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Updated on July 18, 2017

Behavioral Model of Personality

Critique of the Behavioral Model of Personality


Much of human behavior is learned. Learned behavior can become unlearned. New behaviors can be learned throughout a person’s lifetime. This is what the behavioral model of personality is all about. Research for the Behavioral Model of Personality was mainly conducted on animals because animals were easier to attain for research purposes than humans. The findings from this animal behavioral research would then be put to use with humans in real life situations. The behavioral model helps determine how behavior is formed in the first place, how to correct bad behaviors, and how to form good new behaviors in people. Behavioral analysis has been very useful in Clinical Psychology, education, and even in business. This paper critiques the history of the behavioral model of personality, its behavioral theories, and the present-day usefulness of the behavioral model of personality.

Behavioral Theories Present within the Behavioral Model of Personality:

The Law of Effect can have positive or negative outcomes. This law states that when behaviors meet satisfactorily with a person, then those behaviors are more likely to be repeated (re-enforced) when in similar situations as when the satisfactory behavior occurred. (Magnavita, 2012)

The Law of Exercise states that the more often a certain behavior is utilized, the more likely that behavior is to become a learned behavior, and therefore, continue to be repeated. This is especially true if the outcome of the behavior is to one’s liking. (Magnavita, 2012)

Classical Conditioning proved that dogs could become conditioned to a secondary stimulus which is known as a conditioned stimulus (CS). With Classical Conditioning, a conditioned stimulus (CS) had first to be associated with the unconditional stimulus (US), then the behavioral reaction such as a dog salivating at the sight of food would become a behavior by the dog whether he saw the food (US) or the bell that rings now each time he is fed (CS). (Magnavita, 2012)

Operant Conditioning is a type of conditioning that utilizes a reward system. By being rewarded with treats, dogs can be taught to perform various tricks. With Operant Conditioning, each time the dog does the requested trick, his owner gives him a treat. The dog will now do this trick each time for his master, and after performing the trick, the dog would expect the treat (Magnavita, 2012).

“The Behavioral Approach System (BAS) mediates reactions to all appetitive stimuli, conditioned and unconditioned, and is responsible for approaching to appetitive stimuli. It mediates the emotion of hope and anticipatory pleasure, and the associated personality factor consists of optimism, reward-orientation, and impulsiveness.” (Corr, 2010, p. 387)

Mathematical Psychology is entirely different from the other methods. Numbers are used in this method. No one else has been able to learn this technique, and it has not proven to be successful in the field of Behavioral Psychology. (Magnavita, 2012)

Developmental Analytic Behavior Therapy (DABT), one of the newest forms of behavior therapy, is “the first behavioral analytical therapy that incorporates behavioral, developmental stage and value of the outcome of behavior into its working. It is quite different from conventional therapies as it focuses on altering problem behaviors directly to help individuals live satisfying lives despite their existing behavioral problems. Moreover, the behavioral, developmental stage also seems to affect the kind of defense mechanism one uses, in the psychoanalytic sense, which in turn affects one’s behavior (Semrad, 1969a, b, c).” (Commons & Tuladhar, 2014, p. 8)

Major Influential People in the Development of Behaviorism:

Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1947) conducted research studies on the behavior of chickens, cats, and dogs. He is credited for The Law of Effect and The Law of Exercise. “Thorndike likewise praised Darwin for his genetic approach to natural phenomena: psychology before Darwin had assumed that all human minds were of one pattern. Thorndike would later explain [that] Darwin’s contribution was the realization that “the mind not only is but has grown . . . and that the mind’s presence can be fully understood only in the light of its total past.” (Little, 2014, p. 106)

In 1902, Ivan Pavlov (a Russian physiologist) began studying a phenomenon in psychology known as Classical Conditioning (Magnavita, 2012). When he first learned of this occurrence, he was conducting studies on dogs to learn more about the digestive system. While conducting research studies on the digestive system, Pavlov discovered that the dogs salivated not only when they saw their food, but also when they saw the person who routinely fed them. This led Pavlov on to a major discovery known as Classical Conditioning.

“Watson [1878-1958] set the stage for behaviorism, which soon rose to dominate psychology” (Cherry, 2015, p. 1). He is the person who is recognized for the acceptance of Behaviorism. During 1916, he began studying the conditioned reflexes of infants. Watson’s belief was that the field of psychology should only be concerned with behavior and not with mental states at all. “Watson's behaviorism has had a long-lasting impact on the nature-versus-nurture debate, and his work illuminated the strong role early experiences play in shaping personality. Watson paved the way for subsequent behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner, and behaviorism remains a popular approach for animal training” (, 2013). There are many mental health professionals who use behavioral techniques with their clients for clients to condition away their anxiety, fear, and (or) phobias.

