Psychology 101, Behaviorism

In this psychology information article, we look at the school of behaviourism. This is one of the doctrines in the field of psychology and focuses on behaviour as a learned phenomenon.


This article has been designed for simplicity and focuses upon the basic fundamentals of behaviorism as a school.


It is not surprising, therefore, that we shall be looking at Skinner, Thorndike, Watson, Pavlov, Bandura and Rotter as major contributors. Here you will also find some great videos to accompany and enhance this article's reading.

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Psychology Definition

As this is a psychology 101 based article, I will, as always, start by providing a ‘working definition’ of psychology as a term:

‘Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour of humans and animals.’

Psychologists concentrate on what is observable and measurable in a person’s behaviour. This includes the biological processes in the body, although, the mind is central to the subject.

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What Is Behaviourism?

  • Also known as Learning Perspectives, behaviourism is an analysis of an action that is observable. Acting, thinking and feeling are all forms of behavior.


  • Learning is a relatively permanent change in behaviour due to the experience.


  • Associationism is a core theme that runs through Behaviourism.


  • Experimentation is conducted in a controlled way.



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Pavlov's Classical Conditioning Of Dogs

Ivan Pavlov: Exploring the Mysteries of Behavior (Great Minds of Science) Ivan Pavlov: Exploring the Mysteries of Behavior (Great Minds of Science)

The School of Behaviourism

Key contributors, amongst many others, in the school of Behaviourism include:

  • Ivan Pavlov (1849 - 1936), a Russian Psychologist who developed the ideas of classical conditioning within learning theory in controlled conditions.

Laboratory dogs learned or were conditioned to salivate without food through behaviour modification techniques associated with reward.


When they heard a sound (bell) they were rewarded with food.


It was found that over a period of time, that the dogs still produced saliva, when the bell sounded, despite the omission of the reward.



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Thorndyke's Cats And The Puzzle Box

  • Edward Lee Thorndike (1874 -1949), an American Psychologist who developed ideas on connectionism (a variant on Associationism). He published Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Associative Processes in Animals in 1898. Fundamentally, he devised an experiment with cats where he tested how long it took for each one to escape from a puzzle box (a cage with a pull cord that unlocked the cage). He found that after first time the cats escaped by accident, they continued to associate this action with freedom.

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Watson's Albert and the Rat

  • J B Watson (1878 - 1958) - Founder of Behaviourism, published Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It (1913). Watson's chief contribution is in his experiments with animals. His Emotional Study (1920) was with Albert and the rat. He said that emotions are a response to environmental stimuli and internalisation can be measured by the responses. Emotions in infants create Fear, Rage and Love. These basic emotions are, therefore, taken into adulthood. He took the nurture view in that everyone can be trained to perform any action and denied ideas on nature (hereditary characteristics) and rejected the idea of consciousness influencing behaviour.



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Skinner and the Skinner Box

Skinner Recommendation

  • Burrhus Frederick Skinner (1904 - 1990) published his books The Behaviour of Organisms (1938) and Science and Human Behaviour (1953). He studied voluntary behaviour where the animal operates on the environment and termed this Operand Behaviour.

Skinner invented the Operant Conditioning Apparatus (Skinner Box) where a rat is placed in the box until he accidentally presses a lever. As this was a controlled experiment, no food was returned on this action, but later the lever was attached to operate as a food dispenser.

The rat soon learned that pressing the lever would return a food pellet or reward (positive reinforcement). When the food dispenser was disconnected, the rat continued to press the lever. Skinner concluded that the rat had been operantly conditioned

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Behaviour Modification Today

Skinner's ideas had a marked effect on education.  These concepts are still used in education today.

This idea could be transferred to human conditioning, where strategies of reward and punishment strategies are adopted by increasing behaviour by reward of something pleasurable - Positive Reinforcement, increase behaviour by avoiding something that isn't pleasurable - Negative Reinforcement, by decreasing behaviour by something unpleasant - Punishment.

These Behaviour Modification techniques can be used in training people as well as animals.

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Skinner's 3-Stage Training Method

As an example in training professional dogs, Skinner devised a simple and effective programme to change behaviour.

  1. Define the goal. This is called Terminal Behaviour. Example: Getting the dog to bark at the window when he sees someone
  2. Define the start. This is called Entering Behaviour. Example: When the dog barks at the window, after he has seen someone, reward the dog.
  3. Positive Reinforcement. Called Increment or step toward goal where the dog is rewarded for desired behaviour whilst ignoring all other behaviors.

The Key To Behaviour Modification Techniques

The key to behaviour modification techniques is that methods need to be consistent and continuous. The message has to be clear and 'black and white' in the method so as it doesn't confuse the target.

So what do I mean by target? Behaviour modification techniques are formed from especially designed programmes, tailor-made to the person or animal, in order to produce the desired result. The target, for example, could be a dog who needs to be trained for excessive lead pulling. He would be rewarded with biscuits and praise when he didn't pull and made to stop when he did pull with a firm 'no'. The programme would be the sequence, action and goals that need to be implemented to produce the desired outcome - i.e. to walk without pulling. It should be set and there can not be any deviation away from the main objective. If the trainer deviates, then the training will fail.

