social behaviourism

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George Herbert Mead (1863—1931) theosophist and writer on gnosticism and Christian origins




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A term sometimes applied to the social theories of George Herbert Mead. Mead wanted to distinguish his interest in social action—the observable activities of human beings—from the behaviourism of contemporary psychologists such as John B. Watson. The latter attempted to exclude all reference to mental events and subjective experience (goals, cognitions, and such like) from explanations of human behaviour. For Watson and other behaviourists, these subjective experiences were epiphenomenal, and unnecessary for the scientific prediction of behaviour. Mead, by contrast, was interested in the role of communication in explaining social acts. In his social behaviourism, human beings are distinguished from other animals by their ability to imagine themselves in the place of the other, and so anticipate his or her response. Language, gesture, communication, and role-taking are thus central to the symbolic interaction by which the self is constructed, and which forms the basis of social life.

Subjects: Sociology.

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