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1. Trace the origins of behaviorism and the impetus for its development.
2. Discuss behaviorism as the 2nd “force” in psychology.
3. Analyze the contributions of TWO theorists relative to the development of behaviorism. (This serves to combine the ‘naming’ and the ‘analysis’ elements from the assignment instructions.)
4. A minimum of five scholarly sources are required, per APA 6th ed.
5. Paper must include title and reference page, per APA 6th, neither of which contribute to the word count reqmt.
6. Video Instruction link for Synthesis -


Behaviorism is a theory in psychology pertaining to the understanding of human and animal psychology. It is based on the principle that all human actions and responses are reflexes and occur as reactions to various stimuli present in the surrounding environment (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). In other words, this scientific approach asserts that a person acts in a certain way because of the surroundings or situation he or she is placed in. Although there is sufficient evidence stating that inheritance is instrumental in determining the behavior of a person, psychologists have found that environmental factors have a profound importance on behavioral patterns. Behaviorism, as a theory, is all encompassing and takes into account elements of psychology, methodology and eve philosophy (Sober, 2014). This emerged as a radical concept back in the 19th century, when traditional forms of psychology and psychological analysis were deemed inadequate. Unlike these traditional forms, behaviorism presents assumptions which are based in scientific evidence and can be measured.

Formally, the concept of behaviorism was founded in the year 1913, by John B. Watson. According to Burton, Moore & Magliaro (2013), Watson devised a theory of methodological behaviorism. This theory rejected methods of introspection in psychology and instead emphasized on the need for measurable events and behavior analysis. Simply observing the behavior patterns of an individual and making assumptions on the basis of that would neither be accurate nor objective. On the other hand, by ensuring that such observations are scientific and measurable, Watson increased the credibility of such practices. Ivan Pavlov, another theorist, supported this view. However, Malone (2014) challenges this view and claims that it was Skinner who furthered the theory of behaviorism in the 1930s. According to Skinner, it was important to go beyond the stimuli and their impact on human responses (Chomsky, 1959). This was primarily because an individual’s reaction to a specific stimulus could be controlled (Marr, 2013). Skinner analyzed these controlling factors. Developments on Watson’s theory gave rise to two distinct types of behavioral theory, namely methodological behaviorism and radical behaviorism.

According to the theory of methodological behaviorism, introspection and circumstantial assumptions have no place in psychology. Instead, a psychologist must rely on observation of behavior, prediction and also control of such behavior. Such an approach is entirely objective and experimental in nature (Moore, 2013). The scientific data that methodological behaviorism relies on would not render itself vulnerable to the interpretations and introspection of the psychologist. Radical behaviorism develops on the concept proposed by methodological behaviorism and states that the main purpose of psychological study should be to control and predict human behavior. This theory, which was introduced by Skinner, highlights the role of internal mental conflicts on behavior and claims that they should be taken into consideration while examining behavioral patterns of an individual (Goddard, 2014).  There is, however, one major difference between the two kinds of behaviorism. Methodological behaviorism claims that the human mind is equivalent to blank slate or tabula rasa at birth. This means that human beings do not have any definite behavior patterns when they are born. Instead, they acquire these behavioral patterns as their cognitive senses begin to develop and they begin to grasp the environment in which they are living. Radical behaviorism, on the other hand, states that each human being is born with a set of innate behavioral tendencies, which are further developed as they grow up (Moore, 2013).

Origin of behaviorism

The vast and expansive field of psychology can roughly be segregated into three categories. They are:

  • Basic sciences involving an analysis of mental behavior which would involve an examination of thought and feelings. This forms the basis of psychology.
  • Human psychology, which takes into account the individual behavior of people and self consciousness
  • Professional psychology, which involves the usage of principles of psychology for the betterment of human beings.

