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Behaviorism: History, Types, and Impact


Since the beginning of evolution, humans have been curious about nature. Because of this humans have developed into social being. This curiosity helps us learn many new and progressive things in life. This curiosity also leads the psychologist to learn about human behavior and its explanations. For explaining it 3 earlier school of thoughts were used initially. These schools of thought were structuralism, functionalism, and behaviorism. In today’s era, behaviorism also holds an important place in psychology’s school of thought.

What is behaviorism?

Behaviorism is a systematic approach to studying and understanding the behavior. The behaviorism school of thought believes that the learning of any behavior is the result of the interaction with the environment acquired through conditioning. Conditioning is a learning process that can lead to habit formation and is the result of training ourselves to react in a certain way in different situations or conditions.

This approach explains that all actions of humans and animals are shaped by environmental stimuli. This school of thought denies that the internal state of an individual can also play an important role in the learning process. They focus on and believe in only studying the behaviors that can be observed. As other behaviors are highly subjective in nature, it’s not possible to predict and assess them. That’s why they do not study behaviors that cannot be observed. Behaviorism believes that any person can get trained to do any task within the limits of their physical capabilities; they only need the right conditions to do it.

History of Behaviorism

Behaviorism emerged in the early 1900s. John Broadus Watson is known as the father of behaviorism. Watson was among the first psychologists to break the Freudian notion that the unconscious mind defines behavior. Watson made his memorable declaration against Freud theory through a lecture he delivered in 1913 at Columbia University, titled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.”.

According to J.B. Watson, behaviorism is the science of observable behavior. Because, according to him, when it comes to studying the internal state of an individual, its interpretation will be affected by psychological subjectivity. He focused on studying behaviors that can be observed, recorded, and measured.

Also Read: 5 Popular Theories of Psychology

In a 1924 publication, Watson devised methodological behaviorism. This method rejects the introspection method and is focused only on understanding behavior that can be observed, recorded, or measured. In the 1930s, B.F. Skinner suggested about the covert behavior. Covert behaviour includs cognition and emotions, and is a subject to the same controlling variables as observable behavior. Which became the basis for his philosophy of radical behaviorism.

From about 1920 through the mid-1950s, behaviorism became the dominant approach to studying human behavior. This approach became famous because psychologists were trying to establish a more objective and measurable behavior science. During this time, most of the researchers were interested in developing theories that could be easily tested, measured, and described.

In 1938, American psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner introduced operant conditioning in his book, The Behavior of Organisms.
In the end of 1900s, the cognitive revolution resulted in the diminishing popularity of behaviorism. Psychologists started turning to cognitive science to study human behavior, as behavior was unable to consider important mental processes.

Types of behaviorism

1) Operant Conditioning:

Operant Conditioning is a learning process that involves either reinforcement or punishment behavior. In this process, an animal or human learns a behavior by associating it with consequences. In this form of learning, motivation for behavior happens after the behavior is demonstrated. B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning revolves around the idea that behavior is influenced by its consequences. He proposed that behaviors followed by positive consequences are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors followed by negative consequences are less likely to be replaced.

2) Classical conditioning:

Classical conditioning is about learning through association. It was discovered by Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired. The term classical conditioning refers to the process of an automatic, conditioned response that is associated with a special stimulus.

Also Read: Schools of Thought in Psychology

3) Observational learning:

As its name suggests, this type of learning occurs through observing others and imitating them. Whenever people are exposed to any behavior or watch another person behaving in a certain way, they often retain this information and later repeat similar behavior in the future. This type of learning mostly occurs during childhood. This type of learning plays an important role in developing socialization when children learn how to behave and reach out to others.

What is methodical behaviorism and radical behaviorism?

1) Methodological behaviorism:

Watson states that only public events can be objectively studied and observed. Although he acknowledged the role of thoughts and feelings, he did not consider it a part of behavior science. Methodological behaviorism “represents the logical positivist-derived philosophy of science.”

2) Radical Behaviorism:

Radical behaviorism is a “philosophy of the science of behavior.” It is also known as analytical behaviorism. Radical behaviorism is an extension of Watson’s form of Behaviorism explains that thoughts and feelings are also part of the science of behavior and suggests that environmental variables control these internal events just as they control observable behavior.

Impact of behaviorism

Behaviorism is used in many areas, such as mental health, behavior therapy, education, and understanding the learning process. Shaping, modeling, and chaining techniques are still used to learn and maintain healthy behavior. These technologies are often used in education to develop constructive classroom behavior. Behaviour therapy is often used in developmental delays and autism for teaching new skills to the children. Other behavior techniques, such as behavioral modeling, systematic desensitization, token economies, and aversion, are also used for treatment purposes.

Also Read: Know About the Types of Therapies: A Way to Get a Better Well Being

Criticism of behaviorism:

According to the criticism argument, behaviorism only focuses on one aspect of behavior, learning (public behavior) and does not talk about other types of behavior also, this school of thought does not give importance to the unconscious mind, mental processes, or individual biological and cognitive factors. According to humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, behaviorism is too rigid and limited to study human behaviors.


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