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The Psychological Study of Behaviorism and Cognitivism

Updated on July 13, 2017

Compare and Contrast the Psychological “Camps” of Behaviorism and Cognitivism


Cognitivism is a methodology of learning about what takes place in the mind, such as thoughts, emotions, and social skills. With our minds, we can learn. Cognitive thinking happens in our minds. Cognitivism is about our thoughts.

Behaviorism is a methodology about the way a person moves or behaves in various situations. A person’s behavior is different in various situations. Behaviorism is about our actions.

Contrast (Similarities):

Behaviorism and cognitivism are two methods that can affect behavior. There is behavioral therapy, and there is cognitive therapy that can be used to change an unwanted behavior to a desired behavior. With both types of therapy, incorrect behavior can be eliminated, and a correct behavior brought about. These two can also be incorporated together successfully in behavior modification, or eliminating a bad behavioral trait and exchanging it for a desirable behavioral trait.

Analyze how Each Learning Theory Applies to Real-Life Situations

Behaviorism example – I picked up a pan that had been in the oven earlier, and my hand got burned. It hurt. After that time, I now make sure to use an oven mitt or pot holder whenever I pick up a pan that had been recently in the oven.

Behaviorism example – When my front door is open, my cat likes to run out into the hallway. Now, every time she hears the sound of the front door opening, she runs to it.

Cognitivism example – There has been a drought for a month now. Tomorrow there will still be a drought.

Cognitivism example – I go to work, and get paid for working every other Friday. I get paid this Friday, so in two weeks after that Friday, I will get paid for working.

Demonstrate your Understanding of these Theoretical Perspectives

In behaviorism, the behavior is what is considered. In cognitivism, the thought is what is considered. Both methods can cause a behavior to change.

Skinner’s stance regarding changing one’s behavior was that the “physical and social environments” (Skinner, 1977, p. 10) needed to be changed to cause a change in behavior. He stated that they were wrong when they thought that it was the hearts and minds of men and women that needed to be changed instead of changing the environment in which they live. (Watrin & Darwich, 2012)

“Behavior analysis and neuroscience are inherently and pragmatically complementary. Behavior analysis and neuroscience can work together in the cooperative venture of a science of behavior” (Moore, 2012, p. 688).

What are the Major Strengths and Weaknesses of each Theory in Relation with How we Learn?

The strength of behavioral therapy is that it usually requires just a few months to have a positive outcome and be finished with the therapy. This is true when used to treat anxiety disorders and phobias.

For people who suffer from psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, the weakness of cognitive behavioral therapy is that this method would need to be ongoing (long term).

The weakness of behavioral therapy, when used alone in treatment sessions, is that since you have not worked on changing one’s cognitive thinking, the undesired behavior is more likely to return.

The strength of cognitive therapy is that the person is learning how the environment and her constant negative thoughts are affecting her. With this type of therapy, the person can learn how to make the right cognitive choices to secure a good outcome.

The weakness of cognitive therapy is that it will not work with everyone. Cognitive therapy does not work for young children nor for people who are very ill or who have severe mental disabilities.

Do You See Where One Type of Training might Work Better than the Other Based on Situations (e.g., Differing Age Groups, Differing Learning Abilities, etc.)

For training an animal to follow a command, such as training police dogs, behavioral training is recommended.

For working with phobias, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, and schizophrenia, cognitive behavioral therapy is recommended.

For working with people who are very chronically ill, behavioral therapy is recommended.

For very young children, behavioral therapy is recommended.

Different learning abilities require different strategies depending on the learning disability or skill level one has. For people who are very limited cognitively, behavioral therapy is recommended.

Yes, I can see where one type of therapy (cognitive) would work better in some cases, and another type of therapy (behavioral) would work better in other cases.

When providing therapy for a person who is suffering from agoraphobia or panic disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy is an excellent, combination, treatment method.


Moore, J. (2013). THREE VIEWS OF BEHAVIORISM. Psychological Record, 63(3),

681-691. doi:10.11133/j.tpr.2013.63.3.020. Academic Search Complete,


Watrin, J. P., & Darwich, R. (2012). On behaviorism in the cognitive revolution:

Myth and reactions. Review of general psychology, 16(3), 269-282.

doi:10.1037/a0026766. PsycARTICLES database.


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