“Perhaps no other figure in the history of psychology has contributed so much to the science and at the same time generated so much controversy as B. F. Skinner” (Schlinger, 2010). B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) is considered to have been a neo-behaviorist due to his new way of thinking about Behaviorism. From the 1920s through the 1960s, this field became more and more complex. Skinner believed in radical (root) behaviorism. He is well-known for his research experimenting using a Skinner box and a rat. This method proved the value of the reward system (positive reinforcement) for getting the results that you want, and the method is known today as Operant Conditioning. (McLeod, 2015)

Clark L. Hull's (1884-1952) goal was to make Behavioristic Psychology an exact science, such as Newton’s Law of Gravity. His theory was so complex that no one else has been able to it out enough for it to be any use in Behavioristic studies. “According to Hull’s drive reduction theory, biological deprivation creates needs. These needs activate drives which then motivate behavior. The resulting behavior is goal-directed, since achieving these goals aids in survival of the organism.” (Cherry, 2015, p. 1)

“Given the present limitations of our ability to predict how people are likely to behave in the next second—let alone the next hour, week, or year—it seems to us that, for the foreseeable future, any claims to have identified such a quantitative model of the psychology of the individual will merely turn out to be further examples of what could be termed romantic scientism: namely, unfulfillable dreams for a simple “scientific” explanation of complex phenomena, combined with an inadequate appreciation of the degree of empirical confirmation that is a requisite of genuine science.” (Brown, Sokal, & Friedman, 2014,

p. 637)

Methods of Inquiry used by the Behavioral Model of Personality:

In Salter’s Conditioned Reflex Theory, he used prototypes to describe personality types. Salter considered Dwight Eisenhower to be an excellent example of the excitatory type. The person who has this personality type is a person who is direct and takes care of things right away. (Magnavita, 2012)

In Dollard and Miller’s Learning Theory, there are four main components of learning - which are a drive, cue, response, and reinforcement. Dollard and Miller also considered the importance of primary drives, such as hunger, and secondary drives (or learned drives) such as fear or the need for approval. (Magnavita, 2012)

Mowrer’s Two-Factor Theory took into consideration two factors. The first factor involved learning a fear-response that has become conditioned to a fear-induced event. The second factor considered that running from the fear-inducing event was reinforcing the avoidant behavior (Magnavita, 2012).

Wolpe’s Systematic Desensitization:

Much of his research work was done on cats. Wolpe would put the felines into cages, and then he would shock them after they were exposed to hooting owl sounds. Then, he would keep the cats captive – therefore, unable to escape the electric shocks. The cats became neurotic and developed a generalized anxiety disorder. Next, Wolpe would feed the cats near, and inside the room, they had received the shocks, but now they would not receive any shocks. This way, the cats became calm and able to eat in peace and without anxiety. This method is called counterconditioning. (Magnavita, 2012)

Eysenck’s Psychostatical Theory of Personality utilized many variables. Eysenck considered it very important to use as many variables as possible and to also have a control group. He used characteristics that were dichotomous. With his Three-Factor Model of Personality, Eysenck used factor analysis. Along with this factor analysis, he would connect the four senses of humor that the ancient Greeks had mentioned. In this theory, Eysenck continued his research by studying the connection between behavior and his personality factor model of introversion-extroversion and neuroticism-psychoticism. (Magnavita, 2012)

Overview of the Strengths of the Behavioral Model of Personality:

Behavior can always be observed. Then, scientific data and information can be obtained from the observations. The Behavioral Model of Personality challenged both psychology and personality researchers to a higher empirical standard. (Magnavita, 2012)

Overview of the Weaknesses of the Behavioral Model of Personality:

If a behavior is known to be observed, then the information gained from those observations are not quite true and valid because people behave differently when they are aware of the fact that they are being watched.

During earlier times, studies were normally conducted on animals. Information and data obtained from animals many times does not hold true for humans (Magnavita, 2012). The Behavioral Model of Personality does not take into consideration unconscious and conscious thoughts and drives. Thoughts and drives are very important and definitely should be examined along with behavior modification for maximum therapeutic benefits to be attained.

