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This Week’s Citation Classic
Breger L & McGaughJ L. Critique and reformulation of “learning-theory”
approaches to psychotherapy and neurosis. Psycho!. Bull. 63:338-58, 1965.
(Univ. Oregon, Eugene, OR and Univ. Calilornia, Irvine. CA]
learning theory’ esplanations of neuroses
“What we found in the literature was
and treatment techniques based on condi- worse than we anticipated What was called
tioning models were critically reviewed. The
‘modern learning theory’ consisted of an
theories of learning used by behavior thera- amalgam of outmoded classical.~conditioning models Learning was equated with
pists were shown to be invalid and out of
date. Their claims for the success of treat- peripheral response acquisition and all the
ment were vitiated by a variety of uncon- laboratory work that demonstrated the
trolled and biasing factors. (The Science
necessity of central mediators (schemas,
plans, cognitive maps) was ignored The
Citation Index! (SC! 5I and the Social
Sciences Citation Index (SSCIi) indicate
behavior therapists were using a model of
that this paper has been cited over 185 times
learning to explain complex human behavsince 1965.)
ior that could not explain the behavior of
rats in mazes We presented all thi
argued strongly for a cognitive or sch a
Louis Breger
“In addition to the theoretical inadeDivision of Humanities and Social Sciences
quacies, the behavior therapy movement
California Institute of Technologs
was characterized by a curious contrast between claims to scientific status, on the one
Pasadena. CA 91125
hand, and grossly unscientific procedures
(loose and shifting use of concepts, poorly
October 14, 1981
controlled studies), on the other We
pointed out that simply using words like ‘oh“In the early-1960s. my colleague lames
iectve,’ ‘experimental,’ and ‘controlled’ did
McCaugh and were both teaching in the
not make one’s work scientific and we
psychology department of the University of called on those in the field to live up to their
Oregon Jim was trained in the Tolman tradi- own standards.
tion at the University of California.
“As one might expect, our article aroused
Berkeley; he was an experimental psycholo- a good deal of controversy There were
gist with a deep appreciation ot the com- rebuttals and counterrebuttals, the hardplexities of human learning and memory I
liners ignored it (or didn’t understand the
was a psychoanalytically oriented clinical
argument), and those already suspicious of
psychologist, interested in psychological
behavior therapy welcomed it. And there
disturbance and psychotherapy At that
were a number of people working within the
time, several of our colleagues began to behaviorist movement who were strongly inespouse the virtues of the ‘new behavior
fluenced by our arguments Theory has
clearly moved toward a cognitive model
therapy. both that stemming from Wolpe,
Eysenck, and their ilk, and the Skinnerian
and claims for success are more temperate
operant conditioning approach. At first we
“My own subsequent work has continued
found their enthusiasm hard to compre- along two of the lines laid down in the artihend; they seemed to have rediscovered lust cle. I have used a cognitive or schema
those aspects of John B Watson’s be- model-—for instance in my paper on dream
haviorism that had long been proven in- tunction in information processing terms —
a model which then expanded into a wider
adequate (by Karl Lashley in the 1930s for
instance). Our discussions failed to per- concern with symbolism, meaning, and the
interpretation of human experience And I
suade them and behavior therapy seemed to
continue to analyze theory from an outside
be growing, so we decided to do a thorough
or critical perspective, most recently in my
review of the area and detail our findings in
book on Freud “2
an article.
1. Bieger L. Function of dreams. I. Abnormal Psychol. 72:1-28, 1967.
-..-Freud’s unfinished journey: conventional and c-mica! perspectives in psychoanalytic
theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. 145 p.