However, according to Watson and his followers, behaviorism is one of the most important aspects of psychological study. As such, three forces of psychology were identified, namely psychoanalysis, behaviorism and finally a person centered view of psychology which was developed in the late 1960s. Behaviorism is commonly referred to as the second force in psychological theory. This theory suggests that the various facets of human behavior are steeped in environmental stimuli. The response of human beings to a certain stimulus would be based on what he has learnt from past experiences and he is able to apply the acquired lessons to his present situations (Krasner, 2013). While psychoanalysts delve deep into the conscious and unconscious minds and try to determine causes of behavior from the very roots, behaviorists attempt to simply observe human behavior and accordingly present their findings. Behaviorism may also be defined as a process of learning. As human beings grow and mature, they gain more depth and a better understanding of the situation and environment around them (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014). As they change, their perceptions regarding external environment would also change. The sole claim of behaviorism is that emotions and feelings of a person were subjective and thus not reliable enough to base assumptions on. Instead, it would be more appropriate to base psychological assumptions on observable behaviors, which would be a direct consequence of their individual personalities. It must be understood that a person’s perception of the social situation around him would shape his personality, which would guide his impulses to act or respond to a stimulus (Phelps, 2015).

The essential foundation of behaviorism is that human behavior is not innate. Instead, it is acquired through a process termed as conditioning. Conditioning is the shaping of human personality with respect to the external environment around him. A person learns through experience (Ledoux, 2012). The lessons he learns from a particular experience would determine how he responds to a similar situation in the future. This process of learning is conditioning, which forms the foundation for behaviorism. According to this theory, behavior and behavioral patterns can be examined in an observable and systematic, irrespective of the mental state of the person. Supporters of this theory claim that a person could easily be trained or conditioned to carry out actions or perform tasks, irrespective of personality traits, internal thoughts and genetic backgrounds. Conditioning as a part of human psychology may be distinguished into two separate categories, namely operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

  • Classical conditioning– This is one of the most commonly used techniques in the case of behavioral training (Durlach & Rescorla, 2014). In this case, a natural stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus. Over a prolonged period of time, the neutral stimulus would provoke the same responses from the person as the natural stimulus. With time, the natural stimulus would no longer have to be presented to the process. In this process, first a natural stimulus would be presented to a person, which would automatically garner a response. In this phase, unconditioned stimuli would result in unconditioned responses, which are expected. During this phase, the introduction of the neutral stimulus would not trigger any response. Thus, the neutral response would have to be paired with the unconditioned stimulus for a fixed duration of time. Consequently, an association would be developed in the mind of the person regarding the two stimuli. With time, the neutral stimuli would emerge as a conditioned stimulus, one that the person recognizes. Gradually, the natural stimulus would be removed while the neutral stimulus would continue to be administered (Hesslow, Jirenhad, Rasmussen & Johansson, 2013). Over a period of time, the neutral stimulus would trigger the same response as the unconditioned stimulus.
  • Operant conditioning– This is also called instrumental conditioning. In this case, the process of learning takes place through punishments and reinforcements (Skinner, 2014). In this case, an association would be made in the minds of the person between a particular action and the consequence ((Stein & Belluzzi, 2014). For example, if a child does something and he is punished for it, he would not repeat it in the future. This is also known as fear conditioning. Operant conditioning is based on a simple principle that all actions are followed by some sort of consequence, which would determine if the person repeats the action in the future or not. For instance, if a person does something and is punished for it, he or she is not likely to repeat it. On the other hand, if the person is rewarded for it, he would surely repeat the action again. In the case of operant conditioning, the person learns of the consequences of his actions, which would strengthen and shape his personality (Ruan & Wu, 2013). Usually, there are two kinds of behaviors predominant here. They are respondent behaviors and operant behaviors. Respondent behaviors are automatic and reflexive. They are involuntary in nature. For example, a person who touches a red hot stove would immediately remove his hand and avoid it in the future. On the other hand, operant behaviors are conscious and under the control of the person. They might be intentional or spontaneous. However, the consequence of the behavior would influence whether the person repeats such behavior in the future. Such operant conditioning is part of the learning process.

As the second force in psychology, behaviorism affects the process of learning in the following ways:

  • Both processes of conditioning occur through associations. It is the basic aspect of the human consciousness to form associations between various stimuli and events. In both cases, a stimulus is presented to the individual who develops a connection between the event and the consequence or between two different stimuli. Similarly, when the human mind lets go of an association, it is termed as extinction. The time taken for an association to disappear would depend on the duration of conditioning.
  • Punishments and rewards are instrumental in the learning process. Without these reinforcements, an individual would not be able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. This is particularly in the case of operant conditioning.

