The Psychology of Communication



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. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.

John B. Watson, Behaviorism, Page 82

2.1 Implicit Concept of Person

Communication theory is almost invariably considered at the lofty sociological level of analysis. In communication studies - as in, sociology, economics, political science, and all the other social sciences - there is an underlying concept of the person. Apart from some vague, infrequent (and politically incorrect) reference to economic man, political man, etc., the concept of the person is usually implicit. I would like to make it explicit, and thereby offer this book as a complement to the usual analysis.

The next three chapters will explore three alternative concepts of the person - the behavioristic concept, the humanistic concept and the interactionist concept. They will be presented as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis [GARDINER 1980]. I will argue that the behavioristic concept of the person underlies traditional communication theory and practice, that the humanistic concept of the person underlies alternative communication theory and practice, and that the interactionist concept of the person promises more integrated theory and more meaningful practice.

The behavioristic concept of the person is presented as the system of five propositions listed below. Since each proposition implies the next, those five propositions constitute a system rather than simply a set.

  • The person has only extrinsic needs
  • The person is conditioned from the outside in
  • The person is not responsible for behavior
  • The person has only extrinsic worth
  • The person has contractual relationships
  • The typical exposition of behaviorism consists of the first two propositions - "The person has only extrinsic needs" in courses on Motivation, and "The person is conditioned from the outside in" in courses on Learning. Propositions 3, 4, and 5, the (somewhat embarrassing) implications of those first two propositions, are not considered by behaviorists. They will be considered in Chapter 5, to contrast them with the equivalent propositions in the humanistic concept of the person, and to demonstrate how the interactionist concept of the person can be considered as the synthesis of the behavioristic thesis and the humanistic antithesis.