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Problems With Behavior Modification Techniques

The problem with behaviour modification techniques can stem from a too complicated programme - one that is not achievable for the target. This is why the design of the programme has to be realistic.

Ethical considerations have to be thought of. Cruelty might work to create the desired behaviour, but this is not ethical. Behavior modification should be formulated on learning in a non harmful way.

The school of behaviourism believe that children are a blank slate and all behaviour is learned. They tend to side more with the ideas that animals are a product of their environment rather than their nature - a very controversial idea on the nature versus nurture debate.

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Social Learning Theory

Not everyone agreed wholeheartedly on the radical behaviourism of Skinner and Watson. All behaviour is not just explained by stimulus, response and reinforcement, but also by cognitive processes.

Julian Rotter invented the term Social Learning Theory. He believed there was more to people's behaviour formulated upon humans having expectations on the effects of their behaviour, depending on the type of reinforcement they get. Additionally, there is also an emphasis on values for which they apply that behaviour. Rotter developed the notion of the locus of control.

More On Rotter

Where Is Your Locus Of Control?

Depending on their upbringing, there are two basic types of people:


  • Internal Locus Of Control people - those who think they are in charge of their life and destiny. They act accordingly and are physically and mentally healthier. They are socially adept and their parents are supportive, generous with praise, consistent with discipline and non-authoritarian.


  • External Locus of Control people - they believe that reinforcement depends on outside sources and, because they are not in control of their destiny, make less attempt to improving their lives.


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Sociobehaviourism or Social Cognitive Therapy

Albert Bandura was another major contributor in the school of behaviourism. He advanced further ideas on behaviourism in a social context in the 1960s when he coined the term Socio-behaviourism and, later, social cognitive theory.

According to Bandura, behaviour doesn't have to be directly reinforced to effect its outcome. Learning through observing others and watching the consequences of their actions can suffice. The form of learning is called Vicarious Learning or Observational Learning.


Bandura's Bebo Experiment

Bandura Social Learning Theory

Bobo Doll Experiments

In his Bobo Doll Experiments in 1963, he used two groups of children. He exposed the experimental group in witnessing an adult in a room of toys being violent to an inflatable 'Bobo' doll whilst the control group watched an adult playing with it in a non violent way.

Each child was left alone and observed on film. It was found that the experimental group played more aggressively than the control group, as can be seen in the video. He concluded that children will spontaneously imitate the behaviour of a model without obvious reinforcement.

This experiment was important as it showed the processes of imitation and modelling can have a profound and influential affect on behaviour. We are, therefore, easily influenced by what we see. In today's world, this idea has been invaluable in terms of therapy.


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The School Of Behaviourism - A Final Thought

As you can see in this brief trip around the major contributors through the school of behaviourism, in terms of psychology, these ideas have become fundamental in understanding how we learn and how this can be achieved effectively. In understanding ourselves, we can find ways to becoming more successful and happier people, thereby creating a successful society. Today, behaviour modification techniques has created new ways of thinking in our everyday lives, taking approaches away from traditional corporal punishment techniques to more empowering ones. Is this a good thing? Well, this is something for you to decide.

© This work is covered under Creative Commons License

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Comments 6 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

AHHhh,nature versus nurture,as I understand this article to be basic 101...I've seen the debate on children having been raised as female,being born with both male and female sexual traits as if nurture could dominate one's sexual identity over another with controversial results.As for myself,observed behavior had a positive effect by my reaction to the several drug addicted personalities and their circumstances that led me to negetively react to their situation as well as possibly not having genetic markers that can lead to an addictive cycle.;)


shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 5 years ago from Great Britain Author

One thing is for sure Mentalist, it is best that psychologists don't have access to daggers when considering the nature versus nurture debate - we don't want blood on the floor!

Genetically, as you probably know Mentalist, there is evidence of addiction can be identitified in the genome. However, is the question that these genes have evolved from behaviour over generations or are the necessary in the evolution pool? Maybe the act of taking drugs, for example, changes genetic structure? These are all things that psychologists are testing today. It is exciting to see what happens!

P.s.... chocolate!

.... bet you are salivating!!!!


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

I've seen the variation scale swing from one end to the other with people experimenting with hard drugs and never the slightest problem,eventually stopping all together and then the opposite,leading me to believe there's some kind of pre-dispositioned physicality to whether a person becomes addicted or not...simply the act of being exposed to hard drugs and culture seems to have a neglegable effect.;)If my genetics were changed as a result of exposure to hard drugs,it was a negative one also.;)


shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 5 years ago from Great Britain Author

You do, of course, have a point. Thank you Mentalist. I guess we have to 'watch this space' to know and understand more.


lifewellspoken profile image

lifewellspoken 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

What a great hub, thanks for this info, and some of your photos are lovly.


shazwellyn profile image

shazwellyn 5 years ago from Great Britain Author

Thanks lifewellspoken - that is very kind of you :)

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