Behavioral psychology or behaviorism continues to have a profound impact on the field of psychology ever since it was introduced as a theory in the 1900s. As a matter of fact, a large number of techniques and methods related to behavioral psychology are used to treat psychological ailments like autism, obsessive compulsive disorders or developmental delays in children (Olatunji, Davis, Powers & Smits, 2013). Such principles of behavioral psychology may also be used to shape a person’s personality and identify personality disorders. Some therapies in behavioral psychology include systematic desensitization, aversion therapy, contingency management and personality modeling.

Behaviorism as the second force of psychology

There are a large number of theorists who have contributed to the development of the theory of behaviorism. In this section, the contributions of two theorists, Ivan Pavlov and B.F Skinner, have been discussed. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, was a supporter of Watson’s theory and elaborated on the concept of classical conditioning. He carried out a study on dogs, to show that any individual, be it an animal or a human being, could be conditioned through definite means (Bichler, Zhao, Alibart, Pleutin, Lenfant et al., 2013). He observed that his dog would begin to salivate the moment food was presented to it. This is what is now known as unconditioned response. Such a stimulus would trigger automatic reflexes of salivation in the dog. However, he noticed that the dogs began to associate the food with the white coat of the lab assistants. To affirm his hypothesis, Pavlov carried out another experiment. Every time he would feed his dogs, he would ring a bell. The bell played the role of neutral stimulus, which the dogs began to associate with food. One day, Pavlov rang the bell without serving his dogs food and noticed that they began to salivate at the sound of the bell. By then, the neutral response had conditioned the minds of the dog and they responded in a similar way to their natural stimuli. From this, Pavlov derived that over the course of the experiment, the behavioral patterns of his dog had changed (Jarius & Wildeman, 2015). This change in behavior is what facilities learning. Pavlov’s experiment had reverberating influences on the field of psychology and development of behaviorism. He proved that like dogs, human beings too could be conditioned to act or behave in a certain way.

Pavlov dedicated his life to the research on stimuli and how individuals respond to it. He studied human responses to pain and stress, and how temperamental changes affected the way people respond to these stimuli. For instance, his research revealed that when the human body was exposed to high levels of pain or stress, it had a tendency to shut down. Pavlov also demonstrated that the responses to these stimuli were the same in people across different age groups and categories. However, changes in temperament or behavior would affect the way they responded to these stimuli.

This theory of classical conditioning was challenged by B.F Skinner. He was one of the most well known American psychologists and a chief proponent of behavioral theory. He introduced the concept of operant conditioning, which has been discussed in details in the previous section. He was greatly influenced by the theories of Edward Thorndike, who proposed the Law of Effect (Thorndike, 2014). Accordingly, Skinner conducted an experiment which ascertained that a person’s behavior was determined by the pending consequences. He placed a rat in a cage, which is now known as Skinner’s box. The cage had a mechanism where pressing a pedal on the wall would produce food pellets. The rat, unaware of this, would be moving about in the cage when he would accidentally touch the pedal, thus releasing food pellets. The reinforcer in this case is the food pellet. Naturally, it would take the rat a while to understand the entire procedure. Gradually, the rat would learn the process and realize that to get food, it would have to press the bar. Thus, Skinner demonstrated the process of operant conditioning where the consequence of the action would determine the rat’s actions. Skinner also introduced the concept of aversive stimuli. Contrary to rewards, aversive stimuli or punishments would trigger negative responses and the person would not repeat the action (Huston, De Souza Silva & Muller, 2013). However, it must be argued that Skinner was not an advocate for punishment; he simply wanted to show that consequences of the action would play an integral role in the learning process.

Two theorists who contributed to behaviorism


To conclude, it can be said that behaviorism refers to that approach in psychology which deals with the study of human behavior. The theory, which was first introduced in 1913, examines the underlying factors behind the way human beings behave. This theory challenges the notions proposed by psychoanalysts who claim that an insight into emotions and feelings would be beneficial to understanding human psychology. Behaviorists like Skinner, Pavlov and Watson claim that such emotions and thoughts are often subjective, whereas human behavior is not. Behavior is not usually under the control of the person and is involuntary. It occurs as a result of certain stimuli, which are present in the external environment. These stimuli would provoke responses from the individual, which would then trigger consequences. For example, some actions might be rewarded while some might be punished. The consequence of the action would determine if the individual would repeat the action or not. This is the theory of learning associated with behaviorism. As a person matures and has more experiences, he learns and accordingly, his brain is conditioned.


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