The history and key concepts of behavioral psychology

Behaviorism, also known as behavioral psychology, is a learning theory based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioned reflection. Regulation occurs through interaction with the environment. Behaviorists believe that our response to environmental stimuli affects our behavior.

According to this school, regardless of the internal mental state, behavior can be studied in a systematic and observable manner.According to this view, only observable behaviors should be considered—cognition, emotion, and emotion are too subjective.

Strict behaviorists believe that anyone can perform any task through training, regardless of their genetic background, personality traits, and inner thoughts (within the limits of their physical capabilities). It only needs correct adjustment.

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A brief history of behaviorism

With the publication of John B. Watson’s classic essay “The View of the Behaviorist” in 1913, behaviorism was formally established.The best summary is the following quote from Watson, who is often considered the “father” of behaviorism:

“Give me more than a dozen healthy and well-built babies and the world I specify to raise them. I promise to bring one at random and train him to be any type of expert I may choose-doctors, lawyers, artists, business leaders Yes, even beggars and thieves, regardless of his talents, hobbies, inclinations, abilities, occupations, and race of ancestors.”

Simply put, strict behaviorists believe that all actions are the result of experience. Anyone, regardless of his or her background, can be trained to behave in a specific way under appropriate conditions.

From about 1920 to the mid-1950s, behaviorism gradually became the dominant school of psychology. Some people believe that the popularity of behavioral psychology stems from the desire to establish psychology as an objective and measurable science.

At this time, researchers are interested in creating theories that can be clearly described and empirically measured, but can also be used to make contributions that may have an impact on the structure of human daily life.

Key concepts

There are several principles that distinguish behavioral psychology from other methods of psychology.

Two types of adjustment

According to behavioral psychology, there are two main types of conditioning, classical conditioning and operational conditioning.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is a technique often used for behavioral training, in which neutral stimuli are paired with naturally occurring stimuli. Ultimately, even if the naturally occurring stimulus does not appear on its own, the neutral stimulus will cause the same response as the naturally occurring stimulus.

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In the whole process of the three different stages, the related stimulus is called conditioned stimulus, and the learning behavior is called conditioned response.

Operant conditioning

Operational conditioning (sometimes called instrumental conditioning) is a learning method that occurs through reinforcement and punishment. Through operational conditioning, a relationship is established between the behavior and the consequences of that behavior.

When an ideal result follows an action, the action is more likely to happen again in the future. On the other hand, reactions with adverse results are less likely to recur in the future.

Learn through the association

The classic regulation process works by establishing a correlation between environmental stimuli and naturally occurring stimuli.

In the classic experiment of physiologist Ivan Pavlov, dogs first associate the presentation of food (things that naturally and automatically trigger a salivation response) with the bell, and then the lab assistant’s white coat. In the end, the lab coat alone caused the dog’s salivation response.

Air conditioning will be affected

In the first part of the classical conditioning process, namely acquisition, the response is established and strengthened. Factors such as the significance of the stimulus and the presentation time can play an important role in the speed of association formation.

When the association disappears, it is called extinction, leading to a gradual weakening or disappearance of behavior. Factors such as the intensity of the original response can affect the rate at which extinctions occur. For example, the longer a response is adjusted, the longer it will take to disappear.

Consequences affect learning

The behaviorist BF Skinner describes operational conditioning as a process of learning through reinforcement and punishment.More specifically, you can learn by establishing a connection between a certain behavior and the consequences of that behavior.

For example, if parents praise their children every time they pick up a toy, their desired behavior will be continuously strengthened. As a result, the child will be more likely to clean up the mess.

Timing works

Reinforcement plans are very important in operational conditioning. The process seems fairly simple-just observe a behavior, and then provide a reward or punishment.

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However, Skinner found that the timing of these rewards and punishments has an important impact on the speed at which new behaviors are acquired and the intensity of the corresponding responses.

  • Continue to reinforce every instance involving reward behavior. It is usually used at the beginning of the operational conditioning process. But as the behavior learns, the schedule may switch to one of the partial reinforcements.
  • Part of the reinforcement includes providing rewards after multiple responses or after a period of time has passed. Sometimes, partial reinforcement occurs on a consistent or fixed schedule. In other cases, a variable and unpredictable number or time of responses must occur before reinforcement is provided.

Strengths and weaknesses

One of the main benefits of behaviorism is that it allows researchers to study observable behavior in a scientific and systematic way. However, many thinkers believe that it ignores some important effects on behavior and fails to meet the requirements.


  • Focus on observable and measurable behavior

  • Science can be copied

  • Used to modify behavior in the real world

  • Useful applications in treatment, education, parenting, and childcare


  • Regardless of biological impact

  • No consideration of emotions, thoughts or feelings

  • Can’t explain all learning


One of the greatest strengths of behavioral psychology is the ability to clearly observe and measure behavior. Behaviorism is based on observable behavior, so it is sometimes easier to quantify and collect data when conducting research.

Effective treatment techniques such as enhanced behavioral intervention, behavioral analysis, token economy, and discrete experimental training are rooted in behaviorism. These methods are often very useful for changing maladaptive or harmful behaviors of children and adults.


Many critics believe that behaviorism is a one-dimensional approach to understanding human behavior. Critics of behaviorism believe that behavior theory does not consider free will and internal influences such as emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

For example, Freud believes that the failure of behaviorism lies in the failure to consider the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and desires that affect people’s behavior. Other thinkers, such as Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists, believe that behaviorism is too rigid and limited, and does not consider individual initiative.

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Recently, biological psychology has emphasized the role of the brain and genetics in determining and influencing human behavior. The cognitive methods of psychology focus on mental processes such as thinking, decision-making, language and problem solving. In both cases, behaviorism ignores these processes and influences, and tends to study observable behaviors.

In addition, behavioral psychology does not consider other types of learning that occur without the use of reinforcement and punishment. In addition, when new information is introduced, humans and animals can adjust their behavior, even if the behavior is established through reinforcement.

Influencers and influences

Some thinkers have influenced behavioral psychology. In addition to those already mentioned, there are some famous theorists and psychologists who have left an indelible mark on behavioral psychology. Among them are Edward Thorndike, the pioneer psychologist who described the law of effects, and Clark Hull, who put forward the learning drive theory.

There are many treatment techniques rooted in behavioral psychology. Although behavioral psychology assumed more background positions after 1950, its principles are still important.

Even today, behavior analysis is often used as a therapeutic technique to help children with autism and developmental delay acquire new skills. It often involves processes such as shaping (rewarding behaviors that are closer to the desired behavior) and linking (breaking the task into smaller parts, then teaching and linking the next steps).

Other behavioral therapy techniques include aversion therapy, system desensitization, token economy, modeling, and emergency management.

Very good sentence

Although the method of behavior may no longer be its dominant force, it still has a major impact on our understanding of human psychology. The individual conditioning process has been used to understand many different types of behavior, from how people learn to how language develops.

But perhaps the greatest contribution of behavioral psychology lies in its practical application. Its technology can play a powerful role in changing problematic behaviors and encouraging more positive and helpful responses. Outside of psychology, parents, teachers, animal trainers, and many others use basic behavioral principles to help teach new behaviors and prevent unwanted behaviors.