By: Carter Forrest

What is Behaviorism

  1. Behaviorism was a movement in psychology and philosophy that emphasized the outward behavioral aspects of thought and dismissed the inward experiential, and sometimes the inner procedural, aspects as well; a movement harking back to the methodological proposals of John B. Watson, who coined the name.

John B. Watson

In 1913, at Columbia University, John B. Watson presented a lecture entitled "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It." Before this speech the field of psychology was in disagreement over the ideas of the nature of consciousness and the methods of studying it. Many questions were raised and few answers had been given until Watson spoke. He claimed that the problem was the use of archaic methods and inappropriate subject matter. He cut consciousness and introspection out of the picture. instead, he proposed the idea of an objective psychology of behavior called "behaviorism".

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of 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."
--John Watson, Behaviorism,

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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, behavior analysis, 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.

Basics of Behaviorism

John B. Watson suggested that strict behaviorists believe any person could potentially be trained to perform any task, regardless of things like genetic background, personality traits, and internal thoughts (within the limits of their physical capabilities); all it takes is the right conditioning.

There are two 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 (sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs through reinforcements and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. When a behavior is followed by a desirable consequence, the behavior becomes more likely to occur again in the future. Behaviors followed by negative outcomes, on the other hand, become less likely to happen again in the future.