While psychodynamic theory was developing in Europe, American psychology was largely under the influence of behaviorism. The American psychologist John B. Watson (of “Little Albert” fame) is considered to be the father of behaviorism. Although he is not known for addressing issues of personality development, he did feel it was important for behaviorists to do so. His approach involved reducing personality to smaller and smaller units of behavior referred to as habit systems, suggesting that personality was very consistent. Nonetheless, through further conditioning the personality of an individual could change, leading Watson to make the bold statement that if he was given a dozen healthy infants he could take any one at random and train him or her for any career, including “doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and yes, even beggar-man and thief” (cited in Stagner, 1988; see also Lundin, 1979).
As the scientific study of behavior continued, it became common to try determining behavior on the basis of mathematical models. This work led to an era of grand learning theories, which culminated in the highly complex models of behavior proposed by Clark Hull (see Bower & Hilgard, 1981). This research took the behavioral study of personality in a very different direction than psychodynamic theory. The direction in which B. F. Skinner took personality theory, however, was so different that it became known as “radical behaviorism.” Skinner rejected anything he could not directly observe, so concepts such as consciousness, thought, reasoning, and the “mind,” were all considered irrelevant to the study of individuals. Only the specific behaviors performed by the individual were open to being examined in Skinner’s form of behaviorism.
In contrast, John Dollard and Neal Miller tried to find some common ground between psychodynamic theory and learning theory. Dollard was a true generalist, with interests in anthropology and sociology in addition to psychology. Miller studied with two renowned learning theorists, Edwin Guthrie and Clark Hull, and was psychoanalyzed by Heinz Hartman in Vienna, while studying in Europe in the 1930s. Together, Dollard and Miller tried to develop a theory that would encompass psychodynamic theory, learning theory, and the influence of sociocultural factors. Their effort to develop what might be called a unified theory of personality stands in stark contrast to the constraints of radical behaviorism. Most importantly, they set the stage for the social learning theorists who followed.