By Nasrin Kapadia

B. A. Psychology

15 February 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dhanashree Padhye
MA (Psychology)
Table of Contents

Behavioral psychology, also commonly known as Behaviourism, studies the connection between our minds and behaviors. The theory is based on the idea that everyone acquires their behaviors through conditioning. Conditioning takes place through interactions with the environment.

Behaviorists believe that our actions and responses to environmental stimuli shape our behaviors.

Understanding the reason as to why humans act the way they do has always been the main focus for psychologists who have attempted to explore the minds and brains of numerous subjects to unveil what lies within.

A brief History Of Behaviorism

Behaviorism was originally established by John B. Watson, who is often considered the "father of behaviorism" with his 1913 publication in his classic paper, "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It." It is best synopsized by the following quote from Watson:

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I'll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."

In other words, behaviorists strongly believe that all behaviors are the result of environmentally stimulating experiences. Regardless of their background, any person can be trained to behave in a particular manner given the right conditioning.

From early-1920 through the mid-1950s, behavioral psychology grew to become the dominant and influential school of thought in the field of psychology.

However, some critics suggest that the popularity of Behaviorism grew out of the germinal desire to establish psychology as a measurable and objective science.

At that point, psychologists were engrossed in developing theories that could be empirically measured and clearly described but also used to make contributions that may influence the essence of everyday human lives. (Malone, J.C., 2014)

Primary Concepts Of Behaviorism

Behaviorism consists of two main components: operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning

  1. Classical conditioning is the association of a conditioned stimulus (e.g., food) along with a neutral stimulus (a bell). The neutral stimulus eventually emerges as a conditioned stimulus (i.e., the bell is thought to be rewarding through its association with food, even in the absence of food). This pioneering research by Ivan Pavlov was pivotal in the development of behaviorism.
  2. The associated stimulus becomes the conditioned stimulus, and the learned behavior is known as the conditioned response.

Operant Conditioning

  1. Operant conditioning, occasionally called instrumental conditioning, is a method of learning that occurs through the practice of reinforcements and punishments. In operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and the following consequence for that particular behavior.
  2. When an action is followed by a desirable result, that action (behavior) becomes more likely to happen again. On the other hand, actions followed by adverse outcomes become less likely to occur again in the future.

Influencers and Impact of Behavioral Psychology

A number of psychologists influenced the theory of behaviorism. In addition to those already mentioned above, several other prominent psychologists and theorists have left an indelible mark on behaviorism. Among these are Clark Hull, who proposed the drive theory of learning, and Edward Thorndike, a pioneering psychologist who defined the law of effect.

Moreover, numerous therapeutic approaches have their roots in behavioral psychology. Although behavioral psychology eventuated more of a backdrop position after the 1950s, its principles still remain important today.

To this day, behavior analysis is often practiced as a therapeutic method to help children with developmental delays or autism acquire new and necessary skills. (Smit, C.R., Buijs, L., van Woudenberg, T.J., Bevelander, K.E. and Buijzen, M., 2020)

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