Born in Belchertown, Massachusetts, Robert Sessions Woodworth (1869–1962), the son of a minister, first graduated from Amherst College. Fol- lowing graduation, he taught high school for two years and then mathematics at Washburn College for two more years. After reading James’s Principles, he decided to go to Harvard to study with James and Royce. He received his master’s degree in 1897 and remained to work in Harvard’s physiological laboratory. Woodworth then moved to Columbia and obtained his doctorate in 1899 under the super- vision of Cattell. Following graduation, he taught physiology at New York Hospital and then spent a year in England studying with the famous physiol- ogist Sir Charles Sherrington. In 1903, he returned to Columbia where he stayed for the remainder of his career.
As were all functionalistic psychologists, Woodworth was interested in what people do and why they do it—especially why. He was primar- ily interested in motivation, so he called his brand of psychology dynamic psychology. Like Dewey, Woodworth disagreed with those who talked about adjustments to the environment as a matter of stim- uli, brain processes, and responses. Some psycholo- gists even left out the brain mechanisms and spoke only of S–R (stimulus–response) relationships. Woodworth chose the symbols S–O–R (stimu- lus–organism–response) to designate his theory in order to emphasize the importance of the organ- ism. He used the term mechanism much as Carr had used the term adaptive act—to refer to the way an organism interacts with the environment in order to satisfy a need. These mechanisms, or adaptive behav- ior patterns, remain dormant unless activated by a need (drive) of some type. Thus, in the same physical environment, an organism acts differently depend- ing on what need, or drive, is present. According to Woodworth, the internal condition of the organism activates the organism’s behavior.