Question: What Is Behaviorism?
–John Watson, Behaviorism, 1930
Behavioral psychology, also known as behaviorism, is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment. According to behaviorism, behavior can be studied in a systematic and observable manner with no consideration of internal mental states.
There are two major types of conditioning:
- Classical conditioning is a technique used in behavioral training in which a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response. Next, a previously neutral stimulus is paired with the naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the previously neutral stimulus comes to evoke the response without the presence of the naturally occurring stimulus. The two elements are then known as the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response.
- Operant conditioning Operant conditioning (sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior.
Major Thinkers in Behaviorism
- Ivan Pavlov
- B. F. Skinner
- Edward Thorndike
- John B. Watson
- Clark Hull
Important Events in Behaviorism
- 1863 – Ivan Sechenov’s Reflexes of the Brain was published. Sechenov introduced the concept of inhibitory responses in the central nervous system.
- 1900 – Ivan Pavlov began studying the salivary response and other reflexes.
- 1913 – John Watson’s Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It was published. The article outlined the many of the main points of behaviorism.
- 1920 – Watson and assistant Rosalie Rayner conducted the famous “Little Albert” experiment.
- 1943 – Clark Hull’s Principles of Behavior was published.
- 1948 – B.F. Skinner published Walden II in which he described a utopian society founded upon behaviorist principles.
- 1959 – Noam Chomsky published his criticism of Skinner’s behaviorism, “Review of Verbal Behavior.”
- 1971 – B.F. Skinner published his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, where he argues that free will is an illusion.
Criticisms of Behaviorism
- Many critics argue that behaviorism is a one-dimensional approach to behavior and that behavioral theories do not account for free will and internal influences such as moods, thoughts, and feelings.
- Behaviorism does not account for other types of learning, especially learning that occurs without the use of reinforcements or punishments.
- People and animals are able to adapt their behavior when new information is introduced, even if a previous behavior pattern has been established through reinforcement.
Strengths of Behaviorism
- Behaviorism is based upon observable behaviors, so it is easier to quantify and collect data and information when conducting research.
- Effective therapeutic techniques such as intensive behavioral intervention, 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.