Behavioral Psychology, often also referred to as Behaviourism, is a systematic approach towards understanding human behavior. It centers on discovering the link between the mind and body.
This theory states that all behaviors are acquired through a process called conditioning, i.e., interactions with the environment. In other words, behavior is simply a response to environmental stimuli.
Moreover, Behaviourism can be studied in a systematic and observable manner and is only concerned with observable and measurable stimulus-response behaviors.
Primary techniques used in Behaviourism
Behaviourism analyses action patterns (behaviors) and suggests that conditioning can modify behaviors using two fundamental approaches of behavioral psychology.
- Classical conditioning is a frequently used technique in behavioral training wherein a neutral stimulus is paired along with a conditioned (naturally occurring) stimulus. The neutral stimulus eventually comes to evoke the same response as the conditioned stimulus, even in the absence of the conditioned stimulus present.
- For instance, while training a dog, a bell is rung each time he is fed. The dog eventually comes to associate the sound of the bell with food. (McCullough, M.E. and Snyder, C.R., 2000)
- Operant conditioning is a means of learning that utilizes reinforcements and punishments contingencies. Through operant conditioning, a particular behavior is associated with a resultant consequence for that behavior.
- When an action is a consequence of a desirable result, the probability of that behavior occurring again in the future becomes more likely. Actions followed by negative consequences, on the other hand, become less likely to occur again in the future. (Grossberg, S., 1971)
Advantages and Drawbacks
One of the greatest benefits of behavioral psychology is that it allowed researchers to analyze observable and measurable behavior systematically and scientifically. However, many researchers believed it fell short by neglecting some of the significant factors influencing human behavior. (Shields, C. and Gredler, M., 2003)
- One of the greatest merits of this theory and its methodology is the use of a rigid, experimental approach to research enhances the credibility of science as a scientific discipline. It uses clearly observable and measurable techniques making it easier to quantify and collect data while conducting research.
- The approach has provided several practical techniques and applications that are effective for modifying behaviours in the real world, and it is several useful applications in therapy, education, parenting, childcare, and the economic market.
- Several therapeutic techniques are rooted in behaviourism, such as behaviour analysis, intensive behavioural intervention, discrete trial training, and token economies. These therapeutic approaches have often proved to be very useful in modifying harmful or maladaptive behaviours in adults as well as children.
- Behaviourism has often been critiqued to be a one-dimensional approach towards understanding human behaviour. The theory does take into consideration several important factors such as mental, biological, or environmental factors.
- Behavioural psychology does not clearly explain or account for other learnings that occur without the application of reinforcements or conditioning. Individuals can adapt their behaviour when new information/ stimuli are introduced even if that behaviour has been priory established using behaviourism techniques.
- The usage of animals in applying the laws of behaviourism to human behaviour has been criticized, as humans are far more complex than animals.
- According to his psychoanalytic theory, Freud felt that behaviourism failed by not taking into account the mind’s unconscious feelings, desires, and thoughts that heavily influence human behaviour.
- Carl Rogers and several other humanistic psychologists believed that behaviourism was too rigid and limiting, failing to consider the concept of personal agency.
Furthermore, Behaviourism, in favor of only studying observable behaviors, neglects other processes and influences such as:
- The emphasis made by biological psychology on the power of genetics and the brain biological psychology has emphasized that play in determining and influencing human behaviour.
- The cognitive model that focuses on mental processes such as thinking, language, decision-making, and problem solving.
Keep in Touch With Behaviours (Miller, A.W. and Babcock, B.B., 1970)
Although behaviorism might not be the most dominant or influential school of thought today, it has significantly affected our understanding of human psychology. It has also helped several other psychotherapeutic approaches take root in themselves.