Possible Research Directions for the Behavioral Model of Personality:

The Behavioral Model of Personality cannot stand up on its own merits today. Behavioral therapy has many good points and has a place in therapy and should be utilized. Cognitive Therapy is a great addition to Behavioral Therapy. In counseling sessions, a person’s thoughts and emotions (temperament) must be included for therapy to be successful. The cognitive aspect must be attended to first, and then work on changing attitudes and ways of thinking that are not working for the client. Next, behavioral therapy can be used successfully for conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a valid recommendation for the treatment of anxiety, fear, and phobias.

Possible research directions to further the benefits of the Behavioral Model of Personality is to include the Cognitive Model of Personality. Cognitive thinking must take place to determine why a person behaves as he or she does. The client must learn and incorporate new, healthy, positive ways of thinking. Cognitive Therapy can show the client the best way to do this. Then, include Behavioral Therapy, so that the client can change the unhealthy behaviors to healthy behaviors. Both Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies are valid and important but should be considered together as one whole type of therapy - which is the Cognitive Behavioral Model of Personality.

Critique of the Behavioral Model of Personality


“As the experimental analysis has shown, behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences, but only by consequences that lie in the past. We do what we do because of what has happened, not what will happen. Unfortunately, what has happened leaves few observable traces, and why we do what we do and how likely we are to do it are therefore largely beyond the reach of introspection. Perhaps, that is why, as I will show later, behavior has so often been attributed to an initiating, originating, or creative act of will (Skinner, 1989, p. 14).” (Goddard, 2012, p. 565)

“Much of economic literature has modeled behavior using observed values as a proxy for expectations. However, it is more intuitive to model behavior as a function of expectations directly. Using a novel two-step survey design, we found that expectations, rather than actual outcomes, are a significantly better predictor of behavior. Further, utilizing observations instead of expectations may yield inefficient policy prescriptions. Based on our results, we recommend that other researchers should, when possible, estimate models using expectations rather than observations as a predictor of behavior.” (Hekman & Deisenroth, 2013, p. 1321)

In summary, the Behavioral Model of Personality is an extremely valuable tool in the field of counseling and beneficial for clients in helping them to correct their behavioral problems. Behavioral Therapy is not a good stand-alone method for successful treatment of mental conditions, such as panic attacks, anxiety, post- traumatic stress syndrome or depression. A good recommendation is to utilize both models in therapy, which would be the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.


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Cherry, K. (2015). Clark hull biography (1884-1952). About education.

Cherry, K. (2015). John b. Watson biography (1878-1958). About education.

Commons, M.L. & Tuladhar, C.T. (2014, July). (APA). Developmental behavior analytic therapy: Easier done than said. Behavior development bulletin. Vol. 19. No. 2.

Corr, P.J. (2010, Aug.). Automatic and controlled processes in behavioral control: Implications for personality psychology. European journal of personality. Vol. 24. Issue 5. ISSN: 0890-2070. Accession number: 52442359. Doi: 10-1002/per.779. Academic search complete database (EBSCOhost).

Goddard, M.J. On certain similarities between mainstream psychology and the writings of B.F. Skinner. Psychological record. (2012, Summer). Vol. 62. Issue 3. ISSN: 0033-2933. Accession number: 78122641. Academic search complete (EBSCOhost). (2013, Sept. 17). Helping people find therapists & advocating for ethical therapy.

Hekman, A.J. & Deisenroth, D.B. (2013, Sept.). An empirical approach for directly accounting for expectations in behavioral models. Applied Economics Letters. Vol. 20. Issue 14. ISSN: 1350-4851. Accession number: 88833829. Doi: 10.1080.13504851.2013.802087. Business Source Elite database (EBSCOhost).

Little, J. (2014). From chick to child: The role of analogy in the making of Thorndike’s educational science. Journal of technical writing and communication. Vol. 44. Issue 1. ISSN: 0047-2816. Accession number: 94232210. Doi: 10.2190/TW.44.1.f. Communication & mass media complete database (EBSCO).

Magnavita, J.J. (2012). Theories of Personality. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

This text is a Constellation™ course digital materials (CDM) title

McLeod, S.A. (2015). Skinner – operant conditioning.

Schlinger, H.D. (2010). Skinner as a missionary and prophet: A review of burrhus f. skinner: shaper of behavior. Journal of applied behavioral analysis. 44(1), 217-225. Retrieved from the ProQuest database.


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