Behavourism - Understanding The Science Of Human Behavior (Guide)

Behaviourism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that all behaviors are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual's history, including especially reinforcement and punishment, together with the individual's current motivational state and controlling stimuli. 

Although behaviorists generally accept the important role of inheritance in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental factors. Behaviorism combines elements of philosophy, methodology, and psychological theory. 

It emerged in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally. The earliest derivatives of Behaviorism can be traced back to the late 19th century where Edward Thorndike pioneered the law of effect, a process that involved strengthening behavior through the use of reinforcement.

The behaviorist movement began in 1913 when John Watson wrote an article entitled 'Psychology as the behaviorist views it,' which set out a number of underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioral analysis.

Behavior Is learned From The Environment

Behaviorism emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. This amounts essentially to a focus on learning. Psychology as a behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control.

Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion. While behaviorists often accept the existence of cognitions and emotions, they prefer not to study them as only observable (i.e., external) behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured.

Therefore, internal events, such as thinking should be explained through behavioral terms or eliminated altogether. All behavior, no matter how complex, can be reduced to a simple stimulus-response association.

Historically, the most significant distinction between versions of behaviorism is that between Watson's original 'methodological behaviorism,' and forms of behaviorism later inspired by his work, known collectively as neobehaviorism (e.g., radical behaviorism).
Behaviorism is simply a theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. 

Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment. And, behaviorists have always argued that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our actions. Basically, only observable behavior should be considered—cognitions, emotions, and moods are far too subjective.

Strict behaviorists believed that any person can potentially be trained to perform any task, regardless of genetic background, personality traits, and internal thoughts (within the limits of their physical capabilities). It only requires the right conditioning. Simply put, strict behaviorists believe that all behaviors are the result of experience.

Any person, regardless of his or her background, can be trained to act in a particular manner given the right conditioning.


From about 1920 through the mid-1950s, behaviorism grew to become the dominant school of thought in psychology. Some suggest that the popularity of behavioral psychology grew out of the desire to establish psychology as an objective and measurable science. Researchers were interested in creating theories that could be clearly described and empirically measured, but also used to make contributions that might have an influence on the fabric of everyday human lives.

When it comes to conditioning, a classical conditioning for instance, is a technique frequently used in behavioral training in which a neutral stimulus is paired with a naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the neutral stimulus comes to evoke the same response as the naturally occurring stimulus, even without the naturally occurring stimulus presenting itself. 

The associated stimulus is now known as the conditioned stimulus and the learned behavior is known as the conditioned response. The classical conditioning process works by developing an association between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. Different factors can influence the classical conditioning process. 

During the first part of the classical conditioning process, known as acquisition, a response is established and strengthened. Factors such as the prominence of the stimuli and the timing of presentation can play an important role in how quickly an association is formed. When an association disappears, this is known as extinction, causing the behavior to weaken gradually or vanish. 

Factors such as the strength of the original response can play a role in how quickly extinction occurs. The longer a response has been conditioned, for example, the longer it may take for it to become extinct. 

Operant conditioning on the other hand, is a method of learning that occurs through reinforcements and punishments. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. When a desirable result follows an action, the behavior becomes more likely to occur again in the future. 

Responses followed by adverse outcomes, however, become less likely to happen again in the future. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner described operant conditioning as the process in which learning can occur through reinforcement and punishment. More specifically, by forming an association between a certain behavior and the consequences of that behavior, you learn. 

For example, if a parent rewards their child with praise every time they read comic books, the desired behavior is consistently reinforced. As a result, the child will become more likely to reading comic books.

Reinforcement schedules are important in operant conditioning. This process seems fairly straight forward—simply observe a behavior and then offer a reward or punishment. However, Skinner discovered that the timing of these rewards and punishments has an important influence on how quickly a new behavior is acquired and the strength of the corresponding response.

Continuous reinforcement involves rewarding every single instance of a behavior. It is often utilized at the beginning of the operant conditioning process. But as the behavior is learned, the schedule might switch to one of a partial reinforcement. This involves offering a reward after a number of responses or after a period of time has elapsed. 

Sometimes, partial reinforcement occurs on a consistent or fixed schedule. In other instances, a variable and unpredictable number of responses or time must occur before the reinforcement is delivered.


There are a number of therapeutic techniques rooted in behavioral psychology. Though behavioral psychology assumed more of a background position after 1950, its principles still remain important. Even today, behavior analysis is often used as a therapeutic technique to help children with autism and developmental delays acquire new skills. 

It frequently involves processes such as shaping (rewarding closer approximations to the desired behavior) and chaining (breaking a task down into smaller parts and then teaching and chaining the subsequent steps together).

Effective therapeutic techniques such as intensive behavioral intervention, behavior analysis, token economies, and discrete trial training are all rooted in behaviorism. These approaches are often very useful in changing maladaptive or harmful behaviors in both children and adults.

Behavioral psychology differs from other perspectives. One of the major benefits of behaviorism is that it allows you to investigate observable behavior in a scientific and systematic manner. One of the greatest strengths of behavioral psychology is the ability to clearly observe and measure behaviors. 

The conditioning process alone has been used to understand many different types of behaviors, ranging from how people learn to how language develops. But perhaps the greatest contributions of behavioral psychology lie in its practical applications. Its techniques can play a powerful role in modifying problematic behavior and encouraging more positive, helpful responses. 

Outside of psychology, parents, teachers, animal trainers and many others make use of basic behavioral principles to help teach new behaviors and discourage unwanted ones.

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