The Rise and Fall of Behaviorism: The Narrative and the Numbers

History of Psychology 23 (3):1-29 (2020)
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The history of twentieth-century American psychology is often depicted as a history of the rise and fall of behaviorism. Although historians disagree about the theoretical and social factors that have contributed to the development of experimental psychology, there is widespread consensus about the growing and declining influence of behaviorism between approximately 1920 and 1970. Since such wide-scope claims about the development of American psychology are typically based on small and unrepresentative samples of historical data, however, the question rises to what extent the received view is justified. This paper aims to answer this question in two ways. First, we use advanced scientometric tools to quantitatively analyze the metadata of 119.278 papers published in American journals between 1920 and 1970. We reconstruct the development and structure of American psychology using co-citation and co-occurrence networks and argue that the standard story needs reappraising. Second, we argue that the question whether behaviorism was the ‘dominant’ school of American psychology is historically misleading to begin with. Using the results of our bibliometric analyses, we argue that questions about the development of American psychology deserve more fine-grained answers.

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