Behaviorism , also known as behavioral psychology, is a theory of learning based upon the idea that all behavior’s are acquired through conditioning.

Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment. According to behaviourism, behaviour can be studied in a systematic and observable manner with no consideration of internal mental states.

There are two major types of conditioning:

  1. Classical conditioning: is a technique used in behavioural training in which a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response.
  2. Operant conditioning: operant conditioning (sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning) is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour.

Major theorists in Behaviorism

  • Ivan Pavlov
  • B.F.Skinner 
  • Edward Thorndike
  • John B.Watson
Criticisms of Behaviorism 
  • Many critics argue that behaviorism is a one-dimensional approach and that behavioral theory does not account for free will and internal influences such as moods, thoughts and feelings. 
  • Behaviorism does not account for other types of learning, learning that occurs without the use of reinforcements.
  • People and animals are able to adapt their behavior when new information is introduced, even if a precious behavior pattern has been established through reinforcement.
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, 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.
behaviorism classical

Some of the behaviorists 

  1. a) Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) a Russian physiologist who discovered the theory of classical conditioning. 

Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs through associations between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.

Pavlov wanted to see if external stimuli could affect the salivation process. He rang the bell at the same time he gave the experimental dogs food. After a while, the dogs-which salivated when they saw and ate their food –would begin to salivate when the bell rang, even if no food were presented.   

Pavlov called this learning process “Conditioning”. He thought that conditioned reflexes could explain the behavior of people.

In order to understand how classical conditioning works, it is important to familiarize yourself with the basic principles of the process.

The Unconditioned Stimulus

The unconditioned Stimulus is one that unconditionally, naturally, and automatically triggers a response. For example, when you smell one of your favourite foods, you may immediately feel very hungry .In this example, the smell of the food is the unconditioned stimulus.

The Unconditioned Response

The unconditioned response is the unlearned response that occurs naturally in response to the unconditioned stimulus.  In our example, the feelings of hunger in response to the smell of food are the unconditioned response.                                                                                                                       

The conditioned stimulus 

The conditioned stimulus is previously neutral stimulus that, after becoming associated with the unconditioned stimulus, eventually comes to trigger a conditioned response

E.g. when you smelled your favourite food, you also heard the sound of the whistle. While the wrestle is unrelated to the smell of the food, if the sound of the whistle was paired multiple times with the smell, the sound will eventually trigger the conditioned response. So in this case the sound of the whistle is the conditioned stimulus.

The conditioned Response

Is the learned response to the previously neutral stimulus. In our example, the conditioned response would be feeling hungry when you heard the sound of the whistle.

  1. b) B.F,Skinner’s Operant conditioning

What is Operant Conditioning?

Is referred to as instrumental conditioning, is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. 

Though operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior.

Operant conditioning coined by behaviorist B. F Skinner, sometimes it’s referred to as Skinnerian conditioning .As a behaviorist, Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behavior. Instead, he suggested we should look only at the external, observable cause of human behavior.

Examples of operant conditioning 

We can find examples of operant condition work all around us. Consider the case of children completing homework to earn a reward from a parent or a teacher, or employees finishing projects receive praise or promotions

In these examples, the promise or possibility of the rewards causes an increase in behavior, but operant conditioning can also be used to decrease a behavior. The removal of an undesirable outcome or the use of punishment can be used to decrease or prevent undesirable behaviors. 

Components of Operant conditioning

Some key concepts in operant conditioning:

Reinforcement is any event that strengthens or increases the behavior it follows. There are two kinds of reinforcements:

  1. Positive reinforcers are favourable events or outcomes that are presented after the behaviour. In situations that reflect positive reinforcement, a response or behaviour is strengthened by the addition of something, such as praise or a direct reward.
  2. Negative reinforcers involve the removal of unfavourable events or outcomes after the display of behaviour. In this situation, a response is strengthened by the removal of something considered unpleasant. In both of these cases of reinforcement, the behaviour increases  

Punishment, on the other hand, is the presentation of an adverse event or outcome that causes a decrease in the behaviour it follows. There are two kinds of punishment

  1. Positive punishment, sometimes referred to as punishment by application, involves the presentation of an unfavourable event or outcome in order to weaken the response it follows.
  2. Negative punishment also known as punishment by removal, occurs when an favourable event or outcome is removed after a behaviour occurs

Advantages of behaviorism

  • Shapes behaviour quickly
  • The learn adopts to the environment
  • Behaviour can be measured


  • Internalised reasoning may not be an outcome e.g, a student may act respectful but not feel respect towards a teacher
  • The learner may adapt to the poor environment
  • The behaviour measured may not be the true picture of understanding
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