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HUMAN NATURE: A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE

One wonders what "development" is for behaviorists and cognitive-behaviorists. Early behavioral theory, with its emphasis on learning, seems somewhat antithetical to developmentalism. Early behaviorists' view of the development of human nature was limited to the learning concepts of operant and classical conditioning. Individuals, bom with a tabula rasa (blank slate), learn to associate stimuli and responses; development can be seen as the sum total of these associations.

Cognitive-behavioral theories are not developmental in the same sense as stage theories. There is a stated assumption that behavior is learned. This applies equally to the explanation of how problem behaviors and adaptive behaviors are developed. Behavior is assumed to be developed and maintained by external events or cues, by external reinforcers, or by internal processes such as cognition. Development is based on each individual's different learning history, the unique experiences provided by the environment, and the individual's cognitive understanding of the world.

The use of the here-and-now ahistorical perspective in CBT highlights the emphasis on the present in understanding a client's presenting problems. Childhood learning experiences are not usually the variables that are functionally related to current behavior, and the functional relationship is critical to assessment and treatment. Except as they may relate to present problems, past problems are not attended to in the same way as they might be within other counseling and psychotherapy systems (Beck et al., 1979). Because current problems are influenced by individual social learning history, past problems are not ignored, though it is clear that there is a relative lack of importance of early childhood experiences.

 
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