is REALLY impressive!), or are you confident he would have made it for himself?
    I’m interested to know what happened to Rick in the later years of high-school. Did he move in with someone? Did life improve